Georgia O’Keeffe: Ghost Ranch Views
October 30, 2014
The exhibition Georgia O’Keeffe: Ghost Ranch Views brings together brilliant paintings of the harsh geography and spectacular color at the Ghost Ranch, the site of O’Keeffe’s most famous landscape paintings. It includes paintings of the landscape, bones, and landscapes with bones and flowers, her most iconic contribution to American modernism, such as Red Hills and White Flower (1937), Untitled (Red and Yellow Cliffs) (1940), and Pedernal (1945). In 1934, on O’Keeffe’s first visited to the ranch, she was inspired to create four paintings. She returned the next year to paint more of the eroded hills and rocky mesas and in 1940 she made it her home, when she bought a hacienda style house. Each summer afterwards, the remote site fifty miles north of Santa Fe, became the center of her creative life.
O’Keeffe’s traditional adobe house framed a patio which opened to a magnificent view of a massive flat-topped mountain known as the Cerro Pedernal (Flint Hill). It was twelve miles from her home, but it became an intimate view as she painted it repeatedly. She referred to it lovingly as “my mountain.” The paintings included in the exhibition date from the 1930s and 40s when she experimented with simplified abstractions and complex compositions in which bones and flowers float above the horizon of the distinctive mountain.
On the opposite side of her house, O’Keeffe claimed a small corner room for sleeping next to her studio; both rooms offered her immediate access to the nearby red hills, great cliffs, and dry arroyos. “At the back door are the red hills and the cliffs and the sands—the badlands. I go out my back door and walk for 15 minutes and I am some place that I’ve never been before, where it seems that no one has ever been before me.” Oil paintings and pastels of the badlands outside her backdoor are also included in the exhibition.
The expansive panorama inspired her artwork as well as long walks through the uninhabited rocky terrain, where she collected countless bones. As she brought them back to her house, she stacked them on her patio, arranged them in her studio, and hung them on her walls. In addition to making them the subject of her paintings, the artist employed bones to explore the spatial relationships of near and far. After a decade of depicting bones as the focus of her work, O’Keeffe began to employ bones as a lens to frame a view, a conceptual move that prompted two of the paintings in the exhibition: Pelvis IV (1944) and Pelvis Series, Red with Yellow (1945).
Long after O’Keeffe had painted her last landscape, the house and the vast landscape served as a sanctuary where she continued to walk late in her life.