Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Beautiful Life


Two and a half years ago, artist Lee Godie (1908 - 2008) was the subject of a marvelous retrospective at Chicago’s Intuit Gallery, with the exhibition of her work closing January 3, 2009. The show was titled: Finding Beauty: The Art of Lee Godie (1908 -2008) and was curated by Jessica Moss and David Syrek. Godie called herself a “French Impressionist” and often could be found on the steps of The Chicago Art Institute or outside Neiman Marcus, where the homeless woman was once heard to say: “Would you like to buy some canvases? I’m much better than Cezanne.”

Her photographs, made in a photobooth at the Chicago Trailways Bus Station, were great examples of self-reinvention. Long before Cindy Sherman’s famous and groundbreaking photography, Ms. Godie was using the bus station photobooth to take and create her rare “transformative self-portraits.” There, she was incredibly inventive. She often used artist’s paint to darken or lighten her face; she would dress in costume, change her hair or complete persona. Afterwards, she would paint or draw on the actual photograph to transform it further, perhaps tinting her hair or giving herself ruby red lips.

The photobooth machine at the bus station (where she often slept) would give a sitter the option of receiving a single image of yourself (approx. 4” x 5” photo) or broken into four different smaller ones you had to cut apart to separate.

As an example, look at the one above, titled “Lee in a Camera.” Here, Ms. Godie thought ahead and had to remove herself from the photobooth twice in order to set up this shot. By doing this she was manipulating the photo even further—leaving calculated blank space from which to react later. In this picture, she chose to write on those rectangles. It was smart, inventive and showed that she had a keen knowledge of space.

Lee would have been 102 years old this year. Yes, she was homeless, but lived her life for her art. Given the difficulties of her life, just surviving was an amazing achievement. To make art that people still covet, exhibit and talk about, well, that is even more incredible.

An AM repost from 12/08/08.

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