I went out one morning to look at it before I started to work and there was the optical illusion of a bite out of one side of the tower made by the sun, with sunspots against the building and against the sky. I made that painting beginning at the upper left and went off att the lower right without going back.
O’Keeffe: The Shelton with Sunspots, 1926
The Shelton with Sunspots, is full of romantic elements as well; the glowing sun effect, the exaggerated scale of the building.
Lines of perspective lead upwards towards the sky and we can’t see the ground. The main focus of the perspective is not a point on the horizon, but somewhere right above the sun, if you follow the lines in the framing buildings. There are circles of light falling, look like backlight reflexes in a camera lens or by peering towards the motif through her own eyelashes, as she was inspired to the picture.
It is quite astonishing if you compare this image, with the television images from September 11, 2001. I am thinking especially of one shot as the first plane hit the tower. There is something eerily archetypical about it. Peters actually wrote in 1991 that something looking like an explosion was taking place where O’Keeffe and Stieglitz lived, on the 30th floor.
Even if the image gives the weirdest sense of apocalyptic déjà-vu, perhaps it was meant to be a city pastorale – a city romantically melted into light.
O’Keeffe herself had no tolerance for mystical interpretations of her art. About the critics Hartley and Rosenfeld she wrote:
The things they write sound so strange and far removed from what I feel of myself. They make me seem like some strange unearthly sort of creature floating in the air – breathing in clouds for nourishment – when the truth is that I like beef steak – and like it rare at that.