New Mexico--Near Taos depicts the rugged terrain of New Mexico, with its undulating forms, crystalline light and brilliant colors. The crisp outlines and subtle modeling of forms simultaneously create a sense of sculptural depth and of flattened design. Meanwhile, the Southwestern light enabled Georgia O'Keeffe to see clearly over great distances, and the present work conveys a striking sense of the region’s expansive views. The distinct hills and mesas were the first scenes O'Keeffe painted upon her arrival in New Mexico, and she returned to the subject time and again. Jack Cowart writes, "By 1929 O'Keeffe confirmed that her truest, most consistent visual sources were in the American Southwest. These sources refreshed her physically, mentally, artistically. The sky, the vastness, the sounds, the danger of the plains, Badlands, canyons, rocks, and bleached bones of the desert struck her as authentic and essential to her life as well as to her art...She wanted to show her wonder. Indeed it is her wonder, her razor-sharp vision, and her response to that vision that continue to astonish us. No artist has seen and painted like O'Keeffe, whose spiritual communion with her subject was of a special quality, unparalleled, and irreducible." (Georgia O'Keeffe: Art and Letters, New York, 1987, p. 5)
After her initial visit to the region in 1929, O’Keeffe made almost annual trips to New Mexico, painting in relative solitude for up to six months, then returning to New York each winter to exhibit her new works at An American Place, Alfred Stieglitz's gallery. In short order her views of the Southwest became as well-known as her magnified flower paintings. In 1940, O’Keeffe purchased a house at Ghost Ranch in the Chama River Valley approximately 60 miles northwest of Santa Fe. In 1945, she bought another house in Abiquiu and the property at Ghost Ranch was used exclusively during the summer and fall. O'Keeffe moved to New Mexico permanently in 1949.
The present work likely depicts the sandy hills near Alcalde, New Mexico, roughly 40 miles southwest of Taos. In Taos and the surrounding area O'Keeffe was immediately captivated by the spare landscape, often driving out into the hills and using her Model A Ford as her studio. At the same time, O’Keeffe was overwhelmed by this vast desert environment and almost feared its hidden dangers, writing to Henry McBride in 1931 from Alcalde: “It galls me that I haven’t the courage to sleep out there in the hills alone--but I haven’t.” (as quoted in S.R. Udall, Carr, O’Keeffe, Kahlo: Places of Their Own, New Haven, 2000, p. 223) Still, she found a deep connection emotionally and artistically with the land, reflecting of her drives around Alcalde, “I think I never had a better time painting--and never worked more steadily and never loved the country more.” (as quoted in R. Robinson, Georgia O’Keeffe: A Life, Hanover, New Hampshire, 1999, p. 359)
The artist's spiritual connection with this region is embodied in New Mexico--Near Taos, where O'Keeffe utilizes semi-abstracted forms and wonderfully modulated hues to emphasize the mystical qualities of the desert site. Incorporating the natural world as well as the abstract one, the painting reflects the pictorial strategies that she had developed earlier in her career--an interest in a type of heightened realism that pushes an image to the edge of abstraction. O'Keeffe wrote of her approach, "I long ago came to the conclusion that even if I could put down accurately the thing that I saw and enjoyed, it would not give the observer the kind of feeling it gave me. I had to create an equivalent for what I felt about what I was looking at--not copy it." (as quoted in M.P. Balge-Crozier, "Still Life Redefined" in Georgia O'Keeffe: The Poetry of Things, Washington, D.C., 1999, p. 69) It is this layering of visual and spiritual interpretations of the landscape that makes New Mexico--Near Taos a characteristically remarkable work.