Georgia O'Keeffe painted It was Yellow & Pink I in 1959 while she was living in New Mexico. "In the 1950s and 1960s O'Keeffe's sources would become her immediate world of the Abiquiu, New Mexico patio door, the Ghost Ranch post ends, the courtyard flagstones, and her airplane flight above the clouds...Through the late 1960s and 1970s O'Keeffe's large sky and river paintings, and smaller still-life images of rocks or other natural forms, plus her colorful and broadly brushed watercolors, document her still-vital creative energy." (J. Cowart, Georgia O'Keeffe: Art and Letters, Washington, D.C., 1987, pp. 5-6)
Depicting a winding river and its tributaries, It was Yellow & Pink I is the result of O'Keeffe's own vision of the landscapes that she encountered from airplanes. As in her flower paintings, O'Keeffe's unusual vantage point is rendered in an elevated perspective transporting the viewer high above the desert river. O'Keeffe recalled, "When I flew around the world I was surprised to see how many large spots of desert we went over--with a large river or river bed crossing over the sand. I made many drawings about an inch high--that later, when I was home, I made into larger drawings and after that paintings." (as quoted in B.B. Lynes, Georgia O'Keeffe, New Haven, Connecticut, 1999, p. 840) From the elevated vantage point, O'Keeffe reduces the landscape to a pattern of winding shapes with a complete loss of detail. Using curvilinear forms to vertically cut the rectangle of the canvas and her use of sweeping brushstrokes, O'Keeffe connotes a mystical and spiritual meaning that is the essence of her works
O'Keeffe's characteristic use of color and shapes can be seen in It was Yellow & Pink I. "Looking down on her river subjects, O'Keeffe remembered seeing 'such incredible colors that you actually begin to believe in your dreams.' Back on terra firma, at work in the studio, she felt free to employ color arbitrarily, explaining to one viewer that 'after all you can see any color you want when you look out the [airplane] window.'" (C. Eldredge, Georgia O'Keeffe, New York, 1991, p. 147) In the present work, the varying shades of yellow and pink softly bleed in contrasting tones. O'Keeffe renders the desert in yellow and beige hues, then abstracts the scene by painting the winding river pink. These colors actually form meaning. O'Keeffe states, "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. I write this because such odd things have been done about me with words. I have often been told what to paint. I am often amazed at the spoken and written word telling me what I have painted. I make this effort because no one else can know how my paintings happen." (Georgia O'Keeffe, New York, 1974, p. 1)
As was typical of her approach to her subject matter, O'Keeffe experimented with serial images and painted a series of large river abstraction canvases and drawings in 1959, among the first of which was It was Yellow & Pink I. This working method was typical of the artist, who said, "I work with an idea for a long time. It's like getting acquainted with a person, and I don't get acquainted easily...Sometimes I start in a very realistic fashion, and as I go on from one painting to another of the same thing, it becomes simplified till it can be nothing but abstract."