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Portrait of Georgia O'Keeffe
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Arty Fact

kvercillo's picture

Contributor

A 1960s pop artist's portrait of her mentor Georgia O'Keeffe with her dogs.

Although it would be really fascinating if Georgia O’Keeffe had two pet bears, as it looks like she does in this sculpture, those “bears” are actually her two Chow Chow dogs. Thankfully, it’s also frequently called Portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe with Dogs, which not only helps us see what the pets are supposed to be but also differentiates it from another very similar Marisol Escobar sculpture: Portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe with Antelope.

O’Keeffe fell in love with the Chow breed in the 1950s. She ended up having six different Chow dogs throughout her life, affectionately calling them her “Little People.” It’s said that the breed embodied the same best traits as the artist: loyalty, independence, and a protective nature. As to the latter, C.S. Merrill shares in great detail how fiercely the artist and dogs protected one another, describing them as having an astounding rapport with one another. In fact, O’Keeffe was a member of the Chow Chow Club. In 1978 she went to the parent club in Texas. Once there, she met breeder and kennel owner Samuel Draper. Although the artist was impressed by the creative work in his home, it was his Chow Chows that she really fawned over.

A decade earlier, Life magazine had profiled O’Keeffe’s work in an article that featured several images of her with her Chow Chows. The time frame is poignant because it was right around the same time that Escobar was gaining fame as an artist. She was actually listed in Life as well, in their “Red-Hot Hundred” roundup in 1962 and the following year the magazine commissioned a piece from her. In the next few years, she had hugely successful shows at MoMA, Sidney Janis Gallery, the Venice Biennale, and the Documenta exhibition in Germany. Plus, Gloria Steinem wrote about her for Glamour, Grace Glueck wrote about her for The New York Times, and Andy Warhol featured her in two of his films. It was a hot time for both artists (Escobar as well as O’Keeffe).

Unfortunately, after her fame faded, for a long time Escobar was known more for the celebrities she was around than for her own work. In part, she took advantage of this, by working on these mixed media portrait sculptures, which were frequently portraits of the famous people that she knew. However, it would be dismissive to look at her portraits of O’Keeffe and think that’s all there is to it. O’Keeffe was a mentor to Escobar. Like the older artist and her Chows, Escobar was described as independent. Despite spending time in the celebrity spotlight, she also loved to travel and spend time alone. This sculptural work was created based on a photograph that she took of O’Keeffe when she was visiting her.

Escobar had a traumatic childhood. Her mother died by suicide when she was only eleven years old. Escobar made a vow not to speak, and she kept that vow for well over a decade. Even in her later, more famous years, she was notably quiet, often answering questions with one-word responses. O’Keeffe was 90 years old when she sat for the portrait; one can guess that she played the role of a mother figure in Escobar's life. In fact, the portrait comes from a series that Escobar did of elderly people that she admired. It’s almost as though she wanted to closely examine how to age as an artist.

Sources

Sources

  1. Diehl, Carol. “Eye of the Heart” (Marisol). Art in America. March 2008. http://www.caroldiehl.com/WRITINGS/Writing_features/marisol.html
  2. Draper, Samuel. Book of the Chow Chow. Tfh Pubns Inc; Library Ed edition (June 1, 1978)
  3. Garzon, Sara. “Refocusing on Marisol’s Ingenuity as a Sculptor and Draughtswoman.” Hyperallergic. 5/6/16/ https://hyperallergic.com/296292/refocusing-on-marisols-ingenuity-as-a-s...
  4. Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. https://www.okeeffemuseum.org/the-chow-chows/
  5. Heartney, Eleanor. “Marisol: A Sculptor of Modern Life.” Neuberger Museum of Art. Originally published in a 2001 exhibition catalog. http://www.tfaoi.com/aa/2aa/2aa661.htm
  6. Merrill, C.S., Weekends with O’Keeffe. University of New Mexico Press; Reprint edition (January 1, 2013)
  7. Smee, Sebastian. “Revisiting Marisol, years after her heyday.” The Boston Globe. 7/5/14 https://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/theater-art/2014/07/05/red-hot-now-litt...
srussell's picture

Contributor

Marisol and Georgia O’Keeffe were friends, and this piece celebrates their friendship.

It is a portrait of O’Keeffe and her favorite dogs. O’Keeffe’s first two Chow Chow puppies were Bo and Chia. She loved them so much that she bought six more, and then made coats out of their fur. What? No. Ewww!!!!  Dogs were definitely her best friend and greatest love. Although, she did betray her puffy lion dogs by owning a cat as a child.

In the end, she ended up with the same number of dogs as siblings: six. Clearly, she was a lady whose thoughts were captured by dogs alone, so she replaced her siblings with critters that followed her around in the wilderness.