Thursday, December 29, 2005

That art program I slept on last night traced some connections between some unlikely figures, resurrecting for my interest Georgia O’Keeffe, whose work for the last several years I’ve dismissed as looking a little too at home in my doctor’s office, and is one of those mainstays of the Art Institute that as a local I’m obliged to tut tut as much as Monet’s haystacks or American Gothic. But her mention last night in the context of reimagining the American relationship to landscape- which had previously been defined by a more parochial Atlantic mastery- reminded me why she was the first artist I ever loved. I was a tween, mind you, but back in the mid-80’s much of my extended family moved west, and before Phoenix’s sprawl had blotted out the mountains with smog and consumed every square foot of the valley clear to Apache Junction with strip malls, I annually visited relatives who lived on the eastern fringe, a five minute drive to the Tonto National Forest. Inevitably, a visit would also include forays to Jerome, Sedona, Prescott, etc. and, a flatlander since birth, I remember feeling a combination of fear and awe toward mountains. Where I grew up, open swaths of undeveloped land consisted of corn, and for a long time this shaped what I thought of as “nature.” (That and the man-made “Forest Preserves” of southern Cook County that were set aside portions of old prairie that went to the woody invaders.) So the desert and the West were shocking in their vastness, wildness, in their extremity. It topped 120 degrees on our first visit and we watched an apocalyptic dust storm sweep across the valley. (That and I saw MTV (just out) for the first time… I distinctly recall thinking Tom Petty in his Mad Hatter guise was somehow a part of all of this strangeness.) O’Keeffe’s cows skulls and softened buttes became a part of my understanding of the landscape, and eased the desire to flee into air conditioning. I imagine, since most Phoenicians are first generation, and many are transplants from the Midwest, that I’m not the only one to be so struck. I wonder if there are any writings from others to be found in this vein. This also casts my junior year dropout and near transfer to a college in New Mexico after spending some time there with friends in a new light when my restlessness could have just as easily led me to say, Cleveland. At the end of the day though, I love cities and fear most everything that uses more than 4 legs to ambulate too much to ever go native.


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