Georgia O’Keefe, the artist who gained worldwide fame for her austere minimalist paintings of the American southwest, dies in Santa Fe at the age of 98.
Born in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, in 1887, O’Keefe grew up in Virginia and first studied painting at the Art Institute of Chicago. Initially, she embraced a highly abstracted, urban style of art. She later moved to New York where she thrived within the growing community of abstract expressionists. Beginning in 1912, though, she began spending time in Texas and she became the head of the art department at the West Texas State Normal College in 1916. O’Keefe’s time in Texas sparked her enduring fascination with the stark and powerful western landscape. She began to paint more representational images that drew on the natural forms of the canyons and plains that surrounded her. O’Keefe’s paintings of cow skulls and calla lilies gained particular attention and won her an enthusiastic audience.
Her marriage to the New York art dealer and photographer Alfred Stieglitz brought O’Keefe back to the northeast. For a decade, she divided her time between New York City and the couple’s home in Lake George, New York. In 1919, O’Keefe made a brief visit to the small New Mexican village of Taos, and she returned for a longer stay in 1929. Attracted to the clear desert light and snow-capped mountains, she began returning to New Mexico every summer to paint. O’Keefe found a vibrant and supportive community among the artists that had been flocking to Taos and Santa Fe since the 1890s.
After Stieglitz died in 1949, O’Keefe permanently relocated to Abiquiu, New Mexico. There she continued to produce her hauntingly simple images of the southwestern land she loved. By the time she died in 1986, O’Keefe was considered one of the preeminent artists of the American West and had inspired legions of imitators.