Art History  •  Artworks under the lens

Sky Above Clouds IV, The Landscape, and O’Keeffe’s Artistic Language

Sky Above Clouds IV is the final monumental painting in a series around the theme of clouds, painted by Georgia O’Keeffe in the 1960s. In her mature, abstract style she created this atmospheric immersion in the sky-scape which oscillates between pattern and landscape. In this article, Singulart discusses Sky Above Clouds IV in the context of O’Keeffe’s work and her place within modern art. 

Who was Georgia O’Keeffe? 

Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) was an American artist, known as the Mother of American Modernism. O’Keeffe grew up on a farm near Wisconsin and began her formal artistic training at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago in 1905. From 1908, unable to afford further education, she worked as a commercial illustrator for two years and then taught art until 1918. She continued to study in the summers between 1912 and 1918 and it was during this time that she was introduced to the work of American artist, Arthur Wesley Dow, whose style was based on creating through composition and design rather than simply recreating nature. This encounter with Dow’s work opened up a realm of alternative possibilities to the realism that O’Keeffe had previously been taught. She went on to experiment with her own personal style over the next two years, seeking to find her own personal form of expression. 

Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O'Keeffe: A Portrait - With Flowers,  1934 .
Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe: A Portrait – With Flowers, 1934 .

In 1915, she made a series of abstract charcoal drawings, making her one of the first American artists to pursue abstraction. She then posted a selection of these abstract drawings to a friend in New York who showed them to the art dealer and photographer Alfred Stieglitz. This encounter led to her first exhibition in 1916, organized by Stieglitz. In 1918, with the financial support of Stieglitz, she moved to New York and began to work seriously as an artist. She proceeded to create her iconic abstract works, such as her Red Canna series, which O’Keeffe claimed represent her personal interpretation of flowers but which many critics interpret as abstract representations of female genitalia.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Red Canna, 1924
Georgia O’Keeffe, Red Canna, 1924

O’Keeffe and Stieglitz were married in 1924 and they remained in New York until 1929, when O’Keeffe started to spent part of the year in New Mexico, a landscape which had a profound influence on her later work. After Stieglitz’s death she moved permanently to New Mexico where she continued to paint late into her life, until illness and blindness unfortunately prevented her from doing so.

O’Keeffe is internationally renowned today for her innovative art which covers a huge range of subject matter, from flowers to bones, cityscapes to landscapes, all of which are essential works of American Modernism. 

Sky Above Clouds IV

Georgia O’Keeffe, Sky Above Clouds IV, 1965

When Georgia O’Keeffe was in her 70s, she took an airplane for the first time and found herself confronted with the fascinating view of earth from the sky, above the clouds. This inspired her to create a series of paintings around the theme of clouds, that she worked on from 1963 in Abiquiu, New Mexico. She began with a realistic painting of small white clouds on a three by four foot canvas before developing a stylized cloud motif which she applied to progressively larger surfaces, culminating in the creation of Sky Above Clouds IV in 1965 which spans an entire twenty four foot canvas. Using pastel blues and pinks, O’Keeffe covered two thirds of the canvas with stylized white clouds, which end at the traditional horizon line and fade into bands of color. The repetition of this motif transforms the canvas into an almost abstract composition, hovering between pattern and landscape. 

O’Keeffe, Feminism and Modernism 

Georgia O’Keeffe is among the most influential artists of the twentieth century, however, she was often confined to the title of the “most famous woman artist”. Her abstraction of natural themes, such as landscapes and flowers, were often interpreted as feminine and as an expression of female sexual identity. O’Keeffe rejected confinement to these clichés, stating that,“Men put me down as the best woman painter…I think I’m one of the best painters.” Her work is largely the expression of her deep connection with nature and the landscape through her personal, abstract, visual language. In 1946 she became the first woman to have a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and her innovative paintings are today synonymous with the Modernist movement in America. 

Love Sky Above Clouds IV? See the full collection of paintings Inspired by O’Keeffe in Singulart.

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