Beyond the fact that they were both famous American artists, Georgia O'Keeffe and Andy Warhol don't seem to have all that much in common. O'Keeffe is deeply associated with the crusty, dry, rural Southwest, while Warhol epitomizes the hipster New York City art scene of the '60s. O'Keeffe's work is filled with natural light and natural settings, while Warhol's most famous work focuses on celebrities and household products.
Despite their many differences, these two artists do have one important thing in common: Both painted large-scale images of flowers at some point during their careers.
In O'Keeffe's case, she began painting flowers in earnest in 1924 and continued doing so for the next 30 years. Her voluptuous renderings of the sex organs of plants are among the most famous images of 20th century American art. For O'Keeffe, painting flowers seemed almost as natural as breathing. Her large oil paintings of flowers are among her best-known work.
Warhol, on the other hand, painted the bulk of his big flower images in 1964 and 1965. Considering the nature of the rest of his body of work, it seems almost bizarre that he painted them at all. He sometimes used the silk-screen process to create images of the same flower in different sizes. He also produced a series of images of different flowers. Warhol's flower images are among his least-known work.
Flowers of Distinction, a new exhibit at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe (217 Johnson), places large-scale flower paintings by both artists side by side for the first time. It should be a strange and enlightening juxtaposition.
The show just opened this week and will run through Jan. 6 of next year. It'll be worth the ride up to our sister city to take a look. Admission is $4 for New Mexico residents, but it's free on Friday evenings from 5 to 8 p.m. Admission is always free for kids and students with ID. For details, call (505) 946-1000.