Dark Iris No 1, 1927
Oppressive gender stereotypes also affected readings of O’Keeffe’s work. In 1919, she returned to oil, producing her first flowers as well as apples, avocados and other pleasingly rounded forms. Stylised, tightly cropped and enlarged (Stieglitz’s photography was an influence, as was the work of her friend Paul Strand), the flowers excited her with their chambers and contours, their frills and fleshy folds, their latent potential for abstract form. But these subtleties were lost on the critics. Primed by an exhibition of Stieglitz’s nudes, they saw a revelatory exposé of female sexuality. In her work as well as being, O’Keeffe had become an unwilling lightning rod for men’s constricting ideas about that mysterious creature, the female of the species.