Heartbroken over her husband’s infidelities, in 1929 the American modern painter Georgia O’Keeffe (1887 – 1986) sought refuge in New Mexico. The barren landscape and endless dunes comforted her, and she took a great interest in collecting and painting bones and skulls. In her own words, “that first summer I spent in New Mexico I was a little surprised that there were so few flowers. There was no rain so the flowers didn’t come. Bones were easy to find so I began collecting bones.”
O’Keeffe continued visiting New Mexico every summer, drawn by its wilderness and vastness. Each day she left by herself in the morning and came back in the evening, driving a Ford through the desert that also served as a mobile studio. The desert had a profound impact on her, and she fondly called it the Faraway: “Such a beautiful, untouched lonely feeling place, such a fine part of what I call the ‘Faraway’. It is a place I have painted before … even now I must do it again.”
From the Faraway, Nearby was painted in 1937, in a style similar to other paintings that O’Keeffe completed while inspired by the aridity of South-Western US landscapes. Initially titled Deer’s Horns, Near Cameron, the artwork came to life after the artist took a camping trip to Arizona. The painting is depicting an oversized deer skull with its majestic horns, as seen from up close, hovering over the desert landscape, as seen from far away. There is no middle ground. The title of the artwork not only reinforces the optical illusion at play, with the foreground and the background coming together, but it also expresses O’Keeffe’s longing and loneliness.