In the initial section of Part 2 we are asked to focus on natural objects. As I have lots in my garden (no idea why, they were there when we moved in!) I initially focused on shells. Whilst working on my drawings, Georgia O’Keeffe’s work on shells was brought to my attention.
In ‘Red Hill and White Shell‘ the white shell is the key image of the painting and it is placed in front of a red hill and magnified to look oversized compared to the hill. It is a painting where either the shell is enormous or the world around it is miniature. The words that spring to mind when looking at the painting are: miniature, oversized, smooth, cool, hot, contrast, wonderland, sea, atmosphere, thunder, fantasy, dream.
I was attracted to this piece as it has a shell as the main focus but also because I like the contrast in colours between the cool, pearl shell and the red hot mountains. The choice of colour helps to magnify the shell even more and make it pop against its background. Although the drawings in the coursebook seem to be getting us to draw based on observation, this painting has made me think a lot about the choice of background for our natural objects. Do we have to stick with a realistic ‘in situ’ background or can we add interest by placing our natural objects in a stranger world?
This piece of art by O’Keefe makes me think of Alice in Wonderland and I do question the proportions of the hill and the shell. Is the shell really that big or is it drawn from the perspective of something much smaller?
The thunderous, dramatic sky also add to this fantasy illusion, as do the soft folds of the ground around the shell. Again, the use of colour is interesting, the folds appear to be a mix of the red used for the hill and the white used for the shell, to help link everything together in this otherwise distorted world. I am also drawn to the spiral of the shell, it seems to suck you right into the centre of the painting as if you are falling down a spiral staircase.
Shells traditionally are symbolic of love and fertility, placing this in front of soft red folds that could almost be uterine in nature could be significant. O’Keeffe always rejected any feminist or freudian symbolic meaning to her work but countless others have attributed symbolic meaning to her work, could this shell be another of them?
O’Keeffe used oils to paint this piece and the original is a big piece of work at 36inches square. The use of oils has given the shell a very smooth texture and the colours are blended perfectly to add to the smooth appearance. It gives the impression that the painting would feel just like that type of shell. The shells I have been looking at are different in their nature and especially as they’ve been in my garden for some time they are rugged, rough and full of imperfections.