Papaw Tree, Iao Valley, Maui by Georgia O'Keeffe

...O’Keeffe, I’ve since learned, created 20 Hawaiian paintings in 1939, when she made a nine-week visit to the islands at the behest of the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (soon to be Dole), which paid her way in exchange for the use of two images in a national ad campaign. She exhibited the works at her husband’s Manhattan gallery in early 1940, and a number of them are now in the permanent collection of the Honolulu Museum.

The three that hang there now, Waterfall—End of Road—‘Iao Valley, Waterfall—No. III—‘Iao Valley, and Papaw Tree, ‘Iao Valley, Maui, do for me what the barns of Lake George and the skulls of New Mexico also do: by distilling a place down to its symbolic forms, they subtly but surely allude to a vast range of experiences within that place. O’Keeffe’s Hawai’i subjects are flowers, fish hooks, lava bridges, the waterfalls, the tree, and a lone pineapple, which she grudgingly painted upon her return after Dole had the fruit shipped to her New York studio. The Waterfall paintings revel in a magical phenomenon: despite being located in an area of ocean that gets relatively little rain, the islands’ volcanic spines capture so much moisture that they create some of the wettest places on earth. Just a few minutes of rain can animate a sheer wall of green with elegant cascades of white, articulating the mountains’ structure and depth of field.

In Lionel Walden’s hands the volcano’s presence is subordinate to its treatment as a spectacle. O’Keeffe didn’t treat her subjects as spectacles. Chosen carefully as symbols—she wanted them to stand for more than themselves—she painted them as frankly as she could. As such, her subjects are like prisms; taking form as the focus of O’Keeffe’s intellect, they beam that intellect back into the world in a thousand ways.

As it so happens, O’Keeffe’s Hawai’i paintings will be the subject of Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawai’i, at the New York Botanical Garden in the spring of next year. [Saturday, May 19, 2018 – Sunday, October 28, 2018] Sounds like just the impetus for a road trip.
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Media: oil on canvas
Dimensions (h/w/d): 19 16 (48 41)