In December 1945, O'Keeffe bought a house in Abiquiu, New Mexico, subsequently named Ghost Ranch, overlooking the Chama River Valley and a short distance from the high desert. In 1948, after several years of renovation, the house became her permanent residence for the next thirty-five years and the locale became the source of inspiration for her late works. Her subject matter came directly from what she viewed around her. "A direct, pragmatic woman, Georgia O'Keeffe painted what she saw in front of her. As she had painted buildings when in the city and barns in the country - and flowers everywhere - she painted what she saw in New Mexico: the expansive desert and sky, the lush life where there was water, the skeletons of the animals that once inhabited the dry, crusted spaces around her. And, always, she painted the light." (C.T. Patten, O'Keeffe at Abiquiu, New York, 1995, p. 23)
Road to the Ranch was painted in 1964 and depicts the winding road leading to Ghost Ranch with a view of the Abiquiu Mesa in the distance. Describing the scene in the present work, Doris Bry wrote "the road is the one to the Ghost Ranch and the 'view' is the place we stopped on the way back from the ranch, high up, at the turn in the road, with a long view down the river valley to distant mesas." (as quoted in B.B. Lynes, Georgia O'Keeffe, New Haven, Connecticut, 1999, p. 918) It is one of two very similar oils done in the same year, the other titled Road Past the View (Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Indianapolis, Indiana) and several pencil sketches of similar views. Road to the Ranch illuminates the further abstraction and minimalism O'Keeffe imbued in her later works, inspired by her immediate surroundings. Charles Eldredge described her late style as "the liberated and efflorescent type sometimes found by artists of advanced years, but one consistent with and logically evolving from the inventiveness she had shown from the outset. [O'Keeffe's late paintings] find a new expansiveness in scale, a daring abstraction, and a simplicity and formal power remarkable even for an artist to whose work such terms might always have seemed apt." (Georgia O'Keeffe: American and Modern, New Haven, Connecticut, 1993, p. 144)
The beauty of Road to the Ranch lies not only in the abstract quality of a minimalist landscape, but also in the artist's exploration of color, form and light. The canvas depicts a minimally layered landscape consisting of plains, hills, mesas and mountains in the far distance. Their form is defined by the simultaneous presence and lack of color. The plains in the foreground are formed by a pure white field which bleeds into the orange hue of the nearby hills. The mesa beyond is a solid purple mass, which abuts against the pale blue presence of distant mountains. Christine Taylor Patten, O'Keeffe's companion near the end of the artist's life, describes the surrounding mesas in similar terms: "The mesa is framed by the silhouette of verdant mountains, by deep blue and purple striations that fade into gray as the range retreats in space. Eager to see far away, from high, we leave the desert floor to its own hot concerns, not misled by the beauty of the desert's open span, by the softness of its color, or by its quiet. Beauty can be hard, severe." (as quoted in O'Keeffe at Abiquiu, p. 104)
Through this minimalist landscape runs the ranch road, a simple, snake-like line which slithers into the distance, leading the viewer towards O'Keeffe's unseen Ghost Ranch. The simplicity and power of an undulating line to define something as physical as a road, was termed by O'Keeffe's teacher and mentor, Arthur Wesley Dow as "round-cornerdness--the power generated when a curve and an angle combines." This line creates a rhythmic effect which was a major component in O'Keeffe's later pictures. Elizabeth Hutton Turner writes, "In one stroke of the whole arm O'Keeffe bends an arc diagonally across an otherwise vacant field. Changing size and direction within its sweep, the line conveys a mastery similar to ancient calligraphy. It swells, nearly fades away, only to turn back and expand in a rhythm that captures the eye's movements as it searches into the vast distances. In this regard O'Keeffe was not a reporter but a poet of local realism." ('The Real Meaning of Things,' Georgia O'Keeffe:The Poetry of Things, Washington, D.C., 1999, pp. 21-2)
Road to the Ranch is a masterfully crafted work of minimalism, imbued with a tremendous sense of power generated by the pure simplicity of its elements.