Georgia O’Keefe’s work has captivated many for years and for new artists it will inspire them to be bold and to experiment – to find their own way. In a time where men dominated the art scene, she pushed the boundaries and created her very own unique style. For decades she denied that the bold and beautiful depictions of flowers were erotic art, that her depictions of flowers weren’t vaginas yet even to this day feminists are hailing her as a hero of female sexuality in the art world. Yet according to The Guardian in reference to the Tate Modern undertaking an exhibition of her work back in 2016:

The Freudian theory that her flower paintings were actually close studies of the female vulva were first put forward in 1919 by Alfred Stieglitz, the photographer who first promoted O’Keeffe’s work and later became her husband.
…the Tate retrospective would illustrate how this “cliched interpretation”, written almost 100 years ago and perpetuated by male art critics at the time, was “gendered and outdated”.


Do you view them as a reflection of female sexuality or a study in botany?

Black Iris
Grey Lines with Black, Blue and Yellow
Music Pink and Blue ii
Jack in the Pulpit

Header Image: (Tony Vaccaro/Getty Images)

Alexa Jade Frankelis is a researcher and visual artist based in New York City. Before attending Stony Brook University where she received her BA in Art History and Criticism (Hons.), she had also attended the BFA Photography and Video program at the School of Visual Arts. There she learned the same techniques and processes that spirit photographers and other artists from the nineteenth-century had used to create their images.

She has shown her work in both institutions and galleries like Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery, the School of Visual Arts, and Stephen Romano Gallery. As a researcher, Alexa has had her writings about witchcraft, spirit photography, and other occult subjects featured in Blurred Zine, Crisis and Catharsis, the University of Edinburgh. Most recently she has collaborated with Stephen Romano Gallery to create a virtual project titled, Apparitions, with some of the works featured here You can find more of her explorations into these eras on her Instagram, @TheMourningMoon.

Artist Statement:
The above images are currently featured in a collaborative project with Stephen Romano Gallery titled, Apparitions. I like to think of the camera as another form of communication. The first spiritualists were heavily influenced by telecommunication technologies of the mid-nineteenth century like the telegraph. The Fox Sisters first interactions with the ghost of the peddler were labeled as the “Rochester Rappings”. Adapting with technology, the camera could be viewed as a planchette, but at the same time it isn’t such a different concept from the spirit photographers of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Green-Wood, acting as a
refuge for those in the Victorian era and for me presently, evokes this connection to the past and enables the use of a camera as a tool of dialogue to convey messages from those who are departed.

Dora Maar has always felt like a woman in the shadows. She was known to many as a muse and a partner of one of the most famous artists of our time – Pablo Picasso. Famous for being his “weeping woman”, she has been lost in time and it isn’t until now with thanks to the Tate Gallery in London and now this book – I can start to put the meat on the bones of Maar.

This book was written after the author Brigitte Benkemoun uncovered a rare piece of art history. Her husband had lost his Hermes diary and had found a replacement online. The diary had been replenished with blank paper but what was hidden was what excited her the most – it was an address book with some rather familiar names. After further investigation the author discovered that this had belonged to the artist Dora Maar and so her journey began.

This book is a little insight into the life of Dora Maar and those that surrounded her. The names in this book are noteworthy – everyone from Breton to Brassaï, Braqu to Cocteau…the list goes on. What I truly get out of this book is discovering Maar as a person and as someone living with turbulent interiors – her mental welfare is something that comes up again and again this book.

The elephant in the room throughout this is Maar’s copy of Mein Kampf that looks like it is proudly placed in her apartment in her later years. The author decides to try and unpick this and to understand why she would own such a thing, was it a keepsake from someone dear or was she antisemitic? We never do get to the truth, but the author admits she doesn’t want to know why Maar thought the way she did.

What I would say is that Maar does still seem a bit of an enigma, this book isn’t is a tell all show all autobiography – it is a snippet, a fragment that was born from this discovery of the address book.. My only real criticism of this would be its lack of photographs with the premise of the book being on a found object – we never get to see it intimately unless we turn to Google.

If you are a Dora Maar fan then this book is definitely worth reading for the investigative twists and turns that almost feel like you are reading a piece of fiction.

Alice Ernestine Prin (2 October 1901 – 29 April 1953), nicknamed the Queen of Montparnasse, and better known as Kiki de Montparnasse, was a French artist’s model, literary muse, nightclub singer, actress, memoirist and painter.

She led a wild and exciting life among the bohemians in Paris becoming the Queen of Bohemia herself. She would pose for artists and become a muse for the brilliant Man Ray. Her image still stands out today with its almost Gothic mystique that draw people in, she will always live on in the hearts of artists – becoming a muse for future generations to come.

Kiki by Getty Images
L’étoile de mer, Man Ray, 1928
Mixed Media by Man Ray
Postcard of Kiki from 1929
Image by Man Ray

William Mortensen was a master of the macabre. His work was intense, disturbing and thought provoking. Before photoshop there was Mortensen.

Known to photograph Hollywood stars and write books on the craft, Mortensen set out to create a new type of image; one that would invoke a lasting impression on all that cast their eye over it. His use of photography, montage and illustration puzzled the purists and intrigued its onlookers. He had a unique style that touched on themes of horror, death and the occult. In a pre-internet world that fed off the sounds of radio broadcasts and glamourized worlds in the Golden Age of Hollywood, it disturbed many. His work has had a lasting influence on the world of photography and Mortensen continues to be the master of the gothic and the grotesque.

Down Below is a re-telling of a descent into madness from one of Surrealist’s most brilliant women artists.

In 1937 Leonora Carrington was an art student in London, she then met the artist Max Ernst and they soon formed a relationship, they cemented this by moving away together to a house in Provence.

In 1940, she was to suffer an enormous blow, Max was arrested and sent to a concentration camp, this was just the beginning as Leonora would suffer a psychotic breakdown. Confined to a mental institution she would undergo some of the cruelest and most sadistic treatments administered by her Doctor.

This book retraces her days as a form of therapy through the medium of writing. She shares her thoughts, feelings, dreams and nightmares. It is told through her own memory and is written in a diary format to give the reader an idea of timeline. As “normal” as this may seem, the entries read almost like a shamanic journey, an out of body experience where Leonora’s visions take her to other places, in particular the Down Below. The book is in some ways rather difficult to read, it tells us of a time in her life that is quite frankly an unbearable and brutal way to cure someone of their madness. A time where brutality reigned, and these monstrous treatments were thought as cures.

This book is a real gem and certainly earns a place in the history of surrealist literature.

As an extremely well-established Surrealist painter, it was a little obvious that there was a gap in the biographical department when it came to Remedios Varo.  It was also a most brilliant moment when this collection was published by Wakefield Press – so much more than a biography but an insight into one of the greatest female artists of our time.

This glorious little volume of work is a gorgeous pot of collected writings that include such gems as an unpublished interview, letters to friends, a dream diary, ideas for projects, prose poetry and everything else in-between. It is truly like cracking open the nut that was the wonderful Remedios Varo and having a sneaky peek into the workings of her brilliant mind. Sometimes funny, sometimes odd but most of the time, extremely inspirational – who doesn’t want a recipe to induce erotic dreams?

These pieces were never published whilst she was alive and have now been translated into English by Margaret Carson – it brings together a fascinating insight into the world of Varo, a world full of escapism, wonder and mysticism. She has created a world where she wishes to dream and play, an eccentric and talented artist has been brought to the forefront and is set to inspire writers, artists and dreamers alike.

Remedios Varo (1908–1963) was a Spanish-born painter who entered the Surrealist circle in Paris before the German occupation forced her into exile to Mexico at the end of 1941, where she would stay until the end of her life. Her dream-infused, allegorical work combines the elements of classical training, alchemical mysticism, and fairy-tale science. (Bio from Wakefield Press)

Author and Nin scholar Kim Krizan is the ultimate spy with her book aptly named Spy in the House of Anaïs Nin. She has sourced a rich collection of lost letters and original manuscripts to put together a collection of penetrating essays in an attempt to crack open the incredible life of Nin.

Abandoned by her father at a young age, Nin’s mother moved the entire family over to America. During this journey, something incredibly special happened and Nin began writing a letter to her Father to lure him back. This was to become her diary, a habit she kept for 63 years

Her diary often speaks of existential dilemmas – the constant pull of wife and artist. A theme that runs right through her creative life. She used her diary as she would a confidant, a close friend. It would be a re-telling of her life as she envisioned it; sensual and beautiful, painful and penetrating. Her entries are deeply personal, and her feelings and dreams would fuel her writing and exploration of the self.

Krizan has weaved together a selection of essays exploring Nin and her life as a feminist and a visionary. It is based on new examinations of letters, papers, and manuscripts held at UCLA and her home in Los Angeles. We delve deep into a treasure trove of historical pieces that all come together to form a fuller picture of one of the greatest female writers of our time.

Jeanne is on a quest for pleasure. In her “memory palace” there is a plethora of images and descriptions, all of which contain her encounters with men. The men she picks up from the streets of Paris. The men she takes to a series of hotels. All these images are safely stored away. She is collecting descriptions of her sexual encounters and focussing on one thing in particular – the penis.

From one man to the next she recalls the colour and anatomical intricacies of the penis. This may seem like a comical idea to some but what is more important here is the female point of view. There are no bad descriptions of breasts and vaginas, screaming orgasmic sex and ridiculous scenarios found in the pages of pornographic books written by men. Leger is exploring the very thing we don’t really talk about.

Jeanne has no backstory; we don’t know who she is or what she does. We have no idea why she is so obsessed with creating her memory palace or why she enjoys the anatomy of men in such detail. An anonymous figure. A mystery. Nor do we know much about the men she meets; they too are anonymous. She does not compare them to one another, they are singular beings, singular encounters. This all adds to the enigma that is Jeanne.

Leger’s book is wonderful. It is far from the pages of pornography as we know it; it is beautifully written. Little love letters to sex and the self, her words are not brutish or coarse; they are soft, gentle, warm and at times surreal. It is daring and full of wonderfully descriptive prose. It is cliché free and extremely intimate – it is a must read.

The book was originally published in 2017 under the title Mise en Pieces and won the Prix Anais Nin. The prize is created in homage to the Anais Nin and it “rewards a work which is distinguished by a singular voice and sensitivity, the originality of its imagination and a daring in the face of the moral order”.