Georgia O'Keeffe is arguable the best known woman artist of our time. She is best known for her large and dramatic paintings of gigantic flowers and desert bones.
O'Keeffe was born in Wisconsin in 1887. She studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and at New York's Art Students League. Following her education, she worked as a public school art teacher in Virginia and Texas. A turning point in O'Keeffe's career took place in 1915 when, at twenty-eight years old, the artist gathered and judged all the work she had previously created. Finding the paintings overly derivative and untrue to her spirit, O'Keeffe destroyed every piece of work. She then decided to work on a new series which would accurately reflect her own self.
O'Keeffe sent part of the work of this new series to Anita Pollitzer, a friend in New York City, asking that the work not be shown to anyone. Despite the artist's wishes, Pollitzer showed this work to prominent photographer, editor and promoter of modern art, Alfred Stieglitz. Stieglitz, impressed by the work, became O'Keeffe's dealer. The couple later married.
As her work became better known, O'Keeffe received numerous positive reviews and sold many works; she was able to devote herself to painting full-time. In 1916, she created totally abstract drawing and water-colors with simple lines and curved shapes, but her style developed over time. The artist's emergence in the 1920s coincides with this period's more liberal and accepting attitudes towards women painters. Her paintings at this time reflect early Modernism. She focused on a variety of images, from New York skylines to New Mexico landscapes to her famous flowers.
O'Keeffe painted flat colors with eccentric composition but underlying simplicity. As her work progressed, she began to paint the large flower close-ups for which she is best known. Many theorists have claimed that these paintings present overtly vaginal imagery and that their great size is meant to force this feminine image on the viewer. O'Keeffe denied this symbolism. She stated that the size of her canvases was inspired by New York skyscrapers and that her interest lay in colors and shapes rather than in the subject of the work itself. This interest in shape and color can be clearly seen in the bones and landscapes she produced in New Mexico, where she moved permanently in 1946 following her husband's death.
Over the course of her career, O'Keeffe won countless honors and awards and held several one person exhibits. Despite her failing eyesight, the artist continued to paint and work with clay until her death in 1986. Her meteoric rise to the forefront of American art came in 1970 when the Whitney Museum held a retrospective look at her work and introduced the art to a new generation of viewers.