Formal Analysis: Georgia O’Keeffe, “Series I, No. I” (1918)

Georgia O'Keeffe, "Series I, No. I" (1918)

The Amon Carter Museum has a wide variety of Georgia O’Keeffe paintings in their permanent collection, spanning almost her entire career. Series I, No. I from 1918, an oil on canvas painting measuring 20×16 inches, is from the early part of her career as a professional artist. O’Keeffe utilizes abstract forms and a wide variety of intense colors to create a fluid, musically inspired composition. Line, color and contrast between light and dark are all key elements used in the composition.  Each element works in perfect unison and harmony with one another to create this abstract painting.

From one edge of the canvas to another, lines moves in a fluid motion producing abstract forms. At the outer regions of the canvas, lines blur and are less defined compared to the well-defined circular lines in the center of the painting. This fluidity of line creates a sense of movement and motion on the two-dimensional canvas. A focal point is made by the convergence of all the lines, which begin to curl in on each other as they meet in the center of the canvas. This movement of line across the canvas resembles what one might imagine the waves of music might look like when they hit the ear of the audience.

Color is the second important element Georgia O’Keeffe used in Series I, No. I. Using a wide variety of brilliant and vibrant colors, ranging from reds and pinks to deep blues and teals, she manages to continue the theme of fluid motion in Series I, No. I, not just in line but also in her use of color. Each color works off of one another and although they might not all be natural, the colors naturally seem to work together here in this composition. If the lines O’Keeffe made were meant to represent waves of music, then each color must represent the different instruments used in the orchestra. Combining the use of line and color, O’Keeffe constructs a beautiful composition together by contrasting the colors of each line to one another.

Light and dark areas are vividly contrasted to one another because O’Keeffe placed each right next to each other. The lightest elements of the painting are found in the outer regions of the canvas; while the darker tones are found where all the lines converge and curl in on one another. This contrast of colors also generates a certain, yet still limited, sense of depth to the painting. Light radiates from an internal source illuminating the entire canvas. Colors themselves are what generate the light that radiates from within the canvas.  By contrasting light and dark colors beside each other, O’Keeffe produces a sense of internal warmth that shines through the colors. The light and dark elements to O’Keeffe’s painting create a sense of volume and depth to this otherwise flat surface.

Each element works together in unison achieving the ultimate goal of creating an abstract self-expression of what music must look like imagined in O’Keeffe’s minds eye. Together, line and color create the fluid motion of sound waves; while contrasting light and dark colors gives a sense of depth to the flat plane of the canvas. Combining all of these elements harmoniously together, O’Keeffe captures in paint what beautiful music a symphony would make in a grandiose music hall.

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