An earnest, school-paper-ish biography prompted, ingenuously, by the author's utter ignorance: ""Who was the little-known...

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PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST: A Biography of Georgia O'Keeffe

An earnest, school-paper-ish biography prompted, ingenuously, by the author's utter ignorance: ""Who was the little-known creator""--in 1970!--""of these powerful paintings?"" So she read the voluminous literature, tracked down even schoolmates (O'Keeffe herself offered neither help nor hindrance), and pieced together a narrative--with only the most conventional notions, still, of what O'Keeffe was about (like ""intense feelings"" and ""sensitivity to the beauty of nature""), but without any fancy theorizing either. We do learn more than we knew before (if also more than necessary) about young Georgia's secure, expansive Wisconsin childhood; her buoyant nonconformity (and occasional frustration as a woman art-student); her disintegrating family; her saving embrace of sohtude, Stieglitz, and the Far West. Most vivid of course are the years with Stieglitz--from 1918, when the two first shared a borrowed studio (she was 31, he 54), to the early 1930s, when they resolved their differences--her attachment to New Mexico, his to N.Y.; his gregariousness, her aloofness; his need to dominate, hers to be independent--by living mostly apart. Using her sources to advantage, Lisle conveys the ambience of successive O'Keeffe-Stieglitz households: the Lake George farmhouse where the pair unwound in the spring, where Georgia's toney asceticism outraged Alfred's bourgeois vacationing family, where she painted feverishly--and he marked time--in the fail; and memorably too, the tiny skyscraper apartment, uncluttered within and unobstructed without, where she'd ask a telephone-caller to ring back ""when the light fades."" One also sees not only the clash of two willful, self-absorbed personalities, but something of their mutual regard and how she benefited as an artist from his stewardship. Lisle is even-handed, as well, in treating of O'Keeffe the New Mexico recluse celebrity--selfish, demanding, ungrateful, but magnetic when her interest was aroused. This long stretch, however, is largely an unselective chronicle of visitors welcomed or rebuffed, friendships strained and broken--though Lisle deserves kudos for her unsensational handling of O'Keeffe's ongoing relationship with young potter/protÉgÉ/amanuensis Juan Hamilton. And that's the merit of her text--however banal, it's careful and balanced.

Pub Date: April 28, 1980

ISBN: 078615053X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Seaview--dist. by Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1980