Thursday, October 31, 2013

Discussion of the Shelton With Sunspots by Georgia O'Keefe.

The Shelton with Sunspots Georgia O'Keefe 1926 (Plate 39 Page 85 from Twentieth-Century American Art)
The viewer upon seeing the Georgia O'Keefe work The Shelton with Sunspots, is immediately aware of its urban imagery. A large gray and black rectangle fills the center of the portrait format painting. The portrait format accentuates the towering form rendered with childlike simplicity and easily recognized as a symbol signifying a skyscraper. Blocky light gray forms placed in rows are present to signify windows, other partial rectangles cut into the foreground and background to connote surrounding buildings. As we read larger objects as closer and diffused smaller objects as further away, a sense of atmospheric perspective is achieved with a handful of darker and lighter shapes. 
Surrounding the largest central rectangle is a large glowing white negative space. The use of this negative space adds the feeling of vast towering scale to an image with very few details. The sense of the deco movement of the love of streamline forms is present in the piece and with a little imagination perhaps something of the jazz age. The work is bold and seems to express a love and admiration for urban life and modernity curious for an artist that famously walked away from both never to return. There is no sense of the grime or dirty under belly of the city from the work instead we are presented an almost angelic quality of work that reaches the heavens piercing cottony clouds and wisps of smoke that fill the white negative space area. Again these cloud forms are nearly graphic or childlike and seem symbols for smoke or clouds. 
A playful touch is the namesake of the painting, the sunspots. Near the top of the central skyscraper there is a diffused atmospheric area. The viewer is left to decide for themselves is this reflection of the sun bouncing off the enormous structure or the sun creeping from behind the edifice? A circular area the lightest and brightest of the nearly monochromatic composition is the disk of the sun either reflected or in plain view. One might be lead to read into the work an idea of man achieving the heavens or nature trumping man, the sun seems to somehow conquer the black and gray central tower and scatter its light around it. The geometric fixed even stark forms seem to be toyed with by light glowing circles scattered throughout the image and adding a yin to the overall yen of the work. Dancing light atmospheric clouds form a dichotomy a juxtaposition or paradox of light and heavy, masculine and feminine, natural and cultural. It would be easy now knowing what we know of O'Keefe to read into the work a love of the natural world. the central skyscraper pierced by sunlight seems nearly a man in business suit the white disk of the sun a single eye. 
Contrasting this is the only truly abstract element that seems to have no reference in reality and may be present for the sake of whimsy or fancy. In the upper left third slightly exiting the format as some of the buildings do, is what a appears a lock of black hair. the locks position in the format is in contrast to the rest of the angular elements, the disks representative of sunlight, and the rows of wisp of smoke or passing morning fog. Resting atop the format and the entire composition it is as if the lock of hair crowns the negative space the white portion of light and soft clouds surrounding the stark fixed central skyscraper.  
References: Doss, E. (2002) Twentieth-Century American Art Oxford Press.
Where did you start? 
I began with the title and name of the work looking for clues and interpretation within it. Being very familiar with Georgia O'Keefe I was surprised once seeing this painting at her museum in Santa Fe. It does not fit with what we think we know of the artist, in choice of palette and subject matter yet there is something feminine that creeps into her work and seems to hint at her later works.
What did you include/leave out?  
The history of Georgia O'Keefe was alluded to but not elaborated upon it is assumed that art scholars know her story well. The relation to Stieglitz would have been important to mention in that it looks like one of his many urban photos but would have been off task. She was married to him at the time of the work they lived in the building that is the subject of the work, and perhaps she was over shadowed or at best influenced by him. These details seem obvious to anyone that knows their work and history but speculation with regard to this work. I left out comparisons to her later work or any other work and merely described the work at hand as that was what was asked for. 
What aspects did you most attend to? 

I attempted to describe the image to stimulate the intellect and the imagination with the result of the feeling and appearance of the work being known.

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