GREAT LADY PAINTER, SHE KILLED SNAKES WITH A STICK!

There is this photograph, all stark, black & white. It is haunting, shocking and a bit punked out, but it was not taken by Robert Mapplethorpe. A young woman all shaggy, crazy, in a camisole with arms raised: a beautiful black & white study, but again, not by Robert Mapplethorpe and the subject is not Patti Smith. It is Georgia O’Keeffe as photographed by Alfred Stieglitz.

okeefe
Alfred Stieglitz. “Portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe”
1918
Gelatin silver print
23.5 cm x 15.4 cm
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Georgia O’Keeffe [i]
In many ways they set New York City and the art world on fire in the 1920’s. And would it be any different today? In 2010 Patti Smith published her autobiographical book Just Kids, wherein the feel of New York City and the ambience of the Chelsea Hotel are the background for many honest and lyrical memories of an otherwise decrepit downtown environment.

Smith has also written of other influences, amongst them: James Joyce, Arthur Rimbaud, Bob Dylan and Georgia O’Keeffe. In the art world, it seems like there is a parallel to the music world when it comes to the matter of a ‘folk tradition.’ Where one younger artist might hear of an old time tune or lyric and learn that song and then up-date it, adding a verse or two that applies to the current times. A thread that runs through the fabric of history. So Patti Smith has done exactly that in her poem/portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe.

georgia o’keeffe

“great lady painter
what she do now
she goes out with a stick
and kills snakes

georgia o’keeffe
all life still
cow skull
bull skull
no bull shit
pyrite pyrite
she’s no fool
started out pretty
pretty pretty girl

georgia o’keeffe
until she had her fill
painted desert
flower cactus
hawk and head mule
choral water color
red coral reef
been around forever

georgia o’keeffe
great lady painter
what she do now
go and beat the desert
stir dust bowl
go and beat the desert
snake skin skull
go and beat the desert
all life still”[ii]

Not to be outdone by the ‘punk’ music scene, Robbie Robertson’s solo studio albums following the breakup of The Band explored melancholy and meditative views of a variety of American cultural issues. He reflects upon the American West, the city of New Orleans and a variety of dream images including a long ago Georgia O’Keeffe. In a ‘talkin blues’ style these are modern musings, or even warnings, somewhat seductive and even dangerous.

“I remember the smell of burning leaves
And we were making love
She was like a young Georgia O’Keeffe
From another time
In an old abandoned railroad shack
One should never go
Where anything can happen….”[iii]


 

[i] Stieglitz, Alfred; Georgia O’Keeffe: A Portrait; The Metropolitan Museum of Art; New York, New York; 1978 & 1997; plate 9.

[ii] Smith, Patti; Early Work: 1970-1979; W. W. Norton & Company; New York & London; 1994; pp. 48-49.

[iii] Robertson, Robbie; “Day of Reckoning,” Storyville; audio recording GEFSD 24303; David Geffen Company; Ontario, Canada; 1991.