Anthea Gerrie reviews Georgia O’Keeffe Memories of Drawings at The Gallery in the Arc in Winchester.
There can surely be no greater contrast with the mediaeval halls and manicured Georgian houses of Winchester than the wild, wide open spaces of New Mexico, its terracotta hills littered with sheep skulls and tumbleweed beneath brilliant blue skies. So, The Gallery in The Arc, Winchester’s newish visual arts space carved out in its handsome city library, is an unexpected venue for Georgia O’Keefe Memories of Drawings showcasing the American artist most famous for her exotic and expansive landscapes.
O’Keeffe was celebrated for her paintings of bones, flowers and mountains, but drawings were at the heart of her practice, and not only the sketches of familiar motifs she made as studies before taking up her paintbrush. It was her fanciful charcoal abstracts, revolutionary for their times, which first got her exhibited in 1916 by the gallerist and photographer Alfred Stieglitz she would go on to marry. Nine of these intriguing early works are shown alongside more familiar subjects including shells, flowers and animal horns, with her own rather poetic texts about why she made the drawings.
Also famous for her atmospheric use of colour, even when constrained to inking a few lines in preparation for a larger work O’Keeffe could not always limit herself to black. She could not do without blue at the very least, she explains of her work Blue Lines X, which marked her transition from charcoal back to watercolour before she went full intensity into the huge flower paintings and visions of the skyscraper canyons of New York which honed her reputation. But once she discovered the huge skies, mountains, bones and adobe architecture of the American southwest she made New Mexico home for the rest of her life.
This exhibition of just 21 photogravures is small but perfectly formed, and like those mountainscapes into which O’Keeffe’s imagination exploded, the show too explodes with an excellent film about the artist’s life and work, featuring her own commentary.
It’s a Technicolor climax which makes a perfect foil for the eloquence with which the artist spoke in black and white – the last drawing in a show which spans half a century’s work is Winter Road, drawn in 1963 from the view from her window at home in Abiquiu, New Mexico. Here, three or four master-strokes say more about the curve of a winding path than any painting could ever do, which is why the one she eventually made contains little more than the suggestion of a mountain shadow.
It’s worth noting that The Arc, an easy stroll from both Winchester station and the Cathedral, has a good shop in the library section, where a book by Lisa Mintz Messinger tells the story of Georgia O’Keeffe’s journey through drawing, painting, life and landscape, better than any catalogue. And the adjacent coffee shop with its bright murals is the perfect place to browse its pages after or even before the exhibition.
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Georgia O’Keeffe Memories of Drawings is on display until November 15th
The Gallery in The Arc, Jewry Street, Winchester, SO23 8SB