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Pedernal-From the Ranch #1

Flowers inspired many of O’Keeffe’s abstract works. She painted flowers so that we seem to be looking at them through a magnifying lens.
Abstraction White Rose, 1927, oil on canvas, Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, © 2006 Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

O’Keeffe painted skyscrapers while living in New York. She created a mysterious mood with the looming buildings.
City Night, 1926, oil on canvas, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, © 2006 Minneapolis Institute of Arts/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The huge Pedernal appears very small compared to the pelvic bone.

key idea
In her paintings, O’Keeffe often experimented with perspective, scale, and color.

Georgia O’Keeffe liked to paint her subjects from unusual viewpoints and with unconventional proportions. She studied small flowers extremely close up and filled large canvases with the swirling petals of a single blossom. She depicted cityscapes as if she were on the ground looking up, so that the towering skyscrapers seem overwhelming. And she painted massive landforms but showed them far off in the distance, so they appear small.

As with her flower pictures, O’Keeffe painted bones close up and larger than life. In Pedernal—From the Ranch I, we see the mesa through the opening of a pelvic bone. O’Keeffe used the socket of the bone almost like a camera lens, bringing it close to the viewer’s eye. This unusual perspective may reflect the influence of her husband, who was a prominent photographer.

The colors O’Keeffe chose are also surprising. Here, most of the bone is a glowing reddish orange rather than the white we would expect. The mesa, in contrast, is a cool blue. O’Keeffe wasn’t interested in painting colors exactly as they look in nature. She wanted her work to give a sense of the Southwest—of blazing hot sun and clear blue skies.

O’Keeffe was married to the famous photographer Alfred Stieglitz. He may have influenced the unusual viewpoints in her artwork.
Imogen Cunningham, Alfred Stieglitz at An American Place, New York, 1934, gelatin silver print, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, © 1970 The Imogen Cunningham Trust
October 2007