Nothingness with Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe, an American artist best known for her paintings of enlarged flowers, is often called the “Mother of American modernism.” Her groundbreaking work was first influenced by the modern art movement, which inspired her to begin experimenting with perspective. As a result, she starting creating the compositions of large-scale, close-ups of flowers for which she is famous today. O’Keefe explained the motivation behind her unusual proportions as a way to force the viewer to interact more deeply with the painting. “I’ll paint [the flower] big and [the viewers] will be surprised into taking time to look at it,” she said, “I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.” Her enlarged images became a way for O’Keeffe to make the ordinary experience of looking at flowers interesting and complex.

In this painting, the form of the flower’s winding petals enchants the viewer. Starting from the center of the canvas, the white petals spiral outward and draw the viewers eye around to each corner. The bright white of the spiral is juxtaposed with the crescents of dark black, which form both accent petals of the flower and dark caverns pulling the viewer into nothingness. In this way, the flower acts like a labyrinth, and those who look at it cannot help but get lost in its mystery. O’Keefe exploits the amorphous quality of the flower’s petals to achieve her goal of stunning the viewer. The shifting curves and slopes keep us engaged as we keep discovering some new detail of the flower.

The colors O’Keeffe uses in the composition further push the flower to transcend the bounds of nature. Translucent blues and cool grays make the flower feel devoid of life, as if it is composed of a strange, fluid element. However, it also resembles shape-shifting clouds or undulating waves. This discordance between the colors’ connotations conjured distracts the viewer from outside stimuli and draws her into O’Keeffe’s world; each subtle nuance with the petals unravels the unique beauty of the flower. The calming color schemes mirrors the sense of serenity O’Keeffe feels with nature, and forces the viewer to experience the captivating flower through O’Keeffe’s eyes.

What do you think of this painting?