Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Land of Enchantment: A Poetic Journey

Olga García Echeverría

Georgia O'Keefe: Pedernal 1941

I’m in New Mexico on a do-it-yourself writing retreat with three kindred spirits—Our Lady of Birds, Snake Woman, and Little Dog.

We’re here because we are of the philosophy that hibernation is critical to artistic germination. No one is going to give us a week of our own to create poems or carve prayer sticks; we have to seize the time and create those opportunities.

This week away from daily routines and city noise is ours to nurture the artistic soul. No formal itinerary. No outrageous fees or application process. Just some planning on our part, poquitos sacrificios, a lovely borrowed house at the edge of Sandia Mountain (what a gift!) and we’re here encantadas: eating, resting, reading, writing, talking, congregating regularly around la mesa en la cocina, our hearth. A reminder that sometimes, as Joy Harjo say, The world begins at the kitchen table.

Afuera, white puffy clouds drift across bright blue sky. Every now and then nubes bunch up and turn a watercolor gray, teasing rain. There’s thirst for water in the air. Our bodies feel the arid shift from California. Our eyes sting and tear throughout the day. Our skin tingles. From our balcony on the second floor, we can see the soft reddish and sandy hues of Sandia Mountain. It doesn’t look like a Sandia to me, but it’s so pretty, I want to bite it. 

Being in New Mexico these past days gives me a hint of the encanto effect. Maybe it’s the cottonwood floating like little mariposas in the air or a lingering elevation buzz, but everything feels a bit lighter here. Despite all the desert rock, there’s a sense of buoyancy. We’ve been on short walks around the neighborhood, and the New Mexico “músico,” el viento, has brushed up against our face and hair. It feels like being lightly strummed. We are like the wild grasses of this area, the aspen leaves and the cottonwoods trees, instruments in the hands of the enchanting wind. 

Yesterday, we took a break from our hibernation and ventured to Santa Fe to check out the Georgia O’Keefe Museum. Like all great art, her paintings are visual poems that inject creative fuel. 

O'Keefe: Photo by Alfred Stieglitz 1928

It’s not surprising that O’Keefe fell under New Mexico's spell the first time she visited in 1929. Everything, she said, was different in New Mexico, the wind, the color of the earth, the sky. She had never seen anything like it. Enchanted, she returned regularly for the next 20 years, each visit influencing her artistic style and work greatly. In 1949, after her husband died and O’Keefe had settled his estate, she moved to The Land of Enchantment permanently. Although not religious, O’Keefe saw New Mexico as her spiritual home, that special place in the world where she felt integrally connected and where her art blossomed. 

O'Keefe: A Street 1926

Landscape as encantador is visible in O’Keefe’s paintings. New York, her previous home, had inspired paintings like A Steet, a windowless metropolis where edges and shadows transform buildings into a stark city canon. The only breath in the painting is a crack of sky and a lamppost at the end of the urban tunnel. 

New Mexico, however, brought forth a dramatic shift in O’Keefe’s colors, texture, focus and overall feel. Her painting, Black Mesa Hills, illustrates this artistic shift. It was wonderful to see these originals up close and appreciate the richness of O'Keefe's brushstrokes.

One of my museum favorites, Ram’s Head, Morning Glory. I love the juxtaposition of fossil and bloom in this piece. It captures the harshness and the beauty of the Southwest desert in such a Zen way.

Black Hollyhock Blue Larkspur 1930

Also at the museum were a few of O'Keefe's magnified, voluptuous flowers. There was an interesting footnote about these iconic paintings at the museum. Whereas male Freudian interpretations of O’Keefe and her work have long equated her flowers with vulvas and female sexuality, Georgia herself found the interpretations ridiculous, if not somewhat offensive. There's no denying the sensuality in her paintings, but sometimes a flower is just a flower. 

From 1931-1942, O’Keefe drew and painted various Katsina Tithu, carved wooden figures depicting Hopi spirit beings. These figures are commonly referred to as Kachina or Katsina dolls. O’Keefe seldom exhibited these Katsina works and kept most of them in her personal collection till the end of her life, so it was a treat to see some of these at the museum. Ironically, three of these Katchinas had a striking resemblance to the animal spirits I came to New Mexico with.

Our Lady of Birds

Snake Woman

Little Dog
O'Keefe painted her heart out and lived to be 99 years old. Although we aren’t all as privileged as O’Keefe (I would love to settle an estate and move to New Mexico), there is something to be said about giving our art (whatever it may be) a revered place in our daily lives. 

Our Week of Our Own is coming to an end. It has been way too brief, but hibernating in New Mexico and standing in front of O’Keefe’s originals have pumped us with creative endorphins. We’ve revised stories and poems, outlined ideas, and most importantly watered our artistic souls. Nos vamos de aquí llenas de cantos y encanto. Gracias to the Land of Enchantment and to the two generous mujeres who loan us their home. We are grateful.
Entrando al Encanto

Santa Fe Magic 


Anonymous said...

Thank you Olga for sharing your movement in enchantment. Your impressions and reflections are always inspiring.

Anonymous said...

Que bella refleccion....contemplative, indeed.
Now, I want to go back to NM :)