In the fall of 1915, O’Keeffe lived a secluded life as a teacher at Columbia College in South Carolina. In a letter to her friend from Columbia, photographer Anita Pollitzer, she mentioned that she read her Kandinsky book for the second time, and at a later date she said that she wanted to start over with her art.

Starting With Charcoal

The isolation was favorable to what she wanted to do: to find symbols that could express the personal essence of her Stimmung (sentiment, feelings). Kandinsky’s concept Inner Necessity seems to have been a starting signal:

I could see how each painting or drawing had been done according to one teacher or another and I said to myself, ‘I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me – shapes and ideas so near me – so natural to my way of being and thinking that it hasn’t occurred to me to put them down.’ I decided to start anew – to strip away what I had been taught – to accept as true my own thinking.

This was one of the best times of my life. There was no one around to look at what I was doing – no one interested – no one to say anything about it one way or another. I was alone and singularly free, working into my own, unknown – no one to satisfy but myself.

I began with charcoal on paper and decided not to use any color until it was impossible to do what I wanted to do in black and white. I believe it was June before I needed blue. (From O’Keeffe’s autobiography.)

Early No. 2, Georgia O’Keeffe 1915

In the drawing, the lines seem to increase speed and collect in an organic spiral shape, that seems to have power enough to force its way over the edge of the paper. The monumental form balances between weightlessness and an enormous organic force, like a big wave about to turn back towards the middle of the earth, by gravity. The outer line of the spiral is repeated in two transparent circles, perhaps bubbles.

There is an odd sensation of color in the black and white.

A Fountain of Inspiration

Perhaps she was inspired by Obrist’s thoughts about fountain design and the life-giving, natural energy of water. It seems that the fountain-like design and its whirling energy, helped her assemble energy for her own personal creativity.

Art is intensified life.

Hermann Obrist

Showing Alfred Stieglitz

O’Keeffe made a series of similar abstract drawings in her solitude, that she sent to her friend Anita Pollitzer in New York, for comments.

Without telling Georgia, Anita went to 291 and showed them to Stieglitz…


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