Georgia O’Keeffe’s visions of Hawaii

New-York Botanical Garden, New-York City, NY October 2, 2018 25 Photos

Perhaps one of modern art’s most iconic artists, Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), traveled from New-York to Hawaii in 1939 on behalf of Hawaiian Pineapple Company to create advertisements. O’Keeffe, already a prominent artist at the time, saw the commission as an opportunity to explore new surroundings. The result, a collection of captivating paintings; highly saturated, colorful and lush, O’Keeffe’s series of tropical flowers serves as an ode to the rich, complex, and mesmerizing beauty of the Hawaiian islands.

Delighted by the novel surroundings, O’Keeffe immersed herself in the gardens of Hawaii. Populated by iridescent tropical flowers the artist described them in one of her letters as “perfectly fantastic”. The paintings represent her close study of different vegetation species; her innovative depictions are consistent with her modern style, the lush abstract renderings showcase her strong connection to any given landscape.

"Maybe the new place enlarges one’s world a little. Maybe one takes one’s own world along and cannot see anything else"

(Georgia O’Keeffe, excerpts from Artist’s statement, 1940)

The exhibition is composed of delicate compositions yet highly saturated impressions of the Hawaiian landscape, which had a long lasting impact on the artist. Capturing the vibrant, indigenous hues of the islands, O’Keeffe renders the Hawaiian vegetation, its structural complexity and form, with light and airy brushstrokes. Pieces such as Hibiscus with Plumeria (1939), in bright pink and yellow hues with blue undertones, is congruent with O’Keeffe’s iconic style of enlarged flowers.

"If my painting is what I have to give back to the world for what the world gives to me, I may say that these paintings are what I have to give at present for what… Hawaii gave to me."

(Georgia O’Keeffe, excerpts from Artist’s statement, 1940)

"Many things are so beautiful that they don’t seem real."

(Georgia O’Keeffe, writing from Honolulu. Hawaii, 1939)

O’Keeffe’s unique ability to convey a distinct sense of place and connection to the landscape translates into thoughtful silhouettes, transporting the viewer to vibrant spaces of island life. Accompanying the exhibit is a flower show in the Haupt Conservatory with a plethora of tropical plants that inspired O’Keeffe on her expedition.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s visions of Hawaii at the New York Botanical Garden – May 19, 2018 – Oct 28, 2018.

Words & Photography: Yael Cohen