Georgia O'Keeffe in Hawaii, 1939. Copyright: Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

Georgia O'Keeffe in Hawaii, 1939. Copyright: Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

It took Georgia O'Keeffe 9 days to travel the 5,000 miles from New York’s Grand Central Station and the Hawaiian Island of O’hau. Although she was hearolded by local newspapers upon her arrival as ‘the famous painter of flowers,’ the impetus for her trip was a different sort of plant life. O’Keeffe was in Hawaii to paint a pineapple.

At least, that was what Dole, then known as the Hawaiian Pineapple company hoped that she would do. An advertising firm had approached O’Keeffe in 1938 proposing an all-expenses paid trip to Hawaii. After which time the painter would deliver Dole two canvases for use in a national advertising campaign. O’Keeffe was to determine the subject of these works herself. Although Time Magazine described O’Keeffe in 1940 as the least commercial artist in the US, in reality the artist had long dabbled in corporate commissions. One of her earliest jobs was in Chicago where she drew lace designs for fashion advertisements. Despite her previous project it took O’Keeffe some convincing to accept Dole’s proposal, but she eventually gave in, perhaps because the offer had come at precisely the right time.


O’Keeffe was then 51 years old, living full time in New Mexico while her beloved husband, photographer and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz remained in New York. His ongoing affair with the much younger Dorothy Norman weighed heavily on O’Keeffe who had suffered a nervous breakdown in the 1930’s and was hospitalized for months afterwards. Equally troubling was an increasingly lackluster response to her work. Critics had begun to decry her emphasis on desert landscapes and motifs as nothing more than a kind of mass production. So a change of scenery came with a particular kind of appeal, and at first O’Keeffe’s visit to the Hawaiian islands proceeded smoothly. She arrived in Honolulu and was immediately enchanted by the pineapple fields. Astonished by the beauty, she described them as “all sharp and silvery, stretching out for miles to the beautiful, irregular mountains.” She asked for a residence near the plantation so that she could paint the pineapples more easily. But Dole’s answer put a damper on her original good spirits. The company denied her request on the grounds that it would be unfitting for a woman to live among the laborers. Hoping to calm her down, presented the artist with a gift of a pealed, sliced pineapple; but O’Keeffe flatly refused to paint it. Dismissing the fruit as manhandled.

Florence Henri,  Still Life with Pineapple and Cactus,  1931. Photograph, gelatin silver print. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Florence Henri, Still Life with Pineapple and Cactus, 1931. Photograph, gelatin silver print. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Instead, O’Keeffe set off across Hawaii, spending just over two months between the various islands. On Maui, in the isolated town of Hana, she stayed with the Jennings family. Willis Jennings, who managed the local sugar plantation, enlisted his twelve year old daughter Patricia to show the artist around. Now in her 80’s Patricia remembers being terrified to meet the infamous artist, who scandalized the world years earlier when she had posed nude for Stieglitz. But during the 10 days the pair spent together, exploring an abandoned rubber plantation and the seven pools of Oahu Gulch, the intimidating artist softened. Years later, O’Keeffe would write Patricia a letter recalling their time together. “Of course, I will always remember you as a little girl, a very lovely little girl, in a sort of dream world.” O’Keeffe also spent hours conversing with the personable Mr. Jennings. Joking in a letter to Stieglitz that, by the time she left Hawaii, she would know more about sugar than about pineapples.

Hawaii No. 2 , 1939. Photograph, gelatin silver print. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Hawaii No. 2 , 1939. Photograph, gelatin silver print. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

In her accounts of the trip, she recounts eating raw fish for the first time and dawning the local footwear, although the straw and wooden sandals hurt at first, she soon got the hang of it. O’Keeffe was mesmerized by Hawaii’s black-faced cliffs and even painting a few images of them. But she was unnerved by the active volcanoes, issuing steam straight from the ground - and finally on April 13, 1939, it was time to leave. When O’Keeffe returned to New Mexico she immediately fell ill and was not able to deliver the paintings to Dole until the summer, When she finally did in that summer, the company received one rendition of a striking red flower, known as the lobster claw heliconia and another of a lone papaya tree in front of a misty green mountain range, but their was nary a pineapple in sight. Dole was not pleased, in a last-ditch effort the company shipped a pineapple plant from Hawaii to O’Keeffe’s doorstep in just 36 hours. Grudgingly, she admitted, it intrigued her, she had’’t realized, she said later, that the pineapples grew from the center of the plant’s spiky blades. The resulting painting featured a budding pineapple plant, the miniature fruit recreated in strokes of bright pink and delicate green. Dole, elated, ran the advertisement in Vogue and the Saturday Evening Post. For her part, O’Keeffe would visit Hawaii at least once more before she died. From its lush, verdant valleys to its stark black arches against a vivid blue sea, everything in Hawaii was diametrically opposed to the pastel desert landscapes that were O’Keeffe’s signature. But these Hawaiian paintings, as one critic noted, in a 1940’s show of the work, testified to O’Keeffe’s ability to make herself at home, anywhere.

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Coney Island - a kind of circus for the soul.

At the very beginning of the twentieth century, Coney Island was the quintessential American resort: the birthplace of the hot dog, the enclosed amusement park, and the roller coaster. Its history is one of breathtaking transformation and reinvention. Celebrated at its pinnacle for its glittering amusement parks and its enormous crowds of visitors, it was in earlier times a vast seaside pleasure ground with grand hotels, racetracks, beer gardens, gambling dens, concert saloons, and dance halls. It gained notoriety as Sodom by the Sea long before it gave rise to Steeplechase and Luna Park. Visitors gawked at the Elephant Colossus, at Pain’s pyrotechnic spectacles and at Little Egypt’s erotic gyrations. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show had its premiere seasons at Brighton Beach and Harry Houdini worked his wonders there. Sigmund Freud paid a visit to Coney Island’s Dreamland and reported to have remarked “The only thing about America that interests me is Coney Island.” Coney’s shimmering, incandescent seascape left writers breathlessly straining for adequate words to describe it. Some envisioned a substantial city of brick by the sea. But Coney Island was destined to be a city of lath and of fire, a place of transformation and illusion. A city of transitory wonders.

photographs by @eimyfig and I

wearing @freepeople, @shonajoy, @stoned_immaculate_, @ash

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Laura Gilpin,  Tonita Peña ,  San Ildefonso, New Mexico , 1945. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of The Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas.

Laura Gilpin, Tonita Peña, San Ildefonso, New Mexico, 1945. Gelatin silver print. Courtesy of The Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas.

In 1921, the United States federal government placed regulations on the Pueblo tribes sacred dances. About the same time, a San Ildefonso Pueblo woman started painting pictures - though only men of her tribe were allowed to partake in such activities. That artist, Quah Ah, whose Native American name translates to ‘white coral beads’, but who is often referred to by her Spanish-assigned name, Tonita Peña, captured the defiant, inner strength of her community. She painted the dances.

Peña portrayed the sacred cycle of life by focusing on figures performing rituals devoid of background. She painted her love for the sacred Corn Dance, she painted men and women as equals, performing tasks they believed would create harmony with the spirits. This sense of harmony also came through in her brushstrokes. Quah Ah’s paints, made from local pigments and yucca root, crackled with the New Mexico sun. Her compositions aligned the dancers in ceremony and in movement. On stark, blank paper canvas, the richly colored imagery felt elevated from everyday life.

Tonita Peña,  Corn Dance,  early 20th century. Gouache on paper. ©Gilcrease Museum.

Tonita Peña, Corn Dance, early 20th century. Gouache on paper. ©Gilcrease Museum.

Drawing at an early age, Quah Ah was introduced to watercolors by the teachers at the San Ildefonso Day School, and adapted and ink-and-watercolor technique, despite accusations of being influenced by white patronage. (By mandate, the school could not teach traditional Native American arts). Quah Ah simply made art with the materials provided.

At age 12, after the passing of her mother, Quah Ah was sent to live with relatives in Cochiti Pueblo where she would ultimately marry and learn new ways. She started over in many aspects, except in her art, but painting defied their tradition. Only through her husband’s negotiations with the tribal council was she granted the ongoing right to paint. In order to dedicate time to her craft, Peña paid others to preform her traditional female duties, like a modern working mother.

Quah Ah’s influence began to flourish in 1921, when she met Edgar Lee Hewett, the then director of the Museum of New Mexico in Santa Fe. Impressed by her work, he bought paintings, supplied materials and introduced the artist to other patrons. The arrival of railroads brought both a challenge to American Indian culture and a cavalcade of tourists, who all wanted to buy a piece of Pueblo heritage. Pena would become a bridge between her Pueblo and the outside world. Her timeless watercolor and ink pictures touched new art lovers who came to New Mexico by railroad, and her artwork changed opinions and helped to defend Pueblo culture.

Tonita Peña,  Buffalo Dance group , early 20th century. Gouache on paper. ©Artnet.

Tonita Peña, Buffalo Dance group, early 20th century. Gouache on paper. ©Artnet.

Studying one of Quah Ah’s paintings brings you there - to the Pueblo. It fosters a spiritual connection, a bridge. In the 1920’s her paintings, like white coral beads for which she is named, were traded and shown all over the East Coast. Her work helped change perceptions of Native Americans. The federal government’s dance ban was lifted in 1934.

lauren engelComment
Mountain Air_header.jpg

I am in love with Montana.
For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection, but with Montana it is love, and it's difficult to analyze love when you're in it ... It seems to me that Montana is the perfect splash of grandeur. The scale is huge but not overpowering. The land is rich with color, and the mountains are the kind I would create if mountains were ever put on my agenda.

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As early as 40,000 years ago artists invented the first pigments — a combination of soil, animal fat, burnt charcoal, and chalk — creating a basic palette of five colors: red, yellow, brown, black, and white. Since then, the history of color has been one of perpetual discovery. The invention of new pigments accompanied the developments of art history’s greatest movements—from the Renaissance to Impressionism —during which artists experimented with colors never before seen in the history of painting. As our visual vocabulary has expanded to include an infinite amount colors, so too have our associations with them. Different cultures across the globe have forged culture-specific associations of colors to people, places, objects or emotionally charged events, and within these cultures these connotations have also changed over time. Today, in my culture, most people understand that brides wear white, that "seeing red" means being angry, and that one can feel "green with envy." But the link between color and feeling is also a highly individual thing. We create personal connections through idiosyncratic personal experiences with colors. A British toddler might, for instance, witness his parent shriek at the sight of a banana spider which, though not indigenous to England was accidentally imported to London by a freighter ship. Such a toddler might connect fear with the speckled brownish-yellow color of the spider, a connection that could last a lifetime. By attempting to better understand our own idiosyncratic associations with colors we can unveil a lot about ourselves and our own self expression.

Last month I taught a class at Free People here in New York City, where I introduced a self-help strategy, or exercise that allows one to explore his or her emotions through colorful art-making. This was not an art therapy session. My intention for this class was to simply share with a curious audience a creative practice that has been highly beneficial for my own well-being. Following a coherent threefold process that includes contemplation, art making and reflection, this class aimed to strengthen the participants mind/body wellness and general self-awareness.

Mark Rothko,  No. 7 [or] No. 11  , 1949. Oil on canvas. The National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.). Gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc. 1986.43.144.

Mark Rothko, No. 7 [or] No. 11 , 1949. Oil on canvas. The National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.). Gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc. 1986.43.144.

When engaging in this exercise at home or in a group setting, I always begin with time for contemplation. While there are many different contemplative methods, I focus on mediation, specifically mindful meditation. Mindfulness is the active component of the mind in meditation. You don’t necessarily need to mediate to be mindful. In fact, as humans we have a natural tendency to be mindful, it’s just that sometimes we forget how. Most of the time we move mindlessly through the day, getting swept up in the day to day or multitasking that keep the “mind full,” rather than aware and present. For example, we may become caught up in regrets about the past (contributing to depression), or worries about the future (contributing to anxiety). But mindfulness is about paying attention to how things are in the present moment.

Mindful based practices serve three main functions: to relax the mind and body, to raise awareness about present moment experience, and to regulate emotions. The calming function of meditation aids relaxation, where de-centering provides a psychologically safe space for exploring emotions. As the mind quietens, the body becomes calm and we begin to notice a shifting array of thoughts, feelings, perceptions and sensations that present themselves. From here we can gain deeper insights and awareness of how things are and are able to access deeper parts of yourself and your emotions. The kind of thinking that goes on in mindful meditation is about self-reflection. Reflecting inward is more focused and powerful when not clouded by a barrage of repetitive thoughts we run over and over in our minds. Instead, we become present with our thoughts, feelings, emotions, perceptions, and internalized images as they arise, but are not caught up or defined by them. In other words, this inward reflection allows the participant to explore and express deep-felt emotions that often keep you stuck.

This phase of the process takes place in the comfortable silence of a relaxed and safe psychological space where one can turn inward through meditation and begin to notice their inner mental life. Something happens when we quieten the mind, detach emotionally from their problems, and consciously connect in this way. The goal here is to gain clarity and focus.

Ellsworth Kelly, Landscape, 1975 .  Collage and postcard. University of California, San Diego.

Ellsworth Kelly, Landscape, 1975. Collage and postcard. University of California, San Diego.

Translating subjective thought and feeling into a tangible art form is empowering for those who have difficulty communicating their emotions. Where mindfulness helps to calm a person, art provides the liberating effect of enabling people to communicate through it. Translating inner mental life into a tangible form is the goal in this next phase of the process. Drawing on inner resources through art is beneficial in many ways; first in helping people to access deep-felt emotions that may be difficult to harness or verbalize; second, in providing a means for cathartically releasing pent-up feelings; third, in providing a visual language resource for communicating such feelings; and fourth, in the power of direct experiencing that often results in inner mental shifts. In other words, we get to the heart of the matter of what ails us.

That which one focuses on during mediation - albeit a thought, feeling, idea, or sensation, or anything – is what becomes the driving force behind their creation. For my artistic exercise, I typically use color blocks, cut from paint chips found at my local hardware store, to create a collage. Immediately following my meditation session I select several paint chips to work with, any that I am instantly drawn to, and glue the chips in whatever way make sense at the time. If I find myself feeling stuck at this point, I often revert to asking myself: What is aesthetically pleasing to you in the moment – what are you gravitating towards? Here aesthetics refers to the structural features of line, shape, or color.

Aesthetic reflection helps to construe meaning from the visual elements of a work, during reflection we go beyond the crafting of an artwork to “seeing” and thinking about its meaning through deeper observation.  This marks the discovery phase, which will help one to accept and acknowledge the resonance of his or her feelings and to consider other alternatives. In other words, one can now we reflect on the images created – which offers a springboard for understanding his or her emotions.

Upon completion, I objectively compare the colors in my work to any of the various published ‘emotional color wheels’. These emotional color wheels are based on evolutionary connections between colors and emotions. Evolutionary connections are the most widely shared connections, and are probably the themes for which the cultural and personal connections are variations. I often allow for a few moments of reflection here, where I revisit the thoughts, feelings, perceptions and sensations I encountered during meditation.

Anne Ryan,  Untitled (#447)  , 1954. Photo © The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, gift of Elizabeth McFadden.

Anne Ryan, Untitled (#447) , 1954. Photo © The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, gift of Elizabeth McFadden.

Guiding you into, rather than away from your artwork allows you to approach emotional pain with presence, openness and curiosity.  This enables us to see the artwork afresh, and dialogue beyond its face value, in terms of the underlying meaning expressed in for example the liveliness or tensions of line, color and shape or from, or through the deeper emotional tone of a work. Both art and mindfulness practices support the notion that there is greater hope for spiritual and emotional recovery if people stop, turn inward and access deep parts of themselves. When words fail you, or you find it difficult to grasp or harness what you want or need to say, art can provide another source of awareness, communication, and self-insight to guide the path of restoration and healing.

Whether we realize the fact or not, color is a major part of our lives. Colors can quietly influence our emotions and consequently our decision-making processes. This knowledge should open up our minds to the possible ways by which we can make them an active and positive influence on our day to day existence.

Throughout next year, I am attempting to bring this practice to a wider audience through collaborative group healing ceremonies and workshops. If you are interested in a collaboration or booking please contact us; and check here for announcements and upcoming happenings.

lauren engelComment

One of my favorite things about visiting Los Angeles is the light and color that surrounds you wherever you are.

It’s funny, sometimes you don’t even realize that light is different in different cities. Even things most categorically evident can occasionally seem invisible. 

not because they do not exist 

but rather


at particular moments, some act of intellectual conjuring, some configuration of action and thought, thought and action, manages to conceal them from our horizon of perception. 

35mm film by @stephanieseverance and I.

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Francisco Goya,  Witches' Sabbath, 1798.

Francisco Goya, Witches' Sabbath, 1798.

October 31st is a haunted holiday shrouded in many spellbinding traditions. Although the magic and mischief of Halloween has captivated young and old around the world, folklorists regard this day as the most widely misunderstood and misrepresented in the festival year. Most people believe the Halloween holiday began as an ancient pagan festival associated with the supernatural. Indeed, Halloween does have religious connotations - although there is much disagreement among historians as to when and why it all started.

Some say Halloween originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, and in fact most evidence does support this claim. According to Celtic tradition, this day marked the end of summer and the harvest and the beginning of the dark and frigid winter season. Celtics believed the barrier between the living and dead was at its most permeable during this harvest holiday. In addition to communicating beyond the grave, this phenomenon meant that ghosts of the dead could return to earth. To welcome these visiting spirits, Celts would make offerings of food and wore costumes typically consisting of animal heads and skins as a way to both honor and channel their Celtic deities otherworldy energy to tell fortunes and make predictions about the future.

Vincent Van Gogh,  Head of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette , (1886).

Vincent Van Gogh, Head of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette, (1886).

By the first century CE,  most Celtic territory was conquered by the Roman Empire. The subsequent melting pot of cultures meant that rituals and festivals began to blend, culminating in new hybrid holidays. Samhain, for example, merged with the Roman festival of Pomona, a harvest-inspired feast believed to have taken place on November 1st. Though these harvest holidays would go on to last for centuries, they underwent dramatic changes in the 8th century. During this time, Pope Gregory III reinterpreted the Pagan festival as a series of Catholic holidays. Specifically, he declared November 1st, ‘All Saints’ Day,’ a holiday intended to honor “saints, martyrs, and confessors” in heaven, with October 31st serving as the preparatory All Hallows Eve, also called All-hallows or All-hallowma and, eventually, Halloween. This day was celebrated similarly to Samhain, with big bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costumes as saints, angels and devils.

No matter what tradition you are celebrating this Halloween - for centuries people have reveled in the fun and frightening festivities of Halloween and celebrated this day of spooky myths and magic in the arts; solidifying this holiday as an important one, in many different cultures.

Shawn Walker,  Untitled (from the Halloween series), Harlem, New York , ca. 1960.

Shawn Walker, Untitled (from the Halloween series), Harlem, New York, ca. 1960.

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For the season of change: prints and patterns are as varied as the turning leaves, yet there is one that remains constant - the polka dot.

The term ‘polka dot’ first appeared in 1857, in an issue of Godey’s Lady Book, where one writer described a muslin scarf, ideal “for light wear,” as being “surrounded by a scalloped edge, embroidered in rows of round polka dots.” Indeed, dotted patterns dd not just immediately appear on the scene in the 1850’s, before the polka dot received its moniker there were several types of popular regularly spaced spotted designs; but none of these earlier patterns became as well-known as the quintessential polka dot, quite simply because the technology to mass produce evenly spaced, uniformed sized dots did not exist until the industrial revolution. 

The art world was also experiencing seismic shifts during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and some of these burgeoning movements, Pointillism in particular, incorporated fields of round spots - and, one cannot talk about dots in art without talking about the father of Pointillism, Georges Seurat, who was inspired by the science behind color and the human vision. He completed his manifesto painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, in 1884. The large scale oil painting depicts 48 well-dressed middle-class types lounging around a suburban park. The entire scene, from the water to the sky, is made up of thousands of tiny colored dots: distinct pricks of red, green, indigo, and zinc yellow. In a 2004 piece about a Seurat exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago, New York Times writer Holland Cotter notes that “La Grande Jatteis more like a textile than a painting, a kind of 19th-century Bayeux Tapestry…”

It is often true that fashion follows art and vice versa - so what is it about the dot that inspired these two realms nearly simultaneously?

photographs by @jackiembarr

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