O'Keeffe is probably my favorite painter. I can take or leave her flower paintings -- which, by the way, she never meant to be sexual. "I hate flowers," she's quoted as saying. "I paint them because they're cheaper than models and they don't move." The art world pinned the "girl painting girl parts" label on her because her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, had used her as a nude model for his photography.
My favorite O'Keeffe works are those she painted after she discovered New Mexico: the bones, the amazing landscapes, and this one window. I loved the window painting so much when I saw it at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe that I bought a print and framed it. It's called In the Patio II and she painted it in 1948.
That wall fascinated O'Keeffe. She painted and sketched it at least twenty times. It's the reason she spent more than ten years convincing the Archdiocese of Santa Fe to sell her the crumbling ranch house with the patio -- a courtyard, really -- in the center.
The wall fascinated me, too. I wanted to know what was on the other side of the window. I was sure it was something magical.
But when I took a tour of her house and studio in Abiquiu, NM, this past week, I discovered it's not a window at all. It's a door. Here's a link to what the real thing looks like. I'm resorting to a link so that I don't violate any copyrights -- but I encourage you to click through so you can see what I'm talking about. In the photo at the link, see how the shadow of the adjoining wall slants across the wall with the door? Well, when I was there, the wall with the door was itself casting the shadow. Adobe is the same color as the dirt in the courtyard. And O'Keeffe was a Minimalist; she left out details to get at the essence of what she was painting. So for In the Patio II, she left out the line where the wall ends and the patio starts. The dark stripe under the door is the shadow of the wall; the brighter stripe beyond is sunlit dirt.
So what's behind the door? It's a storage room, according to our guide. O'Keeffe hated clutter. She kept all her extra canvases and brushes and paints and stuff in there.
Some folks might have been disappointed to hear that, but not me. I was charmed. For the tools and supplies are what O'Keeffe used to make her art. She kept magic behind that door -- just as I'd suspected all along.
These moments of bloggy curiosity have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.