by Brenda Mitchell, Ph.D.
O'Keeffe found Heard's footprints around the tree where he had been dancing, as well as a cryptic inscription he had etched into the earth at the base of the tree.
Two largely ignored paintings from Georgia O'Keeffe's oeuvre, D. H. Lawrence Pine Tree and Gerald's Tree I, bring up several important issues concerning O'Keeffe's disguised portraits and her close relationships with literary figures. In both paintings O'Keeffe has portrayed male writers (men of culture) as trees, an apparent paradox from a woman linked to the world of nature by her contemporaries and even by the artist herself. O'Keeffe once wrote: "I feel like a little plant that he [husband Alfred Stieglitz] has watered and weeded and dug around — and he seems to have been able to grow himself — without anyone watering or weeding or digging around him." She later distanced herself from the world of culture, especially literature, declaring to painters Arthur Dove and Helen Torr, "I am quite illiterate." Yet she lived at the center of American avant-garde art production, and included in her library were major works of philosophy and literature, as well as art theory by, among others, Clive Bell and Wassily Kandinsly (in whose Concerning the Spiritual in Art O'Keeffe would have encountered Theosophy). The apparent paradox begins to disappear when we recognize that her subjects in these paintings, British novelist D. H. Lawrence and Irish writer Gerald Heard themselves experienced ambivalence toward the world of culture, and that O'Keeffe's symbolic portrayals placed her squarely in the mainstream of American Modernism.Read More