The artist on the landscape that inspired this painting
With a rich mix of dark tones, O’Keeffe brings us in close to unusual geological forms near her home in New Mexico.
This painting from SFMOMA’s collection is one of a large series O’Keeffe made of a remote area she named the Black Place. It was one of her most favorite locations for painting in the 1940s. Its black volcanic soil and lack of trees gave it an almost menacing quality that she really relished.
Listen to O’Keeffe, recorded as she was walking in the area during the filming of a documentary.
I always called it the Black Place, and there are parts of it that at times are really black. What is it I like about it? Well, it’s an especially fine place to climb around in. Would you climb if you were here?
In the painting, O’Keeffe doesn’t include any sky. And we don’t get a sense of atmosphere or weather. The only sense of time is geologic, monumental and unchanging.
This is “Black Place I” by Georgia O’Keeffe from 1944. This canvas, 26 inches high and 30 inches wide, is constructed in many shades of gray, from near white to near black. O’Keefe’s organic, rippling style presents what seems to be a layered mountain landscape bisected by a deep central ravine. From the top of the canvas, a delta of thin lines squiggle downward, like tributaries between gray rocks, dotted here and there with pale green, suggesting distant leafy trees. These thin squiggly lines converge at the center of the canvas into a V-shaped valley. This canyon is bordered on either side by dome-like curves, stacked one in front of another, each dome a little darker than the one above it. The lower third of the painting, beneath these domes, is marked by another, wider V-shape, a line of gray spanning from the left edge of the painting to the right edge. Beneath this, at the very bottom of the canvas the paint is suddenly pale pink, with brushes of white, resembling tender, marbled flesh.
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