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.
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