Tomorrow (July 6), the Tate Modern in London will open a retrospective of Georgia O'Keeffe with over 100 of her paintings, many depicting the landscape of northern New Mexico, where O'Keeffe lived most of her life between 1929 and 1986. As Olivia Laing notes in an informative article in The Guardian a few days ago (click here), New Mexico was "the landscape that unlatched her heart."
Among the places where Georgia O'Keeffe drew inspiration for her paintings are two very different landscapes, separated by over 100 miles in northern New Mexico. She called them "the Black Place" and "Plaza Blanca" (aka, the White Place).
I have photographed both of these locations a few times, and on the occasion of the Tate Modern exhibition thought you might like to see them and some of the art they inspired.
The Black Place
The softly rounded pillows of crumbly gray-black sediment in the Black Place began 60 million years ago as ash from volcanoes in what was then a lush tropical forest. Iron and manganese in the soil have oxidized to give the shapes their unique color.
O'Keeffe wrote, "As you come to it over a hill, it looks like a mile of elephants -- grey hills all about the same size with almost white sand at their feet."
Most interesting, however, is how O'Keeffe's vision transformed these hills. As Olivia Laing notes in her article for The Guardian, "the paintings tip geological form over the threshold of abstraction."
For example, here are three of O'Keeffe's many paintings of the Black Place:
|Black Place I (1941)|
|Black Place III (1944)|
|Black Place, Grey and Pink (1949)|
A hundred miles east of the Black Place, and only a few miles away from O'Keeffe's studio in Abiquiu, New Mexico, stand the stark cliffs and hoodoos of Plaza Blanca -- the White Place. Contrasting with the Black Place in both color and shape, Plaza Blanca presents a completely different landscape.
The cliffs are the boundaries of a broad arroyo channel:
The walls are made of tuff, which is fine volcanic ash that has been compacted and eroded over millions of years into tower-like shapes.
Further up the arroyo, the canyon walls resemble a huge fortress city:
On the opposite side of the arroyo, the towers seem to be still emerging from the hills of other material that has been laid over the tuff:
The vertical "fins" on this side have not been smoothed as much, and are much more textured.
This section reminds me of the Sagrada Familia basilica in Barcelona:
And with a different sky and light, these towers begin to look rather ominous and creepy:
The only O'Keeffe painting of Plaza Blanca I could find online is this one, but you can see her transformative vision at work:
|From the White Place (1940)|
If you would like to see these and more images of the Black Place and Plaza Blanca in a larger format, please visit my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here.