Georgia O’Keeffe, No. 8—Special (Drawing No. 8), 1916. Charcoal on paper mounted on cardboard, 24 1/4 × 18 7/8 in. (61.6 × 47.9 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Mr. and Mrs. Arthur G. Altschul Purchase Fund 85.52
NARRATOR: In this drawing, Number 8 – Special, several dark strands spiral from the lower-right corner to the center of the page. As you follow these strands, you’ll notice some are tightly wound. Others have a more luxurious, sensuous curve. These forms don’t picture anything in the world. They describe emotions that O’Keeffe felt but could not convey in words. At the same time, they create an illusion of real space, moving our eyes deeper and deeper into the drawing. We can imagine being in this space, experiencing its pulsating energy.
O’Keeffe made this charcoal drawing in 1916. Exhibition Curator Barbara Haskell.
BARBARAHASKELL: The spiral form is something that repeats throughout. She returns to it again and again, as a symbol for her of this world of nature and the inexpressibility—the sort of inexhaustibility—of the world around her.
NARRATOR: Take a look at the other charcoal works in this area. They are modest in scale, and use simple materials. But they are extremely radical works of art. In 1916, many American artists were very excited about the expressive possibilities of modern art. But almost no one besides O’Keeffe was making fully abstract images.
GEORGIA O’KEEFFE: I decided I was going to begin to make drawings, and I thought well I have a few things in my head that I’ve never thought of putting down. That nobody else taught me. And I was going to begin with charcoal, and I wasn’t going to use color until I couldn’t do what I wanted to do with color or black paint. And went on from there.
NARRATOR: O’Keeffe was one of the first American artists to produce an abstract work of art. But she avoided the fragmented, forms that were hallmarks of much American and European modernism. O’Keeffe’s concern was to record a sensation, or feeling, of the fluid rhythms of the natural world.