Open Shutter Gallery finds any number of reasons to celebrate art, photography and the wheel of time.
A week from today will mark the 124th anniversary of Georgia OKeeffes birthday. The grand dame of American Modernist Art would have been 124 (Nov. 15 1887March 6, 1986).
So why is Open Shutter marking OKeeffes birthday now?
The short answer: Gallery Manager Brandon Donahue said in an interview last week that he happened to be surfing on the Internet and noticed the upcoming anniversary. He also knew about a suite of prints by Dan Budnik of the artist in her late 80s. So he connected the dots and called Budnik to see if the photographs were available for a brief exhibition.
Gallery Owner Margy Dudley said she was thrilled with Donahues sleuthing and plans a little reception to mark the occasion. That will be held on OKeeffes birthday from 5 to 7 p.m. Nov. 15 at the Open Shutter, 735 Main Ave.
Budnik, 78, is one of a few prominent photographers to have portrayed OKeeffe in her long lifetime. Beginning with her husband, Alfred Stieglitz, and his infamous extended portrait, a small number of others have taken memorable images of the person LIFE magazine twice called the most famous American woman artist of the 20th century.
In the mid-1970s, when OKeeffe was approaching her 90th birthday, Budnik arrived at Ghost Ranch. He had been Philippe Halsmans assistant during his youth, and that connection may have gotten him in the door. By then, Budnik had become a famous photojournalist covering the civil-rights movement. And he had already published a portrait book of prominent artists.
Halsman had created iconic images of the New Mexico recluse in 1948, two years after Stieglitzs death, and 20 years later again for LIFE Magazine. Budnik followed his mentor to OKeeffes carefully guarded New Mexico retreat.
When he arrived, OKeeffe had lost her central vision because of macular degeneration. She no longer painted, but she continued to work in her studio on ceramics, which makes Budniks photos of her caressing clay objects all the more poignant. The works were not hers, but Juan Hamiltons, the young potter who had only recently arrived to help the aging OKeeffe manage her daily life.
All of this fascinates me because Ive spent the last year researching OKeeffe for a presentation at a mental-health conference. Ive spoken before at Creativity and Madness: Psychological Studies of Art and Artists, and I was asked to present about OKeeffe this fall in Boston.
My emphasis was on her lifetime struggle with depression. She wasnt mad, of course, but she exhibited a good deal of healthy narcissism. She survived an abusive marriage and had an extraordinarily long and productive career as a painter.
To prepare, I gave several dress rehearsals here to the Durango Arts Center staff and at a Life-Long Learning Series lecture. Intelligent feedback enabled me to trim and focus on her ability to recover from setbacks. So her birthday anniversary is of some importance to me, and thanks to Brandon Donahue, its going to have a little celebration to which you all are invited.
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at email@example.com.