Kirkus Reviews QR Code
O'KEEFFE by Jeffrey Hogrefe


The Life of an American Legend

by Jeffrey Hogrefe

Pub Date: Aug. 17th, 1992
ISBN: 0-553-08116-0
Publisher: Bantam

Following Roxana Robinson's Georgia O'Keeffe (1989) and Benita Eisler's O'Keeffe and Stieglitz (1991) comes another lengthy biography of America's most persistently scrutinized woman artist. What Hogrefe (Wholly Unacceptable, 1986) has to add to the O'Keeffe file is his access to Juan Hamilton, the artist's controversial, decades-younger, opportunistic companion who inherited a fortune after fighting with O'Keeffe's relatives over her estate. While insisting that ``this is not...Hamilton's book,'' Hogrefe starts with Hamilton, who ``arrived in New Mexico's high desert'' with a ``premonition'' that the elderly O'Keeffe, by then ``successful beyond the dreams of most women and men,'' needed him. At this point, the author, who later rips into O'Keeffe's carefully constructed persona, seems to be weaving more myth. (Is this perhaps because Hogrefe met O'Keeffe at a party in New Jersey in the early 80's and was dazzled by her ``obvious and occult'' smile?) Hogrefe's report on O'Keeffe's final years amounts to accumulated detail rather than enlightenment: You won't find out if or how Hamilton influenced the blind artist to change her will. In covering the rest of the now-familiar O'Keeffe story—from Wisconsin (born in 1887) to teaching in Texas to her notorious alliance with Alfred Stieglitz and her move to the Southwest- -Hogrefe hypes certain aspects of the artist's sometimes troubled inner self beyond what the evidence suggests: ``Rumbling beneath the surface are the weightier issues of repressed homosexuality, incest-induced rage, madness, coercion and deceit.'' For a more balanced and convincing O'Keeffe portrait, go to Robinson; for a microscopic look at the artist's relationship with Stieglitz, see Eisler; and for a sense of O'Keeffe's explosive creativity, read her letters to Anita Pollitzer (Lovingly, Georgia, 1990). (Sixteen pages of photographs—not seen.)