landscape painting
landscape painting

Georgia O’Keeffe in New Mexico with one of her landscape paintings

As a new solo show of Georgia O’Keeffe’s work opens in Madrid, artnet’s Vice President and LUX columnist Sophie Neuendorf reflects on how the American painter’s visionary work and mainstream success paved the way for many of today’s women artists

Sophie Neuendorf

American artist Georgia O’Keeffe burst onto the New York gallery scene in 1917 at the age of twenty. At the time, the American art world was under the influence of French Cubism, but O’Keeffe’s abstract charcoal drawings presented a version of modernism that was so radically individual, she quickly became a favourite among collectors – a nearly unthinkable achievement for a young women from the midwest.

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The artist began making her famous large-scale flower paintings in the 1920s. A new show at Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid includes O’Keeffe’s spectacular Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 (1932), which sold for over $44 million at auction in 2014, more than tripling the previous auction record for a female artist. Since then, the market for her work has been steadily growing, with her top 10 most expensive works finding buyers over the past 10 years (source: artnet price database).

flower painting

Georgia O’Keeffe, Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 (1932)

A recurring subject for O’Keeffe, the flower was a tool through which she could explore varying languages of abstraction and representation, responding to nature as opposed to her inner self. Inside Red Canna (1919), for example, is considered her earliest depiction of a magnified flower in oil. Sensual, sexual, powerful and delicate, the painting beckoned Freudian interpretations throughout her life and to the present day. However, her famous flowers are just one part of her vast canon of work, and in fact, O’Keeffe spent much of her life bristling at the Freudian reading of her delicate folds of flora.

Read more: Artists in residence at Castel Caramel in the south of France

She grew up on the Wisconsin prairie and was forever after enchanted by wide open spaces with limitless horizons. Later, she found a similar sense of ease in the Badlands of New Mexico, where she lived after her husband, the photographer Alfred Stieglitz, passed away. Astonishingly, she didn’t make her first trip to Europe until 1953, when she was 66 years old, but her work was widely shown in major museums across the US. In 1940 she was given a retrospective at the Art Institute of Chicago and in 1946, she became the first female artist to be afforded a retrospective at MoMA. In 1970, her work was celebrated in another retrospective, this time at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, which travelled to the Art Institute of Chicago, and the San Francisco Museum of Art.

tropical garden coutryard

O’Keeffe’s home in New Mexico

Then, as now, women artists face far greater challenges than their male counterparts. To put it into perspective, German artist Gerhard Richter is the highest grossing living male artist, with a total sales value of $2,488,640,798. In contrast, the highest grossing living female artist, Japan’s Yayoi Kusama, has a total sales value of $709,679,123 (source: artnet price database). Kusama is closely followed by visionary artists such as Cindy Sherman, Bridget Riley, Marlene Dumas, and Julie Mehretu. However, artnet’s recent data shows that women artists have been outperforming the S&P 500, indicating strong demand and growth.

graph showing top selling artists

Infographic courtesy of artnet

A strong woman and a visionary painter, O’Keeffe remains an inspiration for many female artists around the globe. She was a feminist who largely contributed not only to the rise of modernism, but also helped to solidify the place of female artists within the historical art canon.

“Georgia O’Keeffe” runs until at 8 August 2021 at Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza. For more information, visit: museothyssen.org/en/exhibitions/georgia-okeeffe

 

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Man floating
Man floating with seagulls

darvish Fakhr photographed by Hugh Fox

British-Iranian, Canadian-born, American-raised artist darvish Fakhr’s multifaceted practice embraces dualities – light and dark, play and solemnity, movement and stillness – to create a unique sense of tension. Here, Maryam Eisler speaks to the artist about the meaning of his name, cultural heritage and seeking harmony
colour portrait of Maryam Eisler photographer and contributing LUX editor

Maryam Eisler

Maryam Eisler: darvish is a very telling name. Do you abide by the definition of your name?
darvish Fakhr: I never thought about abiding by it, but it was a name that was given to me by my parents, and it has always fascinated me. Growing up, my parents would have Darvish–related items in the house: the axe, and the hats, dolls. I was always curious about it.
[Note: A Darvish is a Sufi aspirant]

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Maryam Eisler: As a child, growing up in the United States, did you know what a Darvish was?
darvish Fakhr: No. I lived on a ranch in Texas with an uncle for about four months. And he said it’s very interesting that your name is darvish “because you have elements of a Darvish in your personality.” I didn’t understand what he was referring to.

painting of a woman chasing a kite

“I gave her an octopus kite for her birthday. It never flew well,” 2020 by darvish Fakhr

Maryam Eisler: What were the personality traits your uncle was referring to?
darvish Fakhr: I don’t know. It was the first time I thought of my name as something other than a name to respond to. Before that, it was just a very unusual name. My American friends hadn’t heard of it. Even for Iranians, it was a surprise that darvish was my first name. I always loved how Iranians pronounced my name, in the way that it was meant to be pronounced, with the emphasis on the ‘e’ sound. I remember liking the sound of it because it had a very hard beginning and a very soft ending, and I felt that I had some of that in me. I’ve always had different gears in my personality.

Above: ‘Notes from the Balcony’ (filmed in Brighton, UK during lockdown)

Maryam Eisler: Do you think this idea of dichotomy in your personality also originates from a cultural dichotomy? You are half Persian, half English. You also spent 27 years of your early and young adult life in Boston, Massachusetts. I also see a multifaceted approach to your art. Whether it is in performance or in painting, you seem to live and be comfortable with these dualities.
darvish Fakhr: The dualities were confusing to me as a child. I never really felt that I belonged to any one thing. And then, because I grew up in Boston, during the 1979 – 1981 hostage crisis, there was a lot of resentment pointed in my direction. And I didn’t understand it. It was very confusing to me. Even my closest friend suddenly flipped on me. Stones were being thrown at my house. My teachers never sided with me either. I felt ostracised those years. And it culminated into a physical explosion which I remember so vividly, surrounded by these taunting kids. I went into this primordial bestial state that became a form of expression. A warning. And it made everyone back off. They had never seen that side of me. It was a very guttural reaction over what was happening to me.

man with feather

hand holding feather

Here and above: darvish Fakhr photographed by Maryam Eisler

Maryam Eisler: Was art your answer ?
darvish Fakhr: I needed somehow to come to terms with it, in a way that made sense to me. The only way to do it was through art. Art had a certain alchemy; it offered me the idea that I could take these different elements and turn them into something special. It felt like there was a secret there. And even though I grew up in America, I was fascinated with the Iranian culture. The mystical element of it. My grandmother would pray, and I would watch/be/sit with her. A ceremony in every way.

Read more: Three top gallerists on how the art world is changing

Maryam Eisler: When did you leave Iran?
darvish Fakhr: I never really lived in in Iran. I was born in Canada. And when I turned one, we moved to Boston. I also feel more American that British, even though my mother is English, by origin.

Maryam Eisler: Did you feel that duality in your family nucleus as well?
darvish Fakhr: Yes, my father was an engineer who became a stockbroker, and my mother was a playwright. I always grew up with these extremes in my life. It was the norm. We had a very open minded, somewhat eccentric household growing up. A lot was allowed that might not have been in another household. And I was an only child.

Man floating on a rug

Image by Hugh Fox

Maryam Eisler: At what stage in your life, did you decide to become an ‘artist’?
darvish Fakhr: It came as a result of a slow evolution of ideas, wondering who I was and where I fit in. I started off at Bradford College in Massachusetts and then Boulder Colorado. In Boulder, my mother suggested that I go to Italy for a summer. That’s when I really got into painting, in Tuscany. I then went to the School of Fine Arts in Boston, after which I decided that I wanted to move to Europe, and so I did my masters in London at the Slade.

Maryam Eisler: You personally experienced that antagonistic attitude towards being a ‘foreigner’ as a child all those years ago. Today, thirty or so years on, it would seem like not much has changed as we move towards more polarised societal and political spheres.
darvish Fakhr: It is a worrying state of affairs, but I have hope. I hope that deep down people know what the truth is, but it is the fear that keeps them from embracing the truth, fear of the unknown, fear of change. Deep down, I firmly believe that they know what the right thing is, but there are things that get in the way and muddle up their vision: media, propaganda, fake news. We don’t know what to believe anymore. I also have no doubt that there will be an awakening, but it will happen at a gradual pace. You need to have the darkness in order to see the light, and I am interested in that lightness.

Above: filmed in Venice Beach, Los Angeles

Maryam Eisler: Do you find that ‘ lightness’ in your art? Does your art offer you a sanctuary, a state of calm? Or even a state of possibilities?
darvish Fakhr: I don’t really know where the art begins for me. It just is. Every day. I am more interested in a way of being than making art for a gallery show. I like the idea that there is an overlap. Art, to me, becomes a way of life, a way of believing, a philosophy that manifests itself whether you are painting a picture, or flying on a zip line. And the quality that I am interested in is this lightness, enjoyable and fun.

abstract painting

“He remembers his grandmother mostly for her egg hunts,” 2019 by darvish Fakhr

Maryam Eisler: You paint by memory. Please explain.
darvish Fakhr: That’s right. The lack of information in a memory is what interests me, rather than its high resolution. When I was younger I had a car accident, and I was hit hard on the head. My recording isn’t very good as a result, but I am interested in how I choose to remember things and all the other stuff that’s not included in that memory. Memories are always changing, depending on what your circumstances are in any given moment. It’s this idea of ephemerality in art that interests me. Something that is fleeting, something that is flying through space. Dissipation, or evaporation somehow. Contrasting ideas and concepts.

Maryam Eisler: I also see that in your performances… when you ride the invisible, ephemeral musical wave.
darvish Fakhr: Yes. You can’t control the waves but you can learn how to surf. I like that notion of surfing through your existence. When I do these movements, I often do them in public spaces because I like to feel everything that is around me. And I use that energy to shape what I am working on.

Maryam Eisler: I have noticed your hands shaping the invisible when you perform.
darvish Fakhr: I really feel what is around me. I like to be receptive to it. Some people get the misconception that I am in my own world, but actually, I am very present. I let the music dictate my moves. What I like to do is move in a way that feels natural to me. I also like to do it in public, as I enjoy the stirring up of something that I call ‘gentle civic disruption’. When I am moving, the first thing they want to know is “is he a threat?” When they can see that I am not a threat, then they somehow accept it, or maybe ignore it politely. Or alternatively, they are fascinated by it. Something that is unorthodox. I am okay with all of that. But the notion of surfing is a big part of what I do. I try not to premeditate. Nothing is choreographed. I like to do that with my painting too. What a lot of people don’t realise is that there are a lot of paintings underneath those paintings. I am fascinated by this notion of palimpsest. Where we have stories over stories over stories, but nothing gets suffocated. It is all coming through at some level, and I learned that from Iran, from the walls of Iran.

Read more: Fish&Pips co-founder Holly Chandler on the future of travel

Maryam Eisler: What you are describing to me is human history. Personal stories and bigger histories. Is it not?
darvish Fakhr: Yes. But there was something about Iran that was so ostensible. It was on the walls, and even the road signs were changing. They would bleed through. The community would cover up bits here and there, but the paint would crack and there was something underneath. Something of the past.

Man floating

darvish Fakhr is currently collaborating with photographer Hugh Fox on a show entitled ‘Lightness of Being’. Image by Hugh Fox

Maryam Eisler: Where do you find your current inspiration?
darvish Fakhr: At the moment I am excited to be working with photographer Hugh Fox. We are creating a body of work for an upcoming show called Lightness of Being. We hope to show his photographs alongside my paintings along with video and performance pieces. Hugh and I have been working together for about 5 years and when we get together it’s always fun and spontaneous…we just start with a loose idea and then see what happens. The idea could be something as simple as “water” or “corners”.

We do maybe 5% of what the body is capable of doing every day. But, there is so much space there. And the body loves it. I am doing this because I know my body loves it too. And I was starting to break down when I was just painting. I was repeating myself, and I was losing my range of motion. That is when I pulled back. And I stopped painting for a little while. And I have just been working with this notion of fluidity and studying how much is part of who we are as human beings. We are 70% water. We come from water, and then we come into this world. The ageing process is this sort of drying out that happens. I am interested in containing that fluidity and applying it to my art. So that it allows more room for expression. The body ebbs and flows as we inhale and exhale. It is about living it rather than knowing it.

Maryam Eisler: Finally, do you feel that, at this stage of life, consciousness and experience, you now deserve your name?
darvish Fakhr: [laughs] I don’t know. A real ‘Darvish’ goes through a lot of formal training. They study with a master. I wouldn’t say that I can / understand what they understand on that level. I am just doing it my way.

Maryam Eisler: Maybe life has been your master?
darvish Fakhr: That is a nice idea. If it is, then I am still very much a student. My hope is that through my art, the world will see that by borrowing from different cultures, you can create something more special, more unique. I am more about celebrating these differences and combining them into something that can be possibly more harmonious.

Explore darvish Fakhr’s work: darvish.com
Follow on Instagram: @darvish.studio

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Reading time: 11 min
Architectural image
Image of fabric like water

Photogenic Painting, Untitled 75/31, Barbara Kasten. Copyright & courtesy the artist

Barbara Kasten is one of the most intriguing and influential photographic artists of the past 50 years. Born in the US before the second world war and initially influenced by the Bauhaus movement of the 1930s, her work seems to meld two dimensions into three and defy easy categorisation. In a rare interview, she speaks to Millie Walton about some of her techniques ahead of her postponed solo show at Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg in Germany

“I do not think of my work as abstract photography. My abstraction is a search for a fleeting moment in time when a nondescript, real thing is transformed and perceived in another state of being. By definition a photograph records reality. I use photography to capture a unique abstraction of perception which can only happen with the interaction of light. It’s about how materials interact with light and how light is so essential to the way that we look at the world.

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“Normally, my interest is in the material that I’m using and its properties so there’s a lot of controlling and experimentation, and that’s the initiating point for me. I make shapes out of these materials that have no representational value; they are basic geometric shapes, building blocks, which is where the relationship to architecture comes in. Everything that I build in front of the camera is not held together, it’s balanced on each other. I’m building something that looks like an object, but I don’t want it to look like an object so I cancel it with what happens when the light hits and the shadows create other objects that are fleeting. The shadows also become building blocks, but they’re not there so it creates this contrast between the real and the unreal.

Colourful architectural scape

Architectural Site 19, July 19, 1989, Barbara Kasten. Copyright & courtesy the artist

Architectural image

Architectural Site 17, August 29, 1988, Barbara Kasten. Copyright & courtesy the artist

Artist in studio

Architectural Site 15, Whitney, 1989, installation shot with the artist. Copyright and courtesy the artist

Read more: In the studio with the radical New-York based artist Mickalene Thomas

“All of my work is in the studio so I can move the light to achieve a different perspective of the object, but I don’t move the camera. I build in front of it and because [the viewer] is large, I can look at it as I might look at a painting where if a shape is not in a compositional relationship to another shape that I like then I can go in and change it by moving the object or the light. In that way, it’s a very painterly organisation and composition that I create, but then there’s also the three-dimensionality of the sculpture that is a different experience to the three-dimensionality as it is translated to the flat surface. I think that’s one of the reasons why more recently I’ve been taking what I call the set-ups in front of the camera and treating them more like standalone sculptures. I don’t make a photograph, I just use the same kind of material elements and I allow the audience to see what I see before I go to the back of the camera because once I’m looking through the camera, it’s my point of view and it’s frozen in the moment. Now, I’m more interested in how I can broaden this experience so that other people see the discovery for themselves.”

sculpture of coloured glass and metal

Crown Hall, Artist City, 2018, Barbara Kasten. Copyright and courtesy the artist

Due to Covid-19, the artist’s solo exhibition ‘Works: Barbara Kasten’ at Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg has been postponed, and is expected to open later this year. For updates, visit: kunstmuseum-wolfsburg.de

View the artist’s full portfolio of work: barbarakasten.net

This article will also be published in the Summer 2020 Issue, hitting newsstands in May 2020.

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Suspended glowing lights
Artworks of glowing light

‘James Turrell’ installed at Pace Gallery, 6 Burlington Gardens, London. From left: Sagittarius (2019); Cassiopeia (2019); Pegasus (2019). Photograph by Damian Griffiths

James Turrell’s practice has long centred around the manipulation of light and space. His works are designed to provide atmospheres for contemplative thought. These might be rooms filled with colourful light, an aperture in the ceiling open to the sky, or focused points of perception such as his Constellation works that were on display at Pace Gallery’s Burlington Arcade space before its forced closure and which are now viewable digitally.

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To say Turrell’s work has less impact viewed through a computer screen would be a huge understatement. The power of the seemingly floating orbs of light that feature in this latest exhibition lies in their scale, in the opportunity that they provide to sit amidst crowds of people and loose yourself within expanding colour.

Ball of red glowing light

Cassiopeia (2019), James Turrell at Pace Gallery, London. Photograph by Damian Griffiths

The real-life works are created to prompt a transcendental kind of experience in which the viewer is no longer distanced from the light but within it. It’s an effect that Turrell has mastered over the years through a continued exploration of technological possibilities in relation to the sensorial realm; in these latest works, the shapes are created on a frosted glass surface animated by an array of LED lights, which are mounted to a wall and generated by computer programming. The lights subtly change colour, morphing into one another so as to be barely perceptible to the viewer (notably, this is an effect which is completely removed from the digital stills of the artworks).

Read more: Why we love Hublot’s limited edition spring timepieces

That said, there is still value to viewing the work from a digital distance, but it requires more discipline. Our online gaze is programmed to be restless and easily distracted. Typically, we jump from one page, one image to the next, consuming data on a superficial level that at best, provides a sense of light relief and at worst, induces a feeling of anxiety or panic. Turrell’s practice, by contrast, centres around creating a sense of peace and internal reflection. But to allow for these experiences to manifest digitally, it requires a new approach to viewing. We suggest letting each work fill the screen before sitting back, hands away from the keyboard and just spending time looking, letting your eyes soak up what’s in front of them without expectation or “a goal” in mind.

glowing light on wall in gallery

Cassiopeia (2019), James Turrell at Pace Gallery, London. Photograph by Damian Griffiths

The exhibition presented by Pace provides only a very small insight into Turrell’s artistic world, but it’s a good introduction all the same.

“James Turrell” is available to view online until May 23 2020 via pacegallery.com/viewing-rooms/james-turrell.

3 unusual places to find James Turrell’s permanent installations

Amanzoe Hotel & Resort, Greece

The Aman Group’s luxurious hilltop resort in Port Heli, Greece is home to Sky Plain, the American artist’s first permanent installation in the Mediterranean. Like his other skyspaces, the installation features a large opening in the ceiling, providing viewers a frame through which to contemplate the Aegean sky as it subtly evolves throughout the day.

aman.com/resorts/amanzoe

Kielder Forest Park, England

On the English border near Scotland lies the Kielder Forest Park, a sweeping area of wilderness dotted with contemporary art sculptures including Turrell’s Cat Cairn: The Kielder Skyspace. Viewers enter the circular stone structure through a tunnel in the hillside to find a light filled chamber.

visitkielder.com

House of Light, Japan

House of Light is a guesthouse designed by the artist by fusing traditional Japanese architecture with his own artworks to produce a space for relaxation and meditation. Guests of the house can bathe in a tub illuminated at night by fibre optics and by natural light filtered through the forest during the day.

hikarinoyakata.com

 

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Gallery installation shot showing work by Sarah Morris
Gallery installation shot showing work by Sarah Morris

Sarah Morris installation shot, ‘Machines do not make us into Machines’, White Cube Bermondsey © Sarah Morris. Photo © White Cube (Ollie Hammick)

Standing in front of one of Sarah Morris‘ expansive architectural grids is a challenging, giddying experience. Confronted with a maze of colour and geometric shapes, you’re struck with a sense of panic: What are you looking at? How do you see it all at once, or make sense of it as a whole? This anxiety, or perhaps desire, is at the core of the American artist’s work as she plays with the viewer’s sense of visual recognition. Incorporating a wide range of references from the structure of urban transport systems to the iconography of maps, GPS technology, as well as the movement of people within urban environments, Morris’ work is best understood as an expanding and evolving network of visual, social and political connections.

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Her exhibition at the White Cube (and her first in the UK in six years), Machines do not make us into Machines presents a new series of ‘Sound Graph’ paintings, which use the artist’s sound files as a starting point for their composition. Recorded fragments of conversations are abstracted into hard-edged geometric shapes that appear in vibrant, fluctuating patterns that seem to move before the gaze.

Sound graph abstract painting by artist Sarah Morris

Sarah Morris, ‘The Building looks like a ship’ [Sound Graph], 2019 © Sarah Morris. Photo © Tom Powel Imaging. Courtesy White Cube

Image of a white dome with a golden spire and pink smoke in the sky behind

Sarah Morris ‘Abu Dhabi’ [still] 2017. HD Digital. Duration: 67 minutes, 54 seconds © Sarah Morris. Courtesy White Cube

The exhibition also includes a selection of her films. Most notably, Abu Dhabi (2017) – a layered and fragmented exploration of the city’s psycho-geography. Her first ever sculpture What can be explained can also be predicted (2019), is comprised of modular, glass tubes of various heights and colours, arranged on a gridded marble plinth in the appearance of a miniature city. There’s a lot to contemplate, so much in fact, that it is deserving of more than one visit.

‘Machines do not make us into Machines’ runs until 30 June 2019 at White Cube, Bermondsey, London. For more information visit: whitecube.com

Follow Sarah Morris on Instagram: instagram.com/sarahmorris

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Marsden Hartley the lighthouse
Marsden Hartley's Maine at the MEt Breuer

Canuck Yankee Lumberjack at Old Orchard Beach, Maine. By Marsden Hartley. Courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution

American artist Marsden Hartley travelled extensively throughout his life, labelling himself “the painter of Maine“. Indeed the state’s rugged, lush landscape recurs in many forms throughout the artist’s extensive body of work, revealing a continued attachment to and dialogue with his homeland. The retrospective exhibition at The Met Breuer features 90 of Hartley’s paintings and drawings, leading the viewer on a chronological journey from sombre, dark landscapes to abstract cubist influenced figures during World War I to Cézanne-esque seaside scenes and homoerotically tinged portraits of working class men. The display pays homage to Hartley’s unique vision, creative variety and his continued significance within the American modernist movement.

Marsden Hartley’s Maine runs until 18th June 2017 on Floor 3 at The Met Breuer, New York

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