Where the Personal Meets the Professional

If you’re in here, you’re in my personal blog.  It’s where I direct all of my friends who like to share in my philosophical musings:  The things that make Dax . . . well . . . Dax.

Much that I publish in this blog ends up “cross-posted” in other publications, both print and online.  And, some of them are just between you and I.  Either way, this is my happy place, where I come to grow and hope that in sharing  with you, it fosters a philosophic synergy within you as well.

I welcome a robust discussion of all things I write about, as I believe that it is through dialogue we arrive at a shared humanity.  This is the beauty that is the continuum of knowledge.

I am also a screenwriter, by trade.  There is a chance that you were directed here as a producer or other member of the film community.  I have a blog that is more specific to my work in the film industry, called “Live Playscape,” where I discuss projects I have written; where I skirt around the details of projects I’m currently writing; and where I discuss the very process of writing.

If you’re “here” because you’re on your way “there,” then it is because I wanted you to get to know the tick behind the tac about what makes me me and gives my writing the soul I hope it is known for.

Thank you for being here, however you came, or wherever you go next!


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Orlando Bloom’s Poem & Dialogue with Dr. Ikeda

Jan 22, ’09 4:55 PM

SGI President Ikeda’s Dialogue with Actor Orlando Bloom.

“Welcome, youthful prince of the arts!”—with those warm words, SGI President Ikeda greeted the actor Orlando Bloom and friends at the Nagano Training Center in Nagano Prefecture, Japan, on July 30. One of Hollywood’s most promising young stars, Mr. Bloom is an SGI member from the U.K. Enjoying their first meeting with Mr. Bloom,

President and Mrs. Ikeda spoke of many topics with him, including art and life, the importance of family and friends, and environmental and social activism.

Large white clouds drifted slowly through the blue summer sky. At 1:30 P.M., the bus carrying actor Orlando Bloom and his party arrived at the Nagano Training Center.

Stepping off the bus, Mr. Bloom flashed his world-famous smile and waved to greet the members gathered there to welcome him. Just beyond waited SGI President Ikeda, both arms raised in a “V” for victory. Mr. Bloom immediately embraced the SGI leader warmly, after which the two men exchanged a firm handshake. “I am very pleased to welcome one of the world’s leading young artists,” said Mr. Ikeda. “Thank you for coming. You have many friends here in Japan.”

Mr. Bloom replied happily in Japanese, “Arigato!” (Thank you!) “I’ve heard about your wonderful activities,” the SGI leader continued. “I’m sure your mother must be very proud of you.” With a deep nod, the actor said he hoped she was.

The Ikedas then greeted and welcomed those who had accompanied Mr. Bloom, including actress Kate Bosworth; Mr. Bloom’s sister, Samantha Bloom, who is also an actress; his artist friend David Miles; his oldest friend Kris Gifford; and Simbiat Hall. The SGI leader expressed his heartfelt appreciation for their visit, joined by divisional representatives from throughout Japan.

Mr. Bloom, who in addition to his busy schedule as a top Hollywood star actively involves himself in SGI activities, presented Mr. Ikeda with a card in which he had written:

30 July 2006

Dear Sensei,

With the sword of the Lotus Sutra

at my side,

With integrity as my staff,

with you and all the Buddhas of

the ten directions as my mentor,

With kosen-rufu as my goal, I will

climb the mountainous path of the

Mystic Law until I gaze out from the peak.

There I will ready myself with gratitude

for the next adventure.

I look forward to climbing many mountains

lifetime after lifetime at your side.

Sincerely, your disciple and friend,


As he handed President Ikeda the card, he said that in composing his message he had been inspired by the SGI leader’s speeches.

“We are friends and comrades forever,” said Mr. Ikeda. “The playwright August Strindberg wrote: ‘The actor must control the role and not let the role control him.’ The important thing is to remain true to yourself. That’s exactly what you are doing. You don’t define yourself solely in terms of your profession as an actor, of your work—that world is not enough for you. For you are dedicating your life to others, to society, and to the eternal philosophy of Buddhism. That is a very noble, very admirable attitude. It is the most worthwhile kind of life there is.”

Mr. Bloom pledged to make a positive contribution with his life by working to improve society and the world and to live up to the SGI leader’s high expectations.

“Life is long,” replied Mr. Ikeda. “The important thing is to remain true to a lofty goal to the very end. And Buddhism enables you to adorn the final chapter of your life with brilliant success, just as the golden sun colors the sky in glorious crimson hues and beams of sublime light. To do so, you need to keep making an effort year after year and winning year after year. Success today doesn’t automatically guarantee success tomorrow.  Final victory is eternal victory. That’s my advice to you as a friend,” concluded the SGI leader in a powerful voice filled with sincerity and earnest concern for his young friend. It was an emotional, deeply moving encounter.

A beautiful display of orchids stood at the entrance to the room where they held their conversation. “In Asia, orchids traditionally symbolize the spirit of welcoming an honored guest,” explained Mr. Ikeda. Indicating Mount Asama, visible from the training center, Mr. Ikeda recalled his memories of gazing at the peak with his mentor Josei Toda, and he went on to tell his guests about the place named Onioshidashi (Devilish Protrusions), an area marked by grotesquely shaped rock formations created by lava flows from the great eruption of Mount Asama in 1783.

During the meeting, President Ikeda personally presented the actor with the Soka Art Award in recognition of his contributions to art and culture, saying:

“Our awards may not be famous or influential, but they are awards from ordinary people who genuinely love culture and art.” With a laugh, the SGI leader added, “My wife said to me earlier that while you’re very handsome in your photos and films, you’re even better looking in person.”  Mrs. Ikeda also welcomed the guests, saying how happy she was to meet such wonderful young people and thanking them for taking time out of their busy schedules to meet with them.

Orlando Bloom’s mother Sonia had a strong influence on him. She had a deep love for the arts, and she never failed to encourage and support her son in all his interests, including theater, poetry, painting, and music. The name “Orlando” is said to mean “famous throughout the land” in ancient Teutonic. Lauding Mr. Bloom’s much-deserved fame as an actor throughout not only the land of his birth but the entire world, Mr. Ikeda said: “Your victory is also your mother’s victory. Your mother is truly great. Please give my best regards to her.” Nodding and putting his hand to his heart, Mr. Bloom expressed his gratitude to the SGI leader and reaffirmed his love and appreciation for his mother.

A very active child, Mr. Bloom was always injuring himself. At the age of 21, when he was studying to become an actor at the prestigious Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, he faced a major crisis when he fell from the height of three stories and broke his back. The doctors predicted that he might never walk again, but encouraged by his friends and family, he made a miraculous recovery. The experience also helped him grow enormously as a human being, and he remains grateful to the friends who supported and assisted him through that painful, challenging time.

“Buddhism is the great teaching of human revolution and transforming our karma,” said the SGI leader. “My wife and I and your many friends in Japan will be earnestly praying that you will advance triumphantly through life, continuing to fulfill your great mission in complete safety from now on.” Quoting the Great Teacher Miao-lo’s statement cited by the Daishonin, “The stronger one’s faith, the greater the protection of the gods” (WND, 614), Mr. Ikeda emphasized that if Mr. Bloom continued to pray intensely and deeply to live each day in safety, he would definitely be able to transform his karma in this respect. Then, with a touch of humor, he added: “The next time you have an accident, we’re going to fine you!”—a remark that brought laughter to all present.

Last year, Mr. Bloom presented Mr. Ikeda with a set of DVDs of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, in which he had a major role. The movies broke box office records around the world and won numerous academy awards. Based on the J. R. R. Tolkien books, the films tell the story of a group of courageous friends who carry out a noble mission, banding together to fight against a powerful evil and restore true peace to the world. Orlando Bloom played the role of the elf prince and master archer Legolas Greenleaf, and his performance was widely acclaimed by fans everywhere.

When the heroes are surrounded by what appear to be the overwhelming forces of the enemy, Legolas cheers one of them on, saying: “Your friends are with you!” President Ikeda compared this spirit to the camaraderie and fellowship shared by SGI members, and spoke of the importance of advancing into the future together with the same deep ties of friendship.

The day before his meeting with Mr. Ikeda, Orlando Bloom visited Soka University in Hachioji, Tokyo, where he inscribed a card for the prospective students who would visit the campus on the Open Campus Day (July 30) with his autograph and this message:

To the future students of Soka University, Without climbing the mountain you cannot gaze out from the peak. With my very best wishes for your future.

29 July 2006

Soka University, Tokyo

Soka University, Los Angeles Campus

When this sincere message from a popular Hollywood star was communicated to the youth gathered at the Open Campus orientation meeting, they were encouraged and delighted. Expressing his deep appreciation for Mr. Bloom’s inspiring words to future Soka University and Soka Women’s College students, the schools’ founder said:

A famous Japanese author wrote: ‘Rather than worrying about your future, thinking, “Perhaps I should become this. Perhaps I should become that,” first be still and build a self that is as solid and unmoving as Mount Fuji.’2 My friend Mikhail Gorbachev, the former president of the Soviet Union, keeps one of my photographs of Mount Fuji in hisoffice in Moscow.

‘A life as strong and solid as Mount Fuji’ is our shared motto. I hope that you, Orlando, with your love of mountains, will grow into a brilliant actor shining as majestically as Mount Fuji, and that you build a network of victory and success as lofty as the Himalayas.”

Expressing his thanks for this encouragement, Mr. Bloom mentioned that he hoped to someday climb Mount Everest for charity. Mr. Ikeda recalled taking a photograph of the Himalayas on his visit to Nepal (in November 1995) and presented the actor with a print of it as a memento of their meeting. The photograph shows the mountain peaks glittering gold in the sunset as plumes of smoke rise from homes at the mountain’s foot, signs of villagers cooking the evening meal. Former Nepalese Ambassador to Japan Kedar Bhakta Mathema described the photo as an Impressionist painting and, calling it very imaginative, remarked that while there were many photographs of the mountains, it was the only photo he had seen that captured both the towering peaks and ordinary people’s homes.

The SGI leader noted that Sir Edmund Hillary, who, together with the Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay, was the first to successfully scale Mount Everest, had sent him a copy of a book he had authored.  President Ikeda cited the mountaineer’s words from another publication: “In the end it is the man himself that counts. When the going gets tough and things go wrong the same qualities are needed to win through as they were in the past—qualities of courage, resourcefulness, the ability to put up with discomfort and hardship, and the enthusiasm to hold tight to an ideal and to see it through with doggedness and determination.”

The ultimate source of all these qualities, concluded President Ikeda, is faith. Mr. Bloom listened intently to his mentor’s every word, as if engraving them on his heart, solemnly stating: “All my questions have been answered.”

Mr. Ikeda then introduced the words of Shakespeare:

Fear no more the lightning-flash,

Nor the all-dreaded thunder-stone;

Fear not slander, censure rash (Cymbeline, Act IV, Scene II)

He added: “I have heard that you, too, have been the target of malicious rumors and false media reports that have been very unpleasant for you. The same has happened to me.

Nichiren Daishonin writes: ‘Worthies and sages are tested by abuse’ (WND, 303). Only an insignificant, lightweight person is always praised and never criticized.”

Nodding deeply, Mr. Bloom expressed his agreement, and President Ikeda continued with greater urgency: “The Soka Gakkai’s founding president Tsunesaburo Makiguchi said: ‘To be despised by fools is the greatest honor.’ The first three presidents of the Soka Gakkai have all fought in this spirit. From the perspective of Buddhism, the present age is a time when people’s spirits are sullied and impure. There are many who are envious of anyone who achieves something positive or worthwhile and they go out of their way to make trouble for them. But you mustn’t let such people stop you. Just keep moving forward, impervious to their assaults.”

The topic returned to films, and Mr. Ikeda mentioned that two films had been made based on his novel series The Human Revolution some three decades ago. The first one, The Human Revolution, opened in September 1973 and was viewed by more than 5 million people.  It broke box office records in Japan and received the commendation of the Advisory Council on Children’s Film Viewing. The second film, a sequel titled The Human Revolution II, opened in June 1976 and became an even bigger hit than its predecessor and the top-earning film of that year.

When the SGI leader mentioned that the books had been adapted for film by leading Japanese screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto, who had also written the screenplay for Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, Mr. Bloom expressed surprise and interest.  He noted that he was very fond of the characters in the Kurosawa film, saying that he had studied the film for his character Legolas. The young actor was very excited to learn after his meeting with Mr. Ikeda that the late Mr. Toshiro Mifune, one of the film’s leading characters, was a Soka Gakkai member and had a close relationship with the SGI leader.

In spite of his celebrity, Mr. Bloom exhibits an unaffected charm, youthful sincerity, and a powerful desire to learn and improve himself—admirable qualities that no doubt contribute greatly to his skill and popularity as an actor. His discussion with Mr. Ikeda became even warmer, and the SGI leader, saying he hoped they could meet again, asked where he lived. “In a suitcase,” responded Mr. Bloom, provoking the sympathetic laughter of all present. With his busy shooting schedule and other activities, he has little time to relax at home.

“At the moment I have a home in London that I am renovating,” he explained, “and I am going to make it a ‘green house’—as in environmentally friendly.” He continued:

“We came to Japan on this trip as guests of Fuji Rock Festival [in Niigata Prefecture], which launched Global Cool, an environmental organization working for the prevention of global warming and climate change.” Speaking of the problem of global warming, he expressed his personal commitment to working for environmental causes.

Offering a simple but easily comprehensible example, he explained that if everyone in the U.K. and Japan simply unplugged electrical appliances when they weren’t using them, an enormous amount of energy would be saved. Mr. Bloom persuasively compared the power of this change in individual consciousness and behavior to the teaching of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism that each of us has the ability to transform our lives and make a difference in our environment.

“This is a very important issue,” agreed Mr. Ikeda. “If we don’t take action, we will destroy the Earth. Humanity is facing an urgent crisis.” The SGI leader went on to talk of his meeting last year with Nobel Peace laureate and environmentalist Dr. Wangari Maathai of Kenya, and he asserted that improving the environment is one of the top priorities for the future of humanity. With deep feeling, Mr. Bloom said, speaking of the Nagano Training Center: “This is such a beautiful environment. We live on an amazing planet, and we must be certain that we preserve it for our children and grandchildren—and also so that when we come back in our next lifetime and are together again, it will still be here.”

“I am very happy that you are thinking so seriously about humanity’s future, Orlando,” said the SGI leader. “Up to now, people have made industrial and economic growth the top priorities and forgotten the importance of living in harmony and symbiosis with nature. It is time for us to reflect on that and correct it. Buddhism teaches the oneness of life and its environment. Because human beings and the environment are one and indivisible, destroying the environment is the same as destroying humanity.”

Time flew by as the actor and the Buddhist leader talked of many subjects, from films to life, faith, and the future of the human race. As he again reluctantly said farewell,

Mr. Ikeda shook his guest’s hand firmly and said: “You are my true friend and comrade.”

He voiced the hope that they meet again and urged the young man to be well and stay healthy. “I also hope we can meet again,” said Mr. Bloom. “Thank you very much.” And he then stepped back onto the bus, leaving a lasting impression of his unaffected charm.


Orlando Bloom was born on January 13, 1977, in Canterbury, Kent, England. At the age of 16 he went to London, having decided he wished to become an actor. His film debut was in Wilde (1997). Studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, he appeared in numerous productions and mastered the actor’s art. Two days before graduation from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, at the age of 22, he was cast as Legolas in Lord of the Rings. The movies in the series went on to break international box office records, and won several academy awards. With his good looks and skilled portrayal, Mr. Bloom became a star. In addition to the Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003), he has appeared in Black Hawk Down (2001), Troy (2004), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), Elizabethtown (2005), and the two Pirates of the Caribbean (2003 and 2006) films.

(Translated from the August 7, 2006, issue of the Seikyo Shimbun, the Soka Gakkai daily newspaper)

*1 August Strindberg, Open Letters to the Intimate Theater, translated by Walter Johnson (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1966), p. 36.

*2 Eiji Yoshikawa (1892–1962), in his novel Miyamoto Musashi about the 17th-century master swordsman of the same name.

*3 Sir Edmund Hillary, editor, Challenge of the Unknown (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1958)

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Life… Paint Big!

I thought I knew Georgia O’Keeffe.  C’mon– big, interesting and sexually suggestive flowers, right?

My idea of who this ground-breaking artist was came from a story told in my writing class about her fleeing her art studio shed, where she painted freely and in the nude, until realizing that a bunch of nosey children had discovered her secret garden shed and were “peeping” at her.  She  abandoned her secret garden shed never to return.

But there’s  more to O’Keeffe than that.  In fact, her story parallels that of another powerful, female painter — Frida Kahlo, one of the boldest female artists in ant century.

Georgia O’Keeffe also continues to astonish.  Several recently uncovered letters to her longtime lover Alfred Stieglitz  were recently published as part of a new exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

As Lifetime’s recent biopic on Georgia O’Keeffe reveals, the artist had a steamy, on-again-off-again relationship (and later marriage) with photographer and modern art promoter Alfred Stieglitz.

Further insights into their relationship come from the letters, published in the catalog for the Whitney’s current show, “Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstraction.” These exchanges provide a rare glimpse into the private lives of these art world superstars.

Art and Other Affairs
Stieglitz was in his 50s and married at the time he met O’Keeffe, who was 29. A friend had sent Stieglitz some of O’Keeffe’s artwork which he displayed without permission.  O’Keeffe went to New York to confront him.

And that’s when the sparks began.

O’Keeffe’s letters to Stieglitz began tentatively (“Words and I are not good friends” she wrote in January 1916), but over time they became increasingly charged with sensuality and desire.  “I am on my back — waiting to be spread wide apart — waiting for you,” she wrote in 1922. (Keep in mind that Stieglitz didn’t divorce his wife until 1924.)

Marriage on the Rocks
Stieglitz’s relationship with O’Keeffe was professional as well as personal.  He often photographed O’Keeffe, sometimes in front of her art to emphasize their sensual forms, sometimes in the nude, and several of those images were displayed at an exhibit at the Anderson Galleries in 1921, creating instant buzz for the young artist.

Before abstract art became trendy, O’Keeffe embraced it with broad strokes and bold colors, saying, “I found I could say things with colors that I couldn’t say in any other way — things that I had no words for.”

Stieglitz and O’Keeffe married in 1924, but he cheated on her with other women and she often retreated to Santa Fe, N.M., where she could focus on her art and distance herself from Stieglitz.  While there, their relationship continued until Stieglitz’s death in 1946 — the same year she became the first female artist to have a solo show at the Museum of Metropolitan Art.

Perhaps she loved the tumultuous ups and downs of her yo-yo relationship with Stieglitz. Or maybe she appreciated the impact he had on her artistic career.  It doesn’t sound that different from the Hollywood marriages of today. In more ways than one, Georgia O’Keeffe was a woman ahead of her time.

Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keefe 1933, collection of George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film
Alfred Stieglitz
[Georgia O’Keefe] 1933
gelatin silver print
Collection of George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film

In almost every way she reminds me of Frida Kahlo. They could swap biographies, if not artwork, and definitely husbands.  Diego Rivera could have easily been Alfred Stieglitz  if Kahlo had not allowed herself the luxury of becoming heart-sick.  Maybe she was tired of that, particular battle. Yet her struggles were not in vain, and her name and work lives on.

The sharp departure between the women’s outcomes reveals itself in their story endings.  While Kahlo died after being hospitalized and heart-broken by her husband, Rivera,  sleeping with her arch-enemy as she lay dying, O’Keeffe soared as her husband declined.  Frida had been a revolutionary, herself, fighting for the equality of Indians in Mexico.  Frida’s father was German, and her mother, from Mexico.

Photo: Frida and Diego, nicknamed “The Elephant and the Dove”.

Frida was 98 lbs to his  300 lbs!

Georgia O’Keeffe outlived her lover, and on the day of his death, she became a superstar in her own right and took her place on the stage of history!

Kahlo’s work and passion are undeniable and rich with fertile genius.  If the two women had met, maybe Kahlo could have enjoyed the fruits of her labor while Diego declined, as O’Keeffe had.  But that’s not how it happened for her or for Virgina Woolf.

I think it extraordinary that once in a while truly interesting people cross our paths leaving us richer for the experience one way or another.

Here are some of Georgia’s paintings with her quotes.

“To create one’s own world, in any of the arts, takes courage.”

“Making your unknown known is the important thing.”

“Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant. It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest”

“I said to myself, I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me — shapes and ideas so near to me — so natural to my way of being and thinking that it hasn’t occurred to me to put them down. I decided to start anew, to strip away what I had been taught”

“I know I cannot paint a flower. I cannot paint the sun on the desert on a bright summer morning, but maybe in terms of paint color I can convey to you my experience of the flower or the experience that makes the flower of significance to me at that particular time.”

“When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not.”

“I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale, you could not ignore its beauty.”

“Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstraction” at the Whitney

Photo of Georgia O'Keeffe in New Mexico
Photo of Georgia O’Keeffe in New Mexico

This show should set heart’s on fire all over again.  O’Keeffe’s work is tremendously enjoyable and she’s  genuinely interesting as a person and an artist.  Some have been to her homes in Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch in New Mexico.

The goal of this exhibit is to present a different side of O’Keeffe.  Rather than the sexual associations others have attributed to her work, the focus here is on abstractions and radical work from her early career which became the basis for her representational work.

Towards the end of her life she returned to these abstracted forms.

This show is one of the largest O’Keeffe exhibitions ever assembled, started four years ago with five curators working on it.

Unexpected treasures came out of this show — the unsealing of letters between O’Keeffe and Steiglitz that had been sealed for 60 years. This correspondence gives us more insight into her life and her work.

Special Number 12, 1918, Charcoal on paper, 24 x 19" Special Number 12, 1918, Charcoal on paper, 24 x 19″

O’Keeffe attended  art school  briefly in order to become an art teacher.  She believed that art was not about representing something from the natural world but about the artist expressing her personality.

This approach came from her teacher and mentor, Arthur Wesley Dow,  a pioneer in art education.

She had a desire to “speak” through her work and the charcoal works on view in the first gallery are her pure feelings translated to paper.

Art was a way for her to connect with the unknown through abstracted forms and later in her use of color.  As we now know, Steiglitz was impressed by her work and his positive feedback gave her the courage to continue.

In 1916 her work was shown by Steiglitz for the first time at his gallery 291.

It is interesting to note that the forms in these charcoal works come directly out of the arts and crafts movement at the turn of the century.

The forms in her charcoals establish a vocabulary that she returns to again and again throughout her career.

Blue 1, 1916, Watercolor on paperBlue 1, 1916, Watercolor on paper

In 1916 she introduced the color blue into her work and created a blue watercolor.

This exploration of one color most likely came about after reading The New Science of Color by Beatrice Irwin which suggests mastering one color at a time.

In 1917 O’Keeffe moved to Canyon, TX to teach and added representational color.  O’Keeffe was not interested in subject matter in and of itself, but as a springboard for something else.

Steiglitz showed these works and on her visit to NY, O’Keeffe met other artists in his stable including Paul Strand. After this meeting, her work became much more abstract.

Through her work she created a sensation of someone or something, not the thing itself.  She worked serially throughout her career and color was her means of connecting with the unconscious.

“The meaning of a word to me is not as exact as the meaning of a color. Color and shapes make a more definite statement than words.”

~1916, Georgia O’Keeffe.

In 1918 she changed from watercolor to oil paint and she matures quickly as an artist. She uses space and color so magically the canvas seems to pulsate with life, energy, passion!

She is able to create atmospheric space as well as crisp linear space all within the same work.  O’Keeffe also uses musical references in her titles around this time because she feels that music, like her paintings, can convey powerful emotions.

She moved to NY at this time and it was at this time that Steiglitz began to photograph O’Keeffe.  Interestingly, there are over 300 photos of her because Steiglitz believed you could not get a sense of someone unless they were photographed over a lifetime.

These photos influenced O’Keeffe’s work in the way that Steiglitz cropped shots to make abstractions as well as the smooth velvety surface he created, she utilized these techniques in her paintings.

Alfred Steiglitz, photo of Georgia O'Keeffe, 1919Alfred Steiglitz, photo of Georgia O’Keeffe, 1919

In 1921 a stir was created when Steiglitz had a show in which 45 of 125 works were of O’Keeffe in various stages of undress. She was 24 years his junior and he was still married at the time.

It was at this time that the critics began to talk about her work as sexual and the photos only added fuel to the fire. O’Keeffe found this extremely insulting because the work was so much deeper and broad reaching than just being about sex. Perhaps people were confusing sexuality with sensuality.

In 1923 she began to move towards representational imagery because her abstractions were narrowly received as about fertility, womanhood, the female orgasm, etc.

Abstraction White Rose, 1927, Oil on canvasAbstraction White Rose, 1927, Oil on canvas

O’Keeffe’s handling of paint was remarkable.

She layered and softly blended colors to avoid muddied colors.

She wanted the surface of her paintings to be like a skin with a feathery quality and a constant tension between the out of focus atmosphere and her crisp, sharp lines.

She controlled subtle modulations of color in a brilliant way and developed a way for geometry to represent the NY skyline.

O’Keeffe never made preliminary studies for her works, she would just lay down the pencil without straying from her original idea!

Wave, Night, 1928, Oil on canvasWave, Night, 1928, Oil on canvas

When Steiglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe  married in 1924 they spent a great deal of time upstate near Lake George.

Water imagery was something she created a great deal during this time. She took images, simplified them, simplified them again and again until they were unrecognizable. She was a phenomenal technician and her treatment of white is just like that of colors.

One pastel work entitled, Pink and Green, from 1922 caught my eye. It is a smaller piece but the color and abstraction leads and loses the viewer  in the work.

O’Keeffe was most attracted to things in nature that are boundless, timeless, and eternal. Perhaps it is in this union with nature she conveys that makes O’Keeffe so beloved as people can relate to her work.

They have experienced nature being so beautiful that words can’t describe it, only a representation of an experience can truly express it.

It was the works of O’Keeffe and John Marin that kept the gallery going with their sales. The idea of sexuality linked to her work plagued her but it also generated sales and got people talking about her.

In 1926 Cheney Brothers Silk Company commissioned 5 oil paintings for their fall ad campaign, two of which are on view in the show.

In 1929 O’Keeffe took her first trip to New Mexico as she wanted to get away from Steiglitz who had entered into a new relationship with Dorothy Norman.

After the 1923 show she wanted her work to be open to more broad interpretation and she did not pose nude for photos again; she wanted to reframe her public persona.

Two works stand out moving between  galleries.

Black Abstraction, 1927, Oil on canvasBlack Abstraction, 1927, Oil on canvas

The first is Black Abstraction from 1927 in which a black circle and an unidentified organic shape mingle with a small white dot at the center. This was created after her experience of undergoing anesthesia.

Abstraction Red and Black, Night, 1929Abstraction Red and Black, Night, 1929

Abstraction Red and Black, Night from 1929 is a very small work with two vertical deep red rectangles with a black form on the left and a brown diagonal on the right.

In 1929, much to Steiglitz’s chagrin, O’Keeffe accepts a commission for Radio City Music Hall for the women’s bathroom.  Unfortunately the plaster was wet and the paint did not stick, the result causing O’Keeffe to have a nervous breakdown.

She did not paint for a year and a half, her confidence  so shattered that she almost had to learn how to paint again, especially the abstracts.

Black Place I, 1944, Oil on canvasBlack Place I, 1944, Oil on canvas

This re-learning resulted in a series of predominately black and gray works of “The Black Place” about 150 miles from her New Mexico home.

She wrote to Steiglitz that she “sees him in this place.”

His mustache as the swirling hills, etc. In this sense, they can be interpreted as portraits of him. Though she begged Steiglitz to come visit her in New Mexico, he never did as he was petrified of travel.

Black door with red, 1955, Oil on canvas
Black door with red, 1955, Oil on canvas

Steiglitz died in 1946 and in 1949 she moved to New Mexico permanently.

It is in these later works that there is a coolness and serenity that permeates through.

While in New Mexico she used bones as framing devices for her abstractions. She paints her door in Abiquiu as a black square surrounded by red and golden rectangular areas, just as Frida Kahlo painted her famous home a beautiful and startling blue.

O’Keeffe developed macular degeneration which caused her to lose all but her peripheral vision causing her latest works to be more simplified, abstracted forms once again. She had come full circle!

” I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking the time to look at it – I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.”

” Whether the flower or the color is the focus I do not know. I do know the flower is painted large to convey my experience with the flower — and what is my experience if it is not the color?”

“I think I am one of the few who gives our country any voice of its own.”

“One can not be an American by going about saying that one is an American. It is necessary to feel America, like America, love America and then work.”

“One can’t paint New York as it is, but rather as it is felt.”

“Now and then when I get an idea for a picture, I think, how ordinary. Why paint that old rock? Why not go for a walk instead? But then I realise that to someone else it may not seem so ordinary.”

“Sun-bleached bones were most wonderful against the blue – that blue that will always be there as it is now after all man’s destruction is finished.”

“I found I could say things with colors that I couldn’t say in any other way — things that I had no words for.”

“I don’t much enjoy looking at paintings in general. I know too much about them. I take them apart.”

“I don’t see why we ever think of what others think of what we do — no matter who they are. Isn’t it enough just to express yourself?”

“Wise men say it isn’t art! But what of it, if it is children and love in paint?”

“I feel there is something unexplored about women that only a woman can explore.”

“I have had to go to men as sources in my painting because the past has left us so small an inheritance of woman’s painting that had widened life…. Before I put a brush to canvas I question, “Is this mine? Is it all intrinsically of myself? Is it influenced by some idea or some photograph of an idea which I have acquired from some man?”

“Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense. A hill or tree cannot make a good painting just because it is a hill or tree. It is lines and colors put together so that they may say something.”

“Slits in nothingness are not very easy to paint.”

“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life — and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”

“The days you work are the best days.”

“You get whatever accomplishment you are willing to declare.”


A Winning Life

O’Keeffe met photographer Todd Webb in the 1940s, and after his move to New Mexico in 1961, he often made photographs of her, as did numerous other important American photographers, who consistently presented O’Keeffe as a “loner, a severe figure and self-made person.”

While O’Keeffe was known to have a “prickly personality”, Webb’s photographs portray her with a kind of “quietness and calm” suggesting a relaxed friendship, and revealing new contours of O’Keeffe’s character.

In 1962, O’Keeffe was elected to the fifty-member American Academy of Arts and Letters. She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1966.   In the fall of 1970, the Whitney Museum of American Art mounted the Georgia O’Keeffe Retrospective Exhibition, the first retrospective exhibition of her work in New York since 1946, the year Stieglitz died, reviving her public career.

In 1972, O’Keeffe’s eyesight was compromised by macular degeneration leading to the loss of central vision and leaving her with only peripheral vision. She stopped oil painting without assistance in 1972, but continued working in pencil and charcoal until 1984.

Juan Hamilton, a young potter, appeared at her ranch house in 1973 looking for work. She hired him for a few odd jobs and soon employed him full time. He became her closest confidante, companion, and business manager until her death.

Hamilton taught O’Keeffe to work with clay, and working with assistance, she produced clay pots and a series of works in watercolor.  In 1976 she wrote a book about her art and allowed a film to be made about her in 1977.

On January 10, 1977, President Gerald R. Ford presented O’Keeffe with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor awarded to American citizens. In 1985, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts.

O’Keeffe became increasingly frail in her late 90s.  She moved to Santa Fe in 1984, where she died on March 6, 1986, at the age of 98.

In accordance with her wishes, she was cremated and her ashes were scattered to the wind at the top of the Pedernal Mountain, over her beloved “faraway”.


Photo credits: Georgia O’Keeffe

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If Joy is the Answer, What’s the Question?

The "Endeavour"

I am a Nichiren Buddhist who happens to be a screenwriter.  Some time ago  I decided to get my nose pierced and become a Buddhist – a person who studies their own life interacting with the environment, and finding  enlightenment in the whole.

The nose-piercing was just a personal thing.  Attractive because it entailed a nurse with a needle and a bottle of scotch, plus the glee of anticipating my mother’s reaction.

Regarding Buddhism, I could use many fancy words right here,  explaining spiritual systems of thought that have been in place for thousands of years in the East that are now a part of  our Western, contemporary way of thinking,  but that’s unnecessary.   Once we have decided that “Joy” is our answer, we can then know what that question must be.  Nichiren Buddhism; is this my question?

Most important of course is the experiment of “actual proof” which accompanies this question:  “Does it work?”

If Joy is the answer, then chanting “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” is our question.

“A fabulous New World lies in everyone’s life! The name we give it is Buddhahood,” says Dr. Daisaku Ikeda in his book, My Dear Friends in America.  I love the way he words this.

When I think of America I think of various people leaving their own lands and embarking on a journey to establish new ground and a new life of hope for themselves, their families and their descendants.

So here we all are, in 2011, more divided and at odds with each other politically than ever before.  Natural disasters abound. Corporations crush the very fight from the ordinary person.

But this may be precisely the time to experiment with and unite positively creative ideas using this philosophy to create common ground.  All humans experience certain things in common, no matter how different our backgrounds or physical appearance.  And in my case, an accent no one can pinpoint.

At the very nucleus of my life I find my chanting working on a cellular level, activating within me the  profound.  Usually something I’ve been intent on ignoring, that’s staring me straight in the face.  It’s worth it to me to have faith in this wonderful ceremony I perform daily.  I can say I believe in what I do beyond a shadow of a doubt as it manifests itself in actual,  day to day,  tactile living.

Faith for me becomes a belief in a magnificent outcome no matter what the adventure, or how uncomfortable the ride may feel at the time.

The study of Buddhism, then, is the decision to peel back the lid of that third eye in order to observe one’s mind and find light within it!

I take this enlightened journey hopeful of traveling from a blurred  awareness of myself as separate from others, to knowing myself to contain the entire universe, itself, all in a single moment!  When is that moment?  When I quiet my mind and say, “Nam myoho renge kyo.”

I stand between the earthiness of being and feeling human, and the spiritual dizziness of touching the “Law” at it’s deepest level,  revealing in an instant both the  transient and the true!  As Daisaku Ikeda says, “Truly new discoveries cannot be properly measured against old, established theories.  Their value is realized for the first time when they have been validated by clear evidence.  This is perhaps the only way that new discoveries can gain acceptance.”

For this reason we should never “prejudge a thing”, and that includes the value of where we find ourselves presently standing.

It’s at once a grand illusion and a moment in history filled with limitless opportunity.

I presently have two goals that may or may not coincide.  The screenplay that I am writing in collaboration, a challenge in itself, and the delving into gray areas of joy and painting them vivid.  These endeavours are working quite nicely, if at times uncomfortably,  yet always transformed by the vertical touch above and grounding beneath my feet.

It is my observation that we have the exact challenges we need at the exact time that we need them.

What say you?

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