Grey Wash Forms1936 by Georgia O'Keeffe

In works spanning more than five decades, Georgia O’Keeffe painted the landscape of New Mexico with an almost spiritual devotion. She sought out distinctive forms in the Southwestern desert; among her favorites was an area she nicknamed the Black Place. This spot is located in a barren expanse outside the small town of Nageezi, in the northwestern part of the state, where O’Keeffe admired a series of black and silver hills that are marked by white, pink, and gold striations. She painted Grey Wash Forms and many other works there, later recalling that she

"must have seen the Black Place first driving past on a trip into the Navajo country and, having seen it, I had to go back to paint—even in the heat of mid-summer. It became one of my favorite places to work. The Black Place is about one hundred and fifty miles from Ghost Ranch [O’Keeffe’s home near the town of Abiquiu, New Mexico] and as you come to it over a hill, it looks like a mile of elephants—grey hills all about the same size with almost white sand at their feet. When you get into the hills you find that all the surfaces are evenly crackled so walking and climbing are easy."

While most of the New Mexico landscapes O’Keeffe depicted were within walking distance of a road where O’Keeffe could park a car loaded with canvases, easels, and paints, the Black Place was more difficult to access. She and her friend Maria Chabot, who often accompanied her, endured extreme temperatures and difficult conditions to enable O’Keeffe to work. In order to get there, Chabot had to inch the car along dry streambeds, with O’Keeffe walking ahead to guide her or roll rocks out of the way. O’Keeffe also camped in the Black Place in order to paint it. Her willingness to undergo such hardships is a measure of her love for the remote location, which she described as “Such a beautiful, untouched, lonely-feeling place—part of what I call the Far Away.”

In Grey Wash Forms, O’Keeffe represented the undulating hills of the Black Place by using a symphony of muted colors and exquisitely subtle variations in tone, setting them beneath a thin strip of pale blue sky. She chose to depict this broad expanse of grey and tan earth in a composition with no clear central focus, creating an almost abstract image. O’Keeffe’s dramatic, even surreal desert landscapes are at once representational and otherworldly.
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