"A prime source for her early art," Sara Whitaker Peters writes (Peters 192), was her "...powerful physical reaction to nature and to individuals." The "suggestively layered mountains, canyons, and mesas," Peters continues, seem to be "vestiges" of "female forms"...as if she had decided to inhabit the earth and the sky around her."
It was at Lake George, in fact, that the photography of Stieglitz and of Paul Strand awakened her "to the possibility of taking an objective approach to her own motifs... [and] it happened in Lake George in 1923, where she "...first got down to an effort to be objective" in her depiction of the natural world. Moreover, Peters (135) writes that it was in fact at Lake George (where she eventually would begin to feel confined, hence her permanent relocation to New Mexico) that her subject matter "...began to turn from the uterine-personal to shelter shapes of another order: namely the trees, barns, flowers and fruit she saw around her."
CHURCH STEEPLE - Georgia O'Keeffe.
This is a two-dimensional oil on linen canvas work done by O'Keeffe in 1950. She used Winsor and Newton oil paints. It is fine art and represents realism as well as some abstract qualities. This is for public use.
SUBJECT MATTER: This is a painting from O'Keeffe's "patio picture" period that she created in New Mexico. New Mexico - once part of Mexico prior to the United States seizing it in the Mexican-American War - is of course heavily populated by Latino families and the Spanish style art is reflected in buildings, including churches. After moving to New Mexico permanently in 1949, she of course observed architectural structures, and according to biographical information about O'Keeffe (Messinger, 1988, 42) New Mexico "...inspired one of her largest and most interpretive series of architectural paintings, the patio pictures of the 1950s, which were some of her most abstract, minimalist works."
As she became more familiar with the buildings and landscape of an area, O'Keeffe "produced less representational and more interpretive works" (Messinger, 50).
CONTENT: The painting is of the top of a Spanish-style church building. A tall cross stands on top an upside-down U-shaped steeple; the Christian cross and the U-shaped steeple are both painted bright white, as though they had been very recently whitewashed. Shadows from the dark brown roof cover corners of the steeple, which sits on top of a light brown stucco-seeming building. A large bell hangs from the top of the steeple and can be seen through the opening in the U-shaped. It is in the ringing position. Ringing bells are calling people to church; O'Keeffe may have been suggesting that it is time to call people to a more spiritual life.
The cross is blazing white against the deep blue sky. It seems too tall for the proportion it enjoys within the canvas. And the shadows on the brown stucco building from the roofline seem curved, and yet the roof is straight. Also, there are some torn areas in the shingles on the roof, which suggests that even though the cross is sturdy and reaching for the sky - as Christian church-goers are reminded by their priests and pastors to be (reaching for a higher plateau) - the reality of the building shows wear and tear and needs upkeep.
SOCIOPOLITICAL: The Church Steeple doesn't seem to have any kind of sociological or political expression of O'Keeffe's views. But in Peters' book, it is clear O'Keeffe was "acutely aware of the role played by gender" in the creation of all art. She wasn't known to participate in feminist movements; but in 1925 she debated Michael Gold, editor of the New Masses, in one of her rare moments of public dialogue. It reveals her strongly held feminist beliefs.
She the debate began by saying she was "...Interested in the oppression of women of all classes...though not nearly so definitely and so consistently as I am in the abstractions of painting. But one has affected the other...Before I put a brush to canvas I question, 'Is this mine? Is it all intrinsically of myself? Is it influenced by some idea or some photograph of an idea which I have acquired from some man?'" (Peters, 16).
Messinger, Lisa Mintz. (1988). Georgia O'Keeffe. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.