Georgia O’Keeffe’s Winter Road (1963)
I fell in love with Georgia O’Keeffe’s work (the landscapes in particular) long before I moved close to the place where many of them were painted.
However, by the time I did move to Santa Fe I had seen so many reproductions and copies of particular pieces (mostly the flowers) that I had in all honesty gotten a little bit numb to her work. The bright colors, the sensual edges – its not that I didn’t like them, I just couldn’t really see them anymore.
Then I took at trip to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum downtown. Seeing a painting in person always changes the dynamic. As good as a reproduction might be, there is something about being right there, inches away, that makes it more vivid and helps me to see, to cut past any preconceived ideas. The colors are true, the brushstrokes (or lack of them) are clear, the way the light changes the painting as you walk back and forth.
So I was already warming back up to O’Keeffe when I walked into a back room and found “Winter Road.” It stopped me in my tracks. Pure white, but for that gently curving line of off-black. The way the line almost disappears, suggesting a gentle hill. It is one of the least representative of O’Keeffe’s paintings I’d ever seen. I didn’t read the title until after I had been looking at it for several minutes and it took me a long time to see a road. Even after reading its title, as I stood there the painting kept switching back between being a road in the snow and being just a line – an elegant black line through white space. Its minimalism allowed it to be many things. It woke me back up to the significance of lines and edges – a road in the snow, a dark curl across a cheek, the curve of a feather, the brittle margin of a leaf.
I walked back out into the world, paying closer attention to the edges of things.