If you want to learn more about Georgia O’Keeffe –- her art, the worlds she inhabited, the people around her, the places she lived and left – here are six works of non-fiction you must read:
Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life by Roxana Robinson
Roxana Robinson’s lyric biography Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life is a mesmerizing, gorgeously written portrait of an indomitable woman. Robinson captures not only the arc of O’Keeffe’s life, but the sweep and depth of her passion for landscape, and the influence of place on her psyche and art. Robinson’s writing is transcendent – it glows – you can almost feel the artist’s soul burning on the page. Authorized by O’Keeffe’s family and named a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times Book Review, Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life was also one of the first biographies of the artist, published in 1989. It’s a must-read.
O’Keeffe and Stieglitz by Benita Eisler
I opened Benita Eisler’s O’Keeffe and Stieglitz and was immediately drawn into the streets of New York in 1916, the winter evening Anita Pollitzer first brought O’Keeffe’s drawings to Stieglitz. Eisler’s biography is at once spellbinding and meticulously detailed – a taut, provocative page-turner that brings O’Keeffe and Stieglitz’s world alive. Eisler’s command of language is powerful, at times incantatory. She is a bold storyteller, and in O’Keeffe and Stieglitz, she focuses on the spirit of the tumultuous relationship between these two passionate artists. I read this book in three days, then picked it up again a month later just to inhale it all over again.
Full Bloom by Hunter Drohojowska-Philp
Full Bloom by art critic and historian Hunter Drohojowska-Philp is a fascinating, nuanced work of scholarship that details O’Keeffe’s artistic evolution with singular insight. Drohojowska-Philp’s weaving of events in O’Keeffe’s life with astute observations about her art and creative vision is masterfully rendered, revealing O’Keeffe’s personal journey within the context of 20th century American art. Full Bloom also contains intriguing anecdotes, drawn from first person accounts and interviews that give new shape and perspective to O’Keeffe’s story.
O’Keeffe, Stieglitz, and the Critics by Barbara Buhler Lynes
Art historian and professor, Barbara Buhler Lynes was a founding curator of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in New Mexico. While I recommend all of Lynes’s writings on O’Keeffe, the three works indispensible for anyone who wants to learn more about the artist are: Georgia O’Keeffe: Catalogue Raisonné; O’Keeffe’s O’Keeffes; and O’Keeffe, Stieglitz, and the Critics, 1916-1929. In this last book, Lynes maps, with wisdom and lightning instinct, how critical reception of O’Keeffe’s early abstractions in eroticized terms had a defining impact on public awareness of her art and deeply transformed O’Keeffe’s relationship to abstraction. Lynes’s work is unparalleled scholarship – persuasive and holistic, exquisitely detailed with profound psychological insight.
My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz: Volume One, 1915-1933, edited by Sarah Greenough
I had just finished my third draft of this novel when the correspondence of O’Keeffe and Stieglitz was published, having been sealed for 25 years after her death: My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz: Volume One, 1915-1933, edited by Sarah Greenough. These letters give extraordinary insight into O’Keeffe and Stieglitz. They overturn easy preconceptions about both artists and reveal key dynamics of their creative and marital partnership: the powerful bond between them, the flow of ideas, as well as the storms, politics, and at times untenable emotion that marked their relationship. It’s a big book. I remember one night in bed, there were marks on my chest from holding it propped up as I read. Over 800 pages. And worth every word.
Stieglitz: A Memoir/Biography by Sue Davidson Lowe
One of the most challenging aspects of writing Georgia was, actually, Stieglitz – really knowing him, grasping him. The father of modern photography, leader of the avant-garde in America – as a man, he was complex: passionate and irascible, fiery and contentious, exceptionally hard to pin down. Sue Davidson Lowe’s biography of her great-uncle Stieglitz: A Memoir/Biography is a stunning and intimate portrait – full of anecdotes and family stories. It is also a spellbinding read. Lowe successfully reveals the full range and scope of who Stieglitz was. Larger than life, yes, a force of nature, yes – glorious and contradictory, he had an irresistible magnetism so hard to seize in words, and Lowe does it, like no one else, in her biography of a deeply passionate man who was a powerful force in Modern art.