Georgia on my Mind: A Visit to Georgia O’Keeffe’s Home and Landscape

 

Georgia O’Keeffe’s house and landscape have occupied our imagination almost as much as her paintings. O’Keeffe left New York to take up residence first on Ghost Ranch and then in Albiquiu, New Mexico. I had a vivid image of what her surroundings looked like mostly through the black and white photographs of her in these settings. What I found when I went there is that some images were remarkably accurate and others didn’t tell the whole story. I thought, for example, that her house was miles out in the dessert in complete isolation. But, in fact, she lived in a small town not unlike the one I live in, with a school, a bunch of houses, and a general store. She happened to live somewhat on the edge of the town, so that her views, at least in one direction were not obstructed.

This view, for example, could be seen from her bedroom. The road has been up graded and is much used today, but when she lived there it probably didn’t have much traffic. She did a painting of this road in winter.

The surrounding landscape is remarkably like her paintings.

 

 

 

 

Even parts of her house are represented in her work.

 

Before heading to her house I checked out the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and was happy to find her paintbox and brushes. She used mostly Blocx paint, but also had Winsor and Newton and Grumbacher.

 

Around her house there were the  proverbial bits of nature.

The famous elk horn under which she was photographed.

O’Keeffe’s stone and shell collection.

And rustic door to her court yard.

What was more surprising was the interior of her house. It was completely modern with mid-century modernist furniture. We weren’t allowed to photograph it, but this skeleton of a chair was in the courtyard.

For photographs of the interior check out this site: https://artistshomes.org/site/georgia-o%E2%80%99keeffe-home-studio

If you go:

Order your tickets at the O’Keeffe Museum

Books of Interest:

Price: $24.81
Was: $29.95

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Art and Travel: Living in Monet’s Giverny

Travel is an important part of my painting life, but not always in the ways expected. What connects meeting Robert Smithson in New Mexico two weeks before he died, Tony Caro in his London studio and Henry Moore at Perry Green, or having keys to Monet’s gardens, or painting on an archipelago in Sweden?  For me, it is meeting artists in the environment in which they work, getting a sense of their connection to the place, its history, the other artists who surround them, and connecting all that to who I am as an artist,  both in the moment and as these experiences work on me over time.

wg-claude-monet-7

My Path to Monet and Giverny

There were ten years between when I picked up a book of black and white photos of Monet’s gardens in a bookstore in London and when I spent five months as an artist in residence at his gardens in Giverny. When I found the book, the gardens hadn’t even been restored yet, nor were they open to the public.  But that book drove me to see Monet’s Waterlilies at the L’Orangerie in Paris, where they are mounted on curved walls in two oval galleries.

orangerie

It is hard to imagine now, but until the 1970s the late work of Monet, which consisted almost entirely of the waterlilies, were not generally appreciated. It wasn’t until a bright light was shown on the work of the Abstract Expressionists: Pollock, deKooning, Kline and Rothko, that these paintings by Monet gained new significance. Monet’s broad and expressive brush-work, which seemed to carry more feeling than content, was seen as prescient of the work of the Abstract Expressionists. It was suddenly relevant again.

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Experiencing Monet’s gardens as he had.

Spending five months with unfettered access to his gardens and surroundings allowed me to see for myself what, exactly, Monet was extracting from his gardens and what he was making up.  As it turns out, he was making up precious little.  To experience the garden in real time, made it possible for me to see what he was up against — what the weather conditions were; how the light changed day to day and hour to hour. It was a great privilege to have this time to understand more intimately what he painted and the challenges he faced. What surprised me, is how precise the information is in his paintings, even with the ones most loosely painted.

water-lilies-27

Being in Giverny completely changed my own work.

Before Giverny, I was making paintings based on images from Giotto, Ingres and Matisse. After Giverny, I started to paint representationally and, not surprisingly, I searched for ways to imbue my work with light.  What may be less obvious about the effects of that experience on me, is that it took me more than ten years to reconcile my abstract/conceptual longings with painting representationally.

Leslie Parke, "October Light", oil on canvas.

Leslie Parke, “October Light”, oil on canvas.

My point is that through sharing Monet’s space over a long period of time, I not only gained insight into Monet, but I was moved and influenced in ways I never anticipated.

 

 

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Van Gogh’s Cafe Terrace at Night

. . . Vincent packed up his painting gear and headed to the Place du Forum.  By the time he had arrived, night had fallen. The spectacle of an artist clattering his easel into place in the  dark,  pebbled square may have looked like a joke to the locals who strolled by or sat under the awning of the Grand Cafe du Forum (it was reported with amusement in the local paper).  Only a year earlier,  Anquetin . . . had painted a similar nocturnal scene: a crowded sidewalk outside a butcher’s shop illuminated only  by gas light within the two big gas lanterns hanging form its canopy.  Other than the rank of patrons pressed near the orange glow of the windows, the image consisted almost entirely of purple-blue darkness, broken into fragments of hue as if viewed through a blue-glass prism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anquetin_Avenue_de_Clichy

Anquetin, “Avenue de Clichy”

 

Placing himself at exactly the same oblique angle that Anquetin had chosen for his painting,  Vincent used the cafe’s huge awning to create the same plunging perspective into the dark street and night sky beyond. He tuned up the gas light until it filled the covered patio with bright yellow and spilled across the Crau-stone pavement in ripples of complementary color. “I often think the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day,” he wrote as he added wide swaths of orange (for the floors) and blue (for the doors) to his Anquetin tribute. — Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, “Van Gogh: The Life”.

 

 

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Artist DNA: John Peter Russell, Monet, Van Gogh and Matisse

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Monet, “Rocks at Port Goulphar, Belle Ile”

In 1897 and 1898 Henri Matisse visited Belle Île a remote island off of the Brittany coast. John Peter Russell, an Australian artist who was living there, introduced him to impressionism and to the work of Van Gogh (who was relatively unknown at the time). Matisse’s style changed radically, and he would later say “Russell was my teacher, and Russell explained color theory to me. [Wikipedia & Hillary Spurling, “The Unknown Matisse”]

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Russell, “Belle Ile”

 

Matisse, "Belle Ile"

Matisse, “Belle Ile”

Russell had been friends with Monet, who also came to Belle Isle to paint. But he is perhaps best known for his portrait of Van Gogh. He believed in Van Gogh and had several of his drawings.

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John Peter Russell, “Portrait of Vincent Van Gogh”

 

According to Hilary Spurling,  at some point the Australian gave Matisse one of his Van Gogh drawings — something that he had never done before, and would never do again, which “suggests that he found in no one else the depth and strength of Matisse’s response.”

vincent-van-gogh-drawing-townhall-of-auvers

Vincent Van Gogh, “Townhall of Auvers”

Letter from VanGogh to Russell:http://vangoghletters.org/vg/letters/let627/letter.html

If you go:

http://www.francetravelguide.com/visiting-belle-ile-brittanys-largest-island.html

Books of Interest:

Price: $20.00
Was: $25.00

Or order from your local independent books seller. Mine is Battenkill Books. Find the independent bookstore closest to you at IndieBound.org

 

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Morandi’s Studio

Morandi

Morandi Stillife

In October a Facebook friend, Isreal Hershberg, posted an album of photos of Morandi’s studio in Bologna,  Italy. The house in Via Fondazza 36, in which Giorgio Morandi lived and worked from 1910 to 1964, opened to the public October 17, 2009.

Morandi lived with his three unmarried sisters in a dingy apartment in the northern Italian town.  He was unmarried and a loner, perhaps even suffering from agoraphobia. His bedroom was his studio. In this hermetic world, each painting took up to two months to complete. He did not stray from this subject matter.

Artist’s studios reveal a lot about the artist. What colors they live with, what they read, what materials they use and how they organize their space. In Morand’s case, it is remarkable to me that the color in the studio is so close to the color that he used in his paintings.

Morandi's Studio

Morandi’s Studio Photographed by Isreal Hershberg

This quote describes Morandi’s work better than I could:

“Morandi’s unwavering commitment to a particular subject matter, often repeatedly depicting even the same stark objects, caused derision from his critics who interpreted his art as old-fashioned, vernacular “genre painting” unconcerned with content and modern ideals.  However, though his art may seem reductive and simplistic initially, it is precisely those narrow boundaries established through his focus on one theme that allowed for a thorough exploration of formal concerns and relationships of form, space, and light. His works are eloquent statements about perception and the process of seeing.” [Paul Thiebaud Gallery press release]

Morandi

Morandi Still Life

Morandi's studio

Morandi’s Studio photographed by Isreal Herhberg

Morandi's studio

Morandi’s Studio Photographed by Isreal Hershberg

Morandi's studio

Morandi’s Studio Photographed by Isreal Hershberg

Even in this space, one feels the care of placement and the consideration of the relationship of one object to another.

If you go:

Museo Morandi

Or order from your local independent books seller. Mine is Battenkill Books. Find the independent bookstore closest to you at IndieBound.org

About Isreal Hershberg and the Jeruselem School of Art

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Monet’s Epte River at Dawn

Monet- Arm of Seine

Claude Monet, “Arm of the Seine Near Giverny”

I like to travel to the other painter’s painting sites. Sometimes seeing the context in which the painting was made  gives me insight into the work. When dealing with Monet, going to one of his painting sites may not be enough, unless you also happen to be there during the time of year and hour of day that he worked on his paintings. And even then, there is much we can’t replicate now that Monet was observing in his time, such as the effects of the mini-Ice Age in the 1850s, the pollution from burning coal, and the atmospheric effects caused by the eruption of Kracatoa in 1883.

When I set out to see the Epte River near Giverny, I was at least determined to see it around the same time of day as Monet. I woke up at  four in the morning and ran along the Rue de Roi until I came to  a turn off near the location of the old train station. The sun was just beginning to crest over the Colines (hills). I decided to follow the sun.

Sunrise, Giverny

Sunrise, Giverny

I found a path through the cow pastures. Soon I found a small shed by the river. If Monet was changing canvases every few minutes, I thought that it would be difficult for him to haul them every morning from his studio. Could this be a shed that Monet used to store his canvases between painting sessions? It is also possible that Monet painted his Epte paintings on his studio boat, which blows this theory.

Monet's Shed?

Monet’s Shed?

Around the corner from the shed, I came upon this view.

Leslie Parke, Epte River

Leslie Parke, “Epte River”, photograph

Claude Monet, "Arm of the Seine Near Giverny"

Claude Monet, “Arm of the Seine Near Giverny”

Epte River

Leslie Parke, “Epte River at Dawn”, photograph

Monet- Morning on Seine Clear Weather

Claude Monet, “Morning on Seine Clear Weather”

It seemed remarkably like the view in the paintings. I started to take pictures every few minutes. As I stood there several things about Monet’s  paintings revealed themselves. I had never understood why the left side of his painting was so much lighter than the right. It seemed to me that it should more closely mirror the right side. As I stood there I could see that as the sun rose on the left light poured though the trees and dissolved the appearance of the leaves into light. Monet was recording exactly what he was observing.

Claude Monet

Claude Monet

Leslie Parke Epte River Photograph

Leslie Parke, “Epte River”, photograph

I shot photo after photo as the light changed. What became obvious was how quickly the light changed and how everything recorded in Monet’s series of  paintings of the Epte River basically transpired in an hour. Each painting shows a phenomena that lasts no more than five minutes. Too fast for him to have recorded it in paint.

It is possible that Monet photographed the scene. He loved photography and housed a darkroom in his second studio. Such photographs could have only been in black and white and no such photos exist today. However he accomplished these paintings, his power of perception  is unrivaled.

Claude Monet

Claude Monet

Leslie Parke Epte River

Leslie Parke, “Epte River”, photograph

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