Georgia O’Keeffe painted Red and Orange Streak in 1919, soon after she moved from Texas to New York City. She had been greatly impressed by the wide-open plains of Texas, especially at night when she took long walks by herself. In the pitch-black darkness, certain sounds like a train whistle or cattle lowing for their calves suggested shapes and colors to her. Storms, which can be seen approaching from far away in the flat Texas landscape, also fascinated her. The sky was like an enormous canvas, and the lightning appeared to be giant, jagged writing scrawled across it, just for an instant. In a letter to a friend, O’Keeffe wrote: “the whole thing—lit up—first in one place—then in another with flashes of lightning—sometimes just sheet lightning—and sometimes sheet lightning with a sharp bright zigzag flashing across—I . . . sat on the fence for a long time—just looking at the lightning.”
Back in New York City, O’Keeffe remembered the natural world that had surrounded her in Texas and she wanted to express her intense responses to that environment. She did this by abstracting, or simplifying, what she had seen, heard, and felt there and by eliminating details. Some of her shapes suggest solid forms while others seem more like empty spaces. Some of the edges between colors are crisp and clean, while others blend and blur. In the background, the horizontal band of red has just enough modeling to suggest a mountain range in the distance. Georgia O’Keeffe’s dramatic painting, based on her vivid memories of Texas, exists on the edge of abstraction, inviting us to experience it in our own ways.
Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887–1986) felt a lifelong connection to nature. Recalling her childhood on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, she said, “Where I come from, the earth means everything.” She spent her career exploring the natural world and capturing its wondrous beauty in her art. Her close-up views of flowers, expansive landscapes, and abstract paintings invite people to see the world through her eyes.
O’Keeffe was one of the first American women to achieve fame as an artist in her lifetime. She became well-known when the photographer Alfred Stieglitz showed her work at his prominent gallery 291 in New York City. The artists fell in love and married in 1924. O’Keeffe began spending her summers in New Mexico in 1929. Its landscape and distance from busy city life inspired her and gave her the peaceful time alone that she needed to work. She moved there permanently twenty years later.
O’Keeffe made sketches wherever she went. Using her drawings and the objects she found on her adventures, she made her final pictures back in the studio. Her works of art celebrate the beauty of the places and things she so carefully observed, as well as her deeply personal experiences of them.
Source: Philadelphia Museum of Art