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Set against a clear turquoise sky, the ladder is orange yellow, a black mountain below and a white moon, and the image has a very mexican, both naivistic and surrealistic quality.

Also there are some romantic elements. O’Keeffe’s beloved Pedernal mountain that she thought looked like a deer – animated nature; and of course, the old Moon, although not centered.

O’Keeffe’s Shaman Ladder

O’Keeffe: Ladder to the Moon, 1958

At the Ranch house there is a strong handmade ladder to the roof and when I first lived there I climbed it several times a day to look at the world all ’round – the miles of cliff behind, the wide line of low mountain with a higher narrow flat top.

It is very beautiful – tree-covered with a bare spot in the shape of a leaping deer ner the top.

One evening I was waiting for a friend and stood leaning against the ladder looking at the long dark line of the Pedernal. The sky was a pale greenish blue, the high moon looking white in the evening sky.

Painting the ladder had been in my mind for a long time and there it was – with the dark Pedernal and the high white moon – all ready to be put down the next day. 

Georgia O’Keeffe

Kandinsky’s Shaman Ladder

Kandinsky invented hieroglyphs for many of his figures: horses became curved lines, suns became circles with beams, mountains became triangles. He was very familiar with shamanistic ritual and most of his motifs are taken from shamanism, according to Peg Weiss, who compares Kandinsky’s later works with mexican and peruvian art.

Weiss also found that Kandinsky used the ladder as a recurring motif all through his life, as the shaman’s symbol for ascending into the dream world.

Wassily Kandinsky: Improvisation Gorge,1914

O’Keeffe’s Ladder to the Moon from 1958, may be yet another indication, that she sort of kept an inner dialogue,  inspired by Kandinsky’s book ‘On The Spiritual In Art’ and discovered, or even looked for, Kandinsky’s abstract shapes in her own everyday environment.

She brought them back to realism in style, but maintained the shamanic meaning and symbolism.

The peculiar motif suggests that the American artist was approaching a shamanistic symbolism, probably influenced by the Pueblo indians. The entrance to their houses was to go through the roof, and they had to climb a ladder to get up there in the first place.

Just like O’Keeffe’s earlier motifs of flowers, trees and leaves, the ladder is a strong archetype and symbol in

Link, books & music

Books

Modern Theories of Art 2: From Impressionism to Kandinsky 

Theories of Art: 3. From Impressionism to Kandinsky

Link to the Taos Pueblo website

Kandinsky and Old Russia: The Artist as Ethnographer and Shaman

The Ancient Southwest: Chaco Canyon, Bandelier, and Mesa Verde

In Search of the Old Ones

Earth Magic: Ancient Shamanic Wisdom for Healing Yourself, Others, and the Planet

The Visitant: Book I of the Anasazi Mysteries

The Summoning God: Book II of the Anasazi Mysteries

Bone Walker: Book III of the Anasazi Mysteries

Music

Ancient Voices

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