Images of pink desert landscapes, a woman’s neck crawling with shiny, and metallic insects are followed by a chorus of women echo Georgia O’Keeffe’s crackling voice in intimate reflection “they could tell me how they painted their landscape but they couldn’t tell me to paint mine.” This is Georgia O’Keeffe – Interpreted by Petra Collins a video for London’s Tate Modern.
In the short film, femininity and softness inhabit the desert landscapes so loved by O’Keeffe, one of the first and greatest American Modernist painters. The surfaces in the video each exude a kind of femininity: white cloth, pink silk underwear, pink sand, and a glittery cheek. Sounds evoke a similar aesthetic: the chorus of young women melt into each other, the sound of wind and a bird call evoke the landscape itself. The video plays on images of nature which are fundamental to O’Keeffe—a cactus, mountains, dry land, flowers. The pastel blues, pinks, and purples of the video express the subtlety of O’Keeffe’s work. And, the forms in the video, women’s bodies, fabrics, and flowers, evoke the softness present in much of O’Keeffe’s work but also echoed in Petra Collins' signature aesthetic.
The young artist's treatment of O’Keeffe has much to do with the art world’s reaction to her pieces, especially the sexism O’Keeffe faced. Collins tells Vogue “people always tried to…make her work about sex” whereas O’Keeffe always said “No: My landscape is my landscape.” O’Keeffe’s famous flower paintings are often considered to be depictions of the vagina, though O’Keeffe denied this. Collins has dealt with similar over-sexualizations of her work. She documents selfie culture and “the power for young women to create, curate, and distribute their own imagery.” In her tribute to O’Keeffe, Collins depicts femininity as a central and important theme and emphasizes the importance of O’Keffe creating her own landscapes, on her own terms.
Collins’ film was produced in coordination with a retrospective on O’Keeffe at the Tate Modern, the largest collection of O’Keeffe’s work ever to be shown outside of the US.