WANDACORN: In O’Keeffe’s painting that she called Summer Days and painted in 1936, you have an extraordinary composition with a deer skull, or at least what appears to be a deer skull, hanging or floating in the sky, a few flowers underneath this skull, and then down at the horizon, you have the red hills of New Mexico. These are the hills near Ghost Ranch, where she had a studio in northern New Mexico at the time.
NARRATOR: Art historian Wanda Corn.
WANDACORN: O’Keeffe did a series of paintings of skulls. She started them in 1931. And she experimented with hanging them on what appears to be a post, or having them tacked to a wall. But in this one, it’s special because it seems to be simply a vision in the sky. You don’t see any way in which it’s attached to anything, but it simply floats in this beautiful white, luminous atmosphere of clouds. It’s a visionary painting.
In the 1930s, it would’ve been hard to escape the influence of Surrealism, which was exploring dream-like spaces, exploring spaces that are not based on, you know, Renaissance perspective, a kind of endless space that Surrealists would often feel was akin to the kind of space we experience in our dream-like states.
Audio guide stop for Georgia O’Keeffe, Summer Days, 1936
NARRATOR: A deer skull floats in a white cloud, above colorful flowers. The artist, Georgia O’Keeffe, didn’t like to explain her paintings. What you found in them, she said, were just shapes that she saw around her in the deserts of New Mexico.
GEORGIA O’KEEFFE: The bones do not symbolize death to me. They are shapes that I enjoy. It never occurs to me they have anything to do with death.
NARRATOR: However you interpret it, this painting shows you how deeply inspired O’Keeffe felt when she encountered New Mexico.
GEORGIA O’KEEFFE: When I got to New Mexico that was mine. As soon as I saw it that was my country. I’d never seen anything like it before but it fitted to me exactly. Like something that’s in the air-it’s just different. The sky is different, the stars are different, the wind is different.