The Landscape of Solitude
Felix Farwick on Georgia O'Keeffe and shared loneliness.
I've been told the bulbs resemble trees or clouds, light forms shifting in the wind either way. The jagged line to their left is a mountain range, they tell me, the fleeing curves to their right a riverbed's white sand silhouette and the water's fleeting shadows within.
Georgia O'Keeffe's flowers and desert landscapes are well-known, and as beautiful as they may be, it was one of her early charcoal works, Drawing XIII, that truly grabbed me.
My lasting fascination didn't stem from the drawing's artistic merits, as undeniable as they are, but from the space I found within, a space which I felt to be wholly my own.
Let me be clear, I understand how and why the drawing evokes images of landscapes in many viewers, and I am even quite sure that O'Keeffe herself had her beloved mountains, trees, and rivers in mind while drawing the piece, but the chasm between this very understanding and what I feel when immersing myself in Drawing XIII is the root of my enchantment.
A row of mute, huddled creatures, hunchbacked, both naked and hidden from sight underneath heavy black cloth. They are aware of their similarities, after all, their reasons for wandering are the same, only their jagged thoughts do not reach for one another, but out into the ether and therefore isolation instead. One might think these drifting creatures doomed, and there is no point in denying a pervading sense of dread, but there is a third element not yet discussed.
There is a winding path to their right, and even though not a single one of them dares walk on it, they all walk along it, and in the end it is this path they all deny that elevates their singular solitudes to a collective yearning, an unarticulated hope of going somewhere, finding something.
Georgia O'Keeffe has made many beautiful things, but Drawing XIII is the one I return to most often to remind myself of our shared loneliness.
Felix Farwick is a German writer. He works in Leipzig and London.
Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) was an American modernist painter best known for her depictions of colorful flowers and New Mexico landscapes. She is recognized as the “mother of American modernism.” Drawing XIII (1915) is held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.