“From the Faraway, Nearby”
With the title of her famous painting of Abiquiu, From the Faraway, Nearby, Georgia O’Keeffe coined a phrase many now use as shorthand for New Mexico. But what did the artist mean with the phrase?
“Faraway, Nearby” was how O’Keeffe and her husband Alfred Stieglitz, in their frequent letters to one another, described their relationship while she was in New Mexico. This phrase referenced an emotional closeness despite physical distance, as well as O’Keeffe’s capacity—through the modern conveyances of trains and automobiles—for returning to Stieglitz in New York.
When modernist artists came to New Mexico, they were typically drawn by a prevailing narrative that the state was ‘a land before time, untouched by modern civilization.’ This narrative was a myth, obviously, and the best artists’ work usually wrestled with the conflict between the reality and this myth.
Although O’Keeffe was one of the best Modern artists, whether this painting is intended to address any such conflict remains an enigma. Yet because she and Stieglitz both used “Faraway, Nearby” in their letters, we can at least know the title for this ‘skull over Abiquiu’ image was a highly personal expression of a relationship she cared for deeply.