Tuesday 25 July 2017

Making Your Unknown Known

“Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant. There is no such thing.
Making your unknown known is the important thing –
and keeping the unknown always beyond you.”
- Georgia O’Keeffe

“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I
couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.”
- Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe has always been one of my favourite artists, despite the fact that I misspelled her name for decades. Her use of colour and deceptively simple lines appeals to me strongly, as does her life story. The hermit-like isolation she sought in New Mexico resonates with my introverted psyche. (Personally, I’d have wanted air-conditioning, WIFI, and cell phone service along with the isolation.)

A Georgia O’Keeffe tribute exhibit is currently running (until August 31) at the John M. Parrott Art Gallery in the Belleville Public Library. Its theme: “...things I had no words for – Georgia O’Keeffe revealed in the work of 20+ regional artists”. The Parrott’s resident curator, Susan Holland, plus Belleville artists Lisa Morris, Peter Paylor, and Bernard C. Noel, worked together to organize and hang this excellent exhibit. It runs in tandem with the Art Gallery of Ontario’s wondrous Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit, which, sadly, closes on July 30.

Bill and I were flattered to be among the artists invited to create works for the Parrott Gallery exhibit - Bill as a quilt maker and me as a photographer.

Let me start with Bill. I love how Bill’s fertile brain works – he is so intuitive and energized when he is creating, often using music to inspire and propel him. When he first saw O’Keeffe’s “Winter Road” painting, he was impressed by the abstract power of her road. It reminded him of Joni Mitchell’s song, “I wish I had a river I could skate away on” – and that became the title of his quilt.

His riff on O’Keeffe’s painting is brilliant – full of life and passion, just like him. His quilting collaborator, Deanna Gaudaur, enhanced Bill’s design with her magical quilting – two artists joining forces to honour a third.
Georgia O'Keeffe's "Winter Road" (1963)

Bill Stearman's "I wish I had a river I could skate away on" (2017)
Quilted by Deanna Gaudaur

Bill and his quilt at the Parrott Gallery.

My contribution to the exhibit took a different direction. It was sparked when Bill and I were leaving the Sydney Opera House in April of this year. We had exited the SOH from the foot of the escalators leading to the lobby area underneath The Monumental Steps (their official name). Bill gasped and said, “Look up!” And there was the most amazing set of symmetrical concrete ribs – the dramatic structural underbelly of The Monumental Steps. Click! Click! Click! A photographer’s dream.

Prior to our trip to Australia, I had been researching Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings in anticipation of the Parrott Gallery’s exhibit, so I was familiar with her urban abstract paintings and her fascination with dynamic architecture. The concrete ribs underneath the SOH’s Monumental Steps had O’Keeffe’s name written all over them.

However, when I returned to Canada and had the photo printed, I was a little disappointed – it looked very stark and monochromatic. Meanwhile, I had been further exploring O’Keeffe’s abstract architectural work and discovered her 1932 painting, “Manhattan”, complete with its three New Mexican flowers. This sparked another idea: I could take my photo of The Monumental Steps and use Photoshop to play around and create an homage to O’Keeffe’s “Manhattan”. Several hours later, an image emerged from my computer monitor that combined four versions of the original photograph, flipped 90 degrees, but definitely NOT monochromatic! I had this image printed the same size as the original so that the images could be hung next to each other in the Parrott Gallery’s exhibit. The flowers that I added were not from New Mexico, however – instead they came from the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens in Hobart. I trust the spirit of Georgia O’Keeffe won’t mind the liberties I took in her name!

Georgia O'Keefe's "Manhattan" (1932; photographed at The Brooklyn Museum)

Sydney Opera House - The Monumental Steps

Larry Tayler's "Sydney Opera House, Monumental Steps From Below, Part 1" (2017)

Larry Tayler's "Sydney Opera House, Monumental Steps From Below, Part 2, O'Keeffed" (2017)

I hope you enjoy these images. If you are in the Belleville area, please visit the exhibit in the Belleville Public Library’s John M. Parrott Gallery. It is brimming with energy and creativity – a fine tribute to an amazing artist from an impressive group of fellow artists.

The Parrott Gallery is located at 254 Pinnacle Street, Belleville, and is open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9:30 am to 5 pm, Thursday from 9:30 am to 8 pm, and Saturday from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm. The exhibit ends August 31. Check out the Parrott Gallery’s website here.

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