Colour is a significant language for many artists

a pale pink (colour) poppy head photo by Kathryn SassallWhatever language you prefer to interpret the large abstract colour flower-abstractions of Georgia O’Keeffe when you actually see the paintings, rather than the digitally reproduced images, they are totally absorbing. O’Keeffe was happy to present them as her abstracted colour response to the flowers she saw.

When these pictures were painted, in the early 1900s, there was an intense interest in psychoanalytical interpretation of art. The curator and photographer Alfred Stieglitz, who first showed O’Keeffe’s works, wanted to overlay his vision of the works. His response was to see erotic content. This may be a reflection of the relationship he had started with the artist.

Synaesthesia – Noise in colour

Throughout her lifetime O’Keeffe used what she had around her. An understanding of the simulation of one sense by another, led to her creating abstract pictures from noise or heat.  She captured cattle lowing in her native Texas, but in flat colours not as realistic copies. This is known as chromothesia. Sunsets became streaks of hot colour in the foreground against a complimentary colour background. O’Keeffe painted New York buildings and skylines punctuated by loud red stop lights.


Her three decade relationship with lover, then husband, Steiglitz saw the artist become a muse and collaborator for many black and white portraits. She also interpreted their relationship in paintings. The exhibition at the Tate Modern (6 July to 30 October 2016) showed this area of O’Keeffe’s life that I’d not been aware of. There was a wonderful television documentary on her life at that time as well confirming her strength of spirit and tenacity.


To me Georgia O’Keeffe seemed to be a restless soul, who tried to make the best of what was around her to develop her artistic practice. She remained aware of but largely uninfluenced by other artists of her time. The vision she followed was to paint what she saw. She did alter her style in an attempt to dispel the way in which others seemed intent on seeing body parts or sexual motifs.

I found it quite sad that when O’Keeffe found her place in New Mexico she wanted to hold it to herself. Presumably so that others did not show an interest and  change her view of it with their visions. The landscape, buildings and people there suited her flat plains of colour. Of course, there are few flowers in the dry mountain plateaus and desert so she adapted to the painting of bones which there were a lot of. Georgia O’Keeffe stayed true to capturing the beauty of what she saw around her, her way.

Flower Images:

O’Keeffe has inspired me to take many macro or close-up shots of flowers. I am old school, I take what I see. I use the light available and frame before shooting. To see what others may not see and share those images is exciting.

The photograph above is one that I took in 2013 with an iPhone (unfiltered). The pale pink poppy has always meant a lot to me as my nan used to grow them. The petals used to remind me of tissue paper.

The photograph below is a moment captured in 2017 on iPhone, in my own garden as I cleared some dead hydrangea heads and leaves. These tulips sprang up from where they had been held down and over-shadowed.

photograph of pale yellow (colour) tulip stamens by Kathryn Sassall

The Essence of Movement

pencil sketch of a moving arabian dancer abstract style

It’s a grey day at the end of October. The sound of gunfire rings out. The teacups rattled on the tables in The Courtauld Gallery Café’s courtyard. A piece of modern art performance being captured on film.  Inside a series of life studies, maquettes and sculptures by Rodin captured the essence of movement

Rodin was a rarity amongst 19th century artists. He was recognized and well considered in his own life-time for the expressive works he produced. Many will know him for the bronzes and marbles that he produced.  In his last decade and a half they were created from life studies. These works were experimental and many not shown beyond his close circle of friends.

Life Studies

By drawing the new dance forms, and wildly expressive movements of the dancers, he was using what was around him at the time. Using life models in his studios, and also meeting the dancers at the theatres, he developed a fluid shorthand for capturing the shapes.

Some of the works concentrated on line and others introduced washes. This increased the feeling of movement both in creating the form and giving a livelier background. It was interesting to see the way the drawings changed over time and the terracotta or plaster forms were created.

Exaggerated Movement

Due to the flexibility and strength of the dancers Rodin was able to capture poses that are not often possible with models. The new ballets that were being created at the time  reflected a move away from the classic positions. It must have been difficult to decide on which of the many movements to capture and then how to make a free-standing sculpture.

The exhibition took place from 20 October 2016 to 22 January 2017 and was supported by Friends of The Courtauld International Music and Art Foundation, in memory of Melvin R Selden, The Daniel Katz Gallery (London), Stuart and Bianca Roden and the Henry Moore Foundation.


Seeing Rodin’s last major project and learning that he was still experimenting was very up-lifting. Continual study of the body and it’s movement plus embracing the new forms of movement in his sixties gives me hope. It also encourages me to be playful in my studies. I will try new ways to be expressive when attending life groups. Groups ar a great way to get access to models whose poses may be passive or active.

Some of the works that I create from life study each week get destroyed. Some are put in the development drawer as a reminder of what can be achieved by happy accident or planned experiment. Only finished works of a certain quality are offered for sale.

PS I don’t know what the movie being shot was, but it involved Michael Keaton in a Polish market.

Movement drawings

The drawing at the top of this blog is a sketch idea for a painting, by Kathryn Sassall, of a dancing drummer who was twirling at a show in the Dubai desert.

“Get Set” shows a life model in the traditional position for a race start. No blocks though.

Click the picture to take you to Artfinder to purchase.

watercolours sketch of a model as if at a start for a running race

Watteau – life in the 1700s

Life drawing and sketching from life is a discipline for every artist. RA students used to have to do two years of it. Why? Well it’s about observation, perspective and gives a great foundation for any paintings which incorporate one or more people.

A series of poses can be built up with or without props which can be popped into pictures. In the old days when the pictures often reflected gods/goddesses those nudes could be taken straight from the paper to the painting.

Watteau was the man for his day (1700s) and the execution of the drawings is varied at the exhibition at the RA. There seems to be a strange arm obsession going on in places – both in the positioning of the model and the odd addition to other sketches.

Inspiring use of line for tone though, and various people’s ideas of what ‘stumping’ was as they looked round was tres amusant. Looking forward to getting back to my life drawing group in May.