Skulls & Flowers - The O'Keeffe Way

I grew up with a print of Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Summer Days” hanging in our breakfast nook. For breakfast and dinner, I had the perfect angle to admire this piece.

 Georgia O'Keeffe, "Summer Days"

Georgia O'Keeffe, "Summer Days"

The mule skull, softened by vibrant flowers was O’Keeffe’s way to symbolize cycles of life and death that shape the natural world.

To me it is depiction of what my mom always advocated that women are strong with an open horizon of opportunity. She was always telling me to push the limits, to have no inhibitions and to be fearless. As mamacita said with a proud smile, “You hold the beautiful power of a woman.”

This is what “Summer Days” means to me – beautiful, wild power – strong as bones with the delicate softness of femininity.

And Georgia O’Keeffe was a woman that pushed the boundaries of femininity. From her nude photos taken by her lover Stieglitz, to her macro flowers that resemble to many female genitalia, to her fearlessness of living alone in New Mexico's desert. O’Keeffe was wildly powerful.

She was drawn to the American West since women were more progressive and it offered her a break from the male-dominated Stieglitz group on the East coast. While American women as a whole didn’t win the right to vote until 1920, women in most Western states had the right before 1915. O’Keeffe was right at home in the Southwest, breaking all boundaries.

And as I visited Santa Fe, I too felt at home. From the generosity of our family friends Lynda and Bucky, to the dramatic sunsets, to the Georgia O’Keeffe museum, I felt connected.

So when I heard that the Georgia O’Keeffe museum was hosting a Composition and Color Workshop, I knew I needed to extend my stay in Santa Fe and get my art on. I’ve been chasing the yellow street line long enough, time to find a different scene.

I spent the day learning from Anna Koster, who served as O’Keeffe’s weekend companion in 1976. We started with a line exercise that O’Keeffe would use as a warmup. It taught me about composition and shading. I was by far the weakest student in the class struggling with dimension, but I was completely impressed with some students who could add such depth with a simple colored pencil.

We then went on to pick a leaf from the garden and brought it to life on paper. And then I went astray and blended a few of O’Keeffe’s skull pictures into my own masterpiece. I felt O'Keeffe's energy.

I left the class fulfilled, infused with beautiful, wild power.