O'Keeffe devoted three canvases to the depiction of this waterfall near the mouth 'Iao Valley. This and the other paintings were universally applauded in their New York reviews. Critics noted their "curiously fresh and virginal look" and commented that "the massive nature of the mountain forms in these pictures, the thin white stream of the water fall, are set forth with a sense of design and have that air of truth which brings home to us the very savor of an exotic scene." The shapes that underlie this composition are also suggestive of female sexuality. O'Keeffe vehemently denied such references in all her work, yet it seems clear that such allusions act as part of O'Keeffe's painterly expression.
Icon of 20th century American art, Georgia O’Keeffe was in danger of running out of steam in both her personal and artistic lives at the close of the 1930s. Rescue came in the form a commercial commission from the Dole Pineapple Company and a chance to find peace and inspiration in the tropical paradise of Hawaii. The visit played a fundamental role in O’Keeffe’s development as a painter and creative mind....
A welcome distraction came in the form of a commission from the Hawaii Pineapple Company in early 1939 for two paintings to use in an upcoming print advertising campaign. As part of the commission, the company would also be funding a nearly 3-month stay for O’Keeffe in Hawaii. This trip would prove to be not only personally restorative, but also instrumental in providing artistic renewal and direction.
Arriving in Hawaii, O’Keeffe was inspired by the pineapple fields, describing them as, ‘all sharp and silvery stretching for miles off to the beautiful irregular mountains…I was astonished – it was so beautiful.’ Her Hawaii landscapes feature deep, lush greens, bordered by ocean blues and jagged, black lava rock. Furthermore, the light, sunny yellows and pastel, rosy pinks of the tropical flora provide O’Keeffe with fresh vocabulary for her significant language of color.
These new forms gave O’Keeffe ample material to experiment with, and she deftly blended the novel influences with her established modes of expression. Brightly colored heliconia stretch out against the backdrop of an infinite sea, fraternizing with clouds that have been painted with as much care as the petals. Textures and hues are softer, but the forms are always dancing on the delicate line between abstraction and representation as nearly all O’Keeffe’s works do.
She wrote in her exhibition statement for the paintings, ‘If my painting is what I have to give back to the world for what the world gives to me, I may say that these paintings are what I have to give at present for what three months in Hawaii gave to me (…) What I have been able to put into form seems infinitesimal compared with the variety of experience.’ This variety of experience perhaps gave O’Keeffe a model and direction for transitioning her work after returning from Hawaii from the early paintings conceived in the studio of Lake George in upstate New York to the mature work completed at her new residence in New Mexico.