When O’Keeffe’s magnified flowers were first shown in 1924, even Stieglitz was shocked by their audacity. Critics saw sexual content in their delicate contours, organic forms, and lush surfaces, even though the artist always denied such associations.
In Red Canna from 1924, she lets warm red nuances meet yellow and cold purplish pink, which emphasizes the heat of the red. Here we have the V-shape again, and the undulations from Blue and Green Music, from 1919, but in this case the composition is centered around a middle line and both waves and V-shapes have a disciplined striving upwards.
O’Keeffe: Red Canna, 1924
In a letter to O’Keeffe, Demuth praised the color in this painting, which was exhibited in 1926, and wanted her to paint one for his music room. He wanted it to fill the room and thought there would be no need for someone to play in there.
By using colors that are subtly graded from impenetrable black-purple and deep maroon to soft pinks, grays, and whites, she captures the ephemeral quality of this springtime bloom. By enlarging the petals to over-lifesize proportions, O’Keeffe forces the viewer to confront what might otherwise be overlooked and, in turn, elevates the ordinary to the extraordinary.
O’Keeffe: Black Iris, 1926
Text from The Metropolitan Museum of Art:
A flower is relatively small.
Everyone has many associations with a flower – the idea of flowers. You put your hand to touch the flower – lean forward to smell it – maybe touch it with your lips almost without thinking – or give it to someone to please them.
Still – in a way – nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.
If I could paint the flower exactly as I see it no one would see what I see because I would paint it small like the flower is small.
So I said to myself – I’ll paint what I see – what the flower is to me but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it – I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.
O’Keeffe: Poppies, 1950