From the Faraway Nearby

The paintings of Georgia O'Keeffe (1887–1986) are earthy and mystical, muscular and feminine, distinctly personal yet unmistakably American, untouchable and lonely like the New Mexico landscapes they depict while still being eminently warm, lush and colorful. “From the Faraway Nearby” is my effort to create an immersive musical rendering of this visual experience. I was particularly fascinated by the evocation of the “faraway” and the “nearby” in many of O'Keeffe's works (the title was taken from a particular 1938 painting) – the most graceful, intimate subtleties of small natural objects (bones and flowers) are juxtaposed against seemingly limitless desert plains and mountainscapes. These paintings are a vivid representation of a subjective spiritual response to the vast and mysterious natural world.

My work contains three sections that undergo transformation and repeat in a cyclical structure (reflecting the continuous, undulating forms in O'Keeffe's paintings). First, the diffuse “faraway” sound of a layered, echoing motive that spreads throughout the orchestra, a gesture of large scale from which solo instruments emerge (“nearby” sounds). Second, an interlude in the winds that evokes the delicate, somewhat exotic imagery of bones, flowers and trees. Third, the expansive “mountain” theme. In its first incarnation the mountain theme represents the Black Place, one of O'Keeffe's favorite subjects -- a row of gray and black hills in Navajo country which O'Keeffe compared to “a mile of elephants”. In its reiteration at the end of the piece, the mountain theme represents Cerro Pedernal, O'Keeffe's beloved mountain of which she said: “God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it.”

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© 2013 Nell Shaw Cohen. All rights reserved.
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