Friday, 30 October 2015

Lectures & Exhibitions for 2016: Georgia O'Keeffe & Paul Nash

Georgia O'Keeffe, Black Mesa Landscape, 1930, copyright O'Keeffe Museum, Santa Fe, NM
I was excited to discover that two of my favourite artists are being given major shows by Tate next year (2016). A hundred years after her first New York exhibition, Tate Modern will be devoting the summer months to Georgia O'Keeffe, one of the most distinctive painters of 20th century America. According to the Tate website:

The exhibition is the first important solo institutional exhibition of the artist’s work in the UK for a generation. This ambitious and wide-ranging overview will review O’Keeffe’s work in depth and reassess her place in the canon of twentieth-century art, situating her within artistic circles of her own generation and indicating her influence on artists of subsequent generations.

Judging by the rest of this introduction it looks as though we'll be getting a good selection of flower paintings and desert scenes, with art historical commentary designed to make an artist who had little time for 'gendering' and so on seem relevant. From the gorgeous watercolours she made while working as a teacher in Canyon, Texas, to the crosses and bones of her decades in New Mexico, O'Keeffe showed a marvellous sense of colour and design, and a powerful feeling for places and objects. If you want context, I'd recommend a trip to Abiquiu, New Mexico. Beyond the village and the valley of the Rio Chama there's nothing but desert, mountains and sky; these were her subjects.

Actually O'Keeffe had a lot in common with Paul Nash, the subject of an epic Tate Britain show next autumn, although he was gregarious and she solitary. Both were fascinated by out-of-the-way places, interesting architecture and objects that were charged with possible meaning. Both were mavericks, artists of unique personal vision, and neither enjoyed the labels others obliged them to wear.

On the other hand I think Nash would have enjoyed the open-endedness of 21st century contemporary art. When inspired by a new discovery - a dead tree, for instance - he would look at it from every possible angle, sometimes using watercolour, oil paint, photography, collage, assemblage and the written word to investigate a phenomenon that seemed to him vitally significant. Like Joseph Beuys, his motivations were intensely personal; had he been born half a century later he would have made a fantastic conceptual artist.

David Fraser Jenkins' dazzling Nash exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery took us deeper into the strange workings of this artist's mind than any previous book or exhibition. It will be a hard act to follow, but it sounds as though Tate Britain will be putting on quite a show.

Having written 'Paul Nash in Pictures: Landscape and Dream' for the Mainstone Press in 2011, I have my own take on Nash, which emphasizes his family life and personal experiences, his humour and his sense of place. My lecture, 'Paul Nash: A Life in Pictures', offers a jargon-free and (I hope) entertaining introduction to the artist.

I've also started lecturing on O'Keeffe recently, and am booked to give my talk, 'Georgia O'Keeffe in New Mexico' to a number of NADFAS groups next year. The lecture is based partly on my own experience of the state, which I first visited almost twenty years ago, and I hope it leaves people with an impression of O'Keeffe as a bold explorer of canyon and mesa, and a visionary artist.

There's more information on my lectures here, while both exhibitions are previewed on the Tate website.


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