Friday, December 5, 2008

Betty Goodwin, Artist of Mourning

Vest Two 1970
Artist Betty Goodwin dies

Alan Hustak
The Gazette
Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Success as an artist didn't come to Betty Goodwin until relatively late in her life, but when she died in Montreal Monday, her reputation as one of the country's pre-eminent painters and sculptures had been secure for a long time.
Her images of floating bodies, her scarred tarpaulin installations and her solemn steel sculptures were infused with melancholy. Because of her unique style, Goodwin was sometimes described as the artist of mourning.
"You can't understand Canadian art without coming to terms with her achievements," said Matthew Teitelbaum, director of the Art Gallery of Ontario, which houses the largest collection of her work. "There was in her work an expressiveness about the quality of living and the emotion of life realized on a grand scale. One of her great achievements was to produce intimacy and grandeur at the same time. She was the ranking woman of her generation, who depicted fragility and triumph in the same breath. There is an affirmation of survival in her work, the bodies in her paintings work through and around obstacles."

Nest 1973

Betty Roodish, the daughter of Rumanian immigrants who owned a clothing business was born in Montreal on March 19, 1923, Her father died when she was 9. As a child, she didn't fare well in school.
"The only thing I was good at was making art, and back then that meant drawing geraniums," she once told a reporter. She studied graphic design at the Valentine Commercial School of Art and her first job was to design chocolate boxes for the Steinberg chain of grocery stores.
Except for one year when she took a printmaking course from Yves Gaucher at Sir George Williams University, Goodwin had no formal training as an artist.
"The strange part is that I never said I am going to become an artist," she told a biographer, "I just kept going and persevered ... I have said it many times, you push and push and push, and there is a moment when the work begins to pull you."



Sleeping / Dying Woman 1963

Her early works were strictly representational, vaguely Cubist. It wasn't until 1960 when the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts exhibited 30 of her still lifes and gloomy portraits that her art making started to attract critical attention. In 1972, her textural studies of men's vests and her enormous hanging works made out of battered tarpaulins earned her the Arts Council of Great Britain's major prize at the Third International Print Biennale in Bradford, England.
Handsome, elegant and intense, Goodwin was a tenacious artist. Her confidence in her work never flagged, and when success came, she accepted it without compromise. Her shows were planned thematically – there was the Vest series, The Swimmers, Icons and Diary of a Human Hand. In 1979, she and her assistant, Marcel Lemyre, turned an apartment at 4005 Mentana St. into a environmental sculpture.

Swimmers 1975-1985

In 1986, Goodwin was the first English-speaking Quebec artist to receive the Prix Paul Emile Borduas from the provincial government.
"She was a giant, one of the first women to achive such stature in the contemporary Canadian art world," said the Montreal dealer René Blouin, who represented her work.
"Her stature was so great, that she had a following even among people who didn't pay much attention to art. She was a very private person, and while her work was rooted in autobiography, her work was a reflection of the temper of our times.
"She wasn't only lamenting the death of her son, Paul, (who died of a drug overdose in 1976) but the cruelty of the human condition that we see every day when we turn on the television."
Goodwin was made an officer of the Order of Canada five years ago. Among her many other honours are doctorates from the Université de Montréal, The University of Guelph, and The University of Waterloo, as well as a Guggenheim Fellowship.


Artist Betty Goodwin

In 1996 Goodwin donated 150 of her works to the Art Gallery of Ontario, which has the largest collection of her work. The Gallery staged a major retrospective that year, and the same year she was awarded the Harold Town Prize.
Her husband, Martin Goodwin, a civil engineer whom she married in 1945, died Oct. 15.
In keeping with her wishes, there will be no funeral.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Amazing woman. Such a kind heart...so true to her work.

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