Georgia on My Mind: Miss O'Keeffe "on stage" at Smithsonian American Art Museum
October 30, 2008
A Brush with Georgia O'Keeffe is a play about the artist who is being celebrated—along with photographer Ansel Adams—in SAAM's current exhibition, Georgia O'Keeffe and Ansel Adams: Natural Affinities. Actress and playwright Natalie Mosco stars in the play she wrote about O'Keeffe and the important people in her life, most notably her husband, photographer and general mover and shaker, Alfred Stieglitz. Mosco does a remarkable job, creating a physical resemblance to O'Keeffe's stark, salt-of-the-earth beauty as she brings the artist to life. It was a long life, too; O'Keeffe lived ninety-nine years and became one of the most respected and beloved of American painters. It will be interesting to see the woman behind the canvas, so to speak, and then have a chance to savor the paintings once the show is over.
We asked Natalie Mosco a few questions about the play and her thoughts on Georgia O'Keeffe.
Eye Level: When did you first become interested in Georgia O'Keeffe?
Natalie Mosco: I was traveling from Sydney Australia to New York in 1988 for the twentieth anniversary concert performance of Hair at the United Nations' General Assembly. My flight had a six- hour layover in Chicago so I asked around and learned The Art Institute of Chicago was exhibiting the first posthumous retrospective of O'Keeffe's work. I telephoned the museum from Australia and they promised me a ticket when I arrived.
Experiencing the sheer wealth and breadth of her artistic output made me want to know more. It was then that I learned that there were many myths about O'Keeffe but only one biography: Laurie Lisle's Portrait of an Artist. After reading Lisle's work, I became convinced that this woman had a story that needed exploring. Because I was an actor and playwright, it seemed a natural leap to decide to explore her story in my medium.
EL: How long did it take to write the play?
NM: The idea for the play was rolling around my head for about ten years, but the actual writing of the first draft took about six years, off and on. The current version has been "tweaked" over the past few years as it became a part of my doctoral dissertation; as academic questions surfaced during the completion of my degree, ideas on how to refine the play came to me. Also, my collaboration with the director Robert Kalfin only commenced in January of 2008. Kalfin is a wonderful director and dramaturge. His suggestions regarding re-shaping and clarifying the piece were invaluable in the play's giant leap from earlier versions to the script that exists today.
EL: What was the most surprising thing you learned about O'Keeffe?
NM: I hadn't factored in that Alfred Stieglitz was a product of a ninteenth-century, European, male-dominated sensibility. Consequently, although his bullying of O'Keeffe seemed antithetical to his professions of a desire for artistic integrity and inner directedness, I had to incorporate this less known aspect of their relationship into my work. (I refer those interested in learning more about their dynamic to Benita Eisler's O'Keeffe and Stieglitz: An American Romance.)
EL: Thank you! We'll see you (and Georgia) on Saturday.
Natalie Mosco brings her off-Broadway show to SAAM's McEvoy Auditorium on November 1 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20 for members of SAAM or the Smithsonian and $25 for non-members and can be purchased here. And while you're at it download our latest podcast about the artwork in the Natural Affinities exhibition (iTunes link).
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