Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Seeing the colours...

... I had the opportunity, at the last minute, to see the Georgia O'Keefe exhibition at the Tate last month...

London, looking from the Southbank
The gallery had opened in June and this was my very first visit to the building.  The tube dropped me off in Southwark, the birth place of a number of generations of my ancestors.  As I took the short stroll from the station to the gallery I couldn't help but wonder what the streets would have looked like to those earlier generations.  In amongst the modern buildings were much older ones that were now apartments and belying their previous industrial past.  As I walked by the old pub on Great Suffolk Street, I wondered if any of my ancestors might have spent any time there.

The Tate is a stunning piece of modern architecture that has been blended with an existing old building.  In no way is it out of place here.  As I find the right floor for the exhibition I am distracted by the glorious views of the city on the north bank.  St Paul's is standing head and shoulders above other buildings.  And no, despite the name I can't claim Sir Christopher as a direct ancestor.  But I like to think that maybe we share some ancient link.

Oriental Poppies*
Georgia O'Keefe was an abstractionist - this is new terminology to me.  It was her paintings of the New York skyline and flowers that first drew my attention to her some 10 or so years ago.  Then, in 2014, I read in the paper, that her 1932 painting 'Jimson Weed/White Flower No 1' had sold for $44.4m and I knew I had to know more about her and her work.

I skipped some of the early rooms so that I could see the flower paintings and they are truly stunning.  As I stood in front of Jimson Weed I marvelled at the price for the canvas, which is a fairly modest 120cms by 100cms.  Apparently, if you stack 1m dollar bills they will reach a height of over 300ft.  Add another 43 blocks of greenbacks to that and you would probably be way out in space somewhere, I think!  Then another equally bizarre thought struck me, if the ;purchaser had insisted on paying for the painting in actual paper money, where would the bank put all those dollar bills?  Hmmm...

White Rose*
What particularly mesmerises me about the flower paintings are the colours which display the shapes of the leaves and petals.  A friend of mine, a painter also, once told me that instead of looking for the shapes she 'looked for the light and shade in the colours'.  I stand before each canvas and try to do the same.  

O'Keefe died in 1986 and the commentary that accompanied the exhibition includes recordings of her talking about her work.  I'm fascinated to hear that she sees the colours.  After a whole afternoon with such amazing pieces of art, I think I half-way know what she means. 

* In the shop at the Tate it is possible to buy little pieces of Georgia O'Keefe's work in the form of cards like these - so I did!

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