Why was O'Keeffe interested in bones?
Once she started spending time in New Mexico, O'Keeffe began walking the desert and collecting sun-bleached bones like the rib and jaw you see here.
A statement she wrote in 1939 included these lines: "I have wanted to paint the desert and I haven't known how. I always think that I can not stay with it long enough. So I brought home the bleached bones as my symbols of the desert. To me they are as beautiful as anything I know. . . .The bones seem to cut sharply to the center of something that is keenly alive on the desert."
Why was she interested in painting bones?
When O'Keeffe first moved to New Mexico, she was struck by how there were few flowers so many bones in the landscape. She began to collect them and took them home to use a subjects in her paintings. She said, "The bones do not symbolize death to me. They are shapes that I enjoy." She especially liked bones with holes that she could hold up and view the blue sky through.
I love how this piece gives you a close up of her subject in a real concrete way. I feel like I am in her studio with her.
Terrific observation! I agree that the close cropping of the image makes it feel accessible. As you may have noticed, close-ups and cropping were some of the methods O'Keeffe used to abstract recognizable forms.
The brushwork in this painting seems little bit different. Can you say anything about it?
I think the drier brushwork here reflects the objects themselves. She collected bones that had been bleached in the desert sun.
Of course! O'Keeffe found the bones in the desert to be beautiful and lively. The line work here reminds me of her more urban canvases, which reflected a more realist vein of the modernist style happening in NYC during that time.
Yes I can see that now! The brushwork doesn't seem as dry to my untrained eye as the other New Mexico bones which caused me to wonder.
Ah, I see, and agree!
I'm wondering if we know what type of bones these are--I know she painted cow skulls, so i'm wondering if these might be from the same group of bones she used for those works?
I can't be positive of the species of the bones, but all the bones she painted were ones that she found in the desert in New Mexico, so it has to be something that lived there. The Museum also has one of her paintings of a ram's skull.