Georgia O'Keeffe

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1896)

Georgia O’Keeffe’s first signs of macular degeneration appeared in 1964 when, as Jeffrey Hogrefe relates in his 1992 biography, she “rounded a curve in the road she was driving from Ghost Ranch on a brilliantly sunny day… and the valley narrowed to a patch of greenery along the river. It felt, she said later, as if a cloud had entered her eyeballs…”
In 1972, she finished her last unassisted oil paintings—Black Rock with Blue Sky and White Clouds, in which a black ovoid stone dominates the canvas, a sliver of blue sky and clouds behind it, and The Beyond, which shows a wide band of darkness at the bottom of the canvas creeping toward the horizon line; one has the sense looking at it that all light will inevitably be engulfed. “My left eye has become much more cloudy,” she wrote in a letter that year, “and it’s as if my right eye is beginning to cloud. I assume I should know there is nothing that could be done about it. Am I correct?”
In the early to mid-seventies, she sometimes elicited assistance from others when working on her canvases, such as the summer of 1976, when she directed John Poling, then a handyman at Ghost Ranch, to execute her conception of several works, including From a Day with Juan. When he saw the painting published in ARTnews, he asked for credit, and though she advanced the claim that his “contribution had no artistic significance” and he was “the equivalent of a palette knife,” in the years that followed she turned more to clay as the last medium in which she worked.

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