O’Keefe’s uncluttered art contrast to chaotic world

The thing about vacations is at some point they come to an end. You finally feel de-stressed and renewed then once back home the noisy reality of your everyday life comes crashing into your mental Zen rock garden.

Just days ago I was in New Mexico hiking though serene mountain pines and gazing at otherworldly desert rock formations. Today I am trying to find a small writing space somewhere among the covered furniture bunched together and the temporarily stowed clutter while painters work on our walls.

Yes, we could have painted the 22-foot living room walls ourselves, which is what Becky originally proposed. I responded by describing a picture of us balancing high up on scaffolds, climbing up and down and up again on ladders all the while negotiating paint trays, dripping brushes and aching knees. Eventually we agreed that going with professionals might be a better idea.

As I squeeze myself between the confusion of household items (How do we accumulate so much stuff?), I try to hold onto some of that open, spacious New Mexico. I try to keep Georgia O’Keefe in my head as I imagine standing in her studio looking out those wide picture windows.

Georgia O’Keefe, modernist painter of giant flowers and desert dry cow skulls, of incredible blue skies and washed out cliffs layered with the colors of rust and sand. Pilgrimages to spaces where she lived and worked, her house and studio in the small village of Abiquiu as well as her residence at Ghost Ranch, were at the top of Becky’s list of places to visit. My list, too.

We called weeks early to schedule a one-hour tour of her home. Tours are limited to 12 people, and they fill up fast. We felt lucky to get two of the last spots.

The stark, lean elegance of her home in my mind echoed the photographs I remember of O’Keefe herself. The clean adobe walls were unadorned except for an occasional small artwork or a set of those iconic antlers. Groupings of small interesting stones were on display here and there on shelves and windowsills.

Looking through the studio windows we saw what she saw: a vast expanse of sparse desert stretching out to distant blue mountains.

Our O’Keefe visit was at the beginning of our western trip, but we felt her presence just about everywhere we went. O’Keefe visited the writer D.H. Lawrence’s home in Taos.

Becky and I saw the huge Ponderosa pine under which he sat and wrote each morning. On one visit, O’Keefe lay on a bench under the tree at night, which inspired her to paint her vision of “The Lawrence Tree.” When we were there, Becky lay on the bench to see what she saw.

Later we visited St. Francis of Assisi church in Rancho de Taos. Works by both O’Keefe and photographer Ansel Adams of the adobe building that seems to rise up out of the ground as an organic part of the landscape have become classic images.

Becky and I toured the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Taos Pueblo. So did Georgia O’Keefe back in 1929, long before there was a United Nations. Her visit resulted in wonderful paintings of the ancient structure. On our visit we took some nice photos.

O’Keefe is sometimes seen as a feminist icon. One art critic, the Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber, says Georgia O’Keefe, “stands as a sentinel for strong creative women who balk at tradition and embrace a faraway freedom.”

Although both Becky and I can appreciate this aspect of the artist, the truth is, we both just like her paintings.

Well, the painters are nearly done with the big room. It looks good. I’m glad we decided to let professionals do the job. People need to go with their strengths.

Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column for the Daily Journal. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.