Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Photobooth Images By a Self-Taught Artist

(Above) Lee Godie (1908 - 1995), a homeless artist in Chicago, photographed on Michigan Avenue with some of her rolled up paintings. Photo © Steve Kagan
(Above) “Lee Godie-This is a Kid’s Pose,” 4 x 5” photobooth image (titled on verso)
(Above) “Lee-A Girl With Roses” 4 x 5” photobooth image (titled on verso)
(Above) “Lee In a Camera,” 4 x 5” photobooth image
(Above) “Lee as an Artist,” 4 x 5” photobooth image
(Above) “Lee with a Paper,” 4 x 5” photobooth image
(Above) “Lee,” 4 x 5” photobooth image

I NEVER HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO MEET LEE GODIE. She passed away in 1995, not so long ago, really. Even if you were from her hometown of Chicago, I have heard that finding Lee Godie was never easy. She was homeless, and though she often sold her paintings on the steps of the Chicago Art Institute, on North Michigan Avenue or Water Tower Park, you could never be sure what day she’d be there. And then, assuming you spotted her, there was no guarantee she would even talk to you, much less sell you an artwork. There were rumors she didn’t like fair-haired people. And for whatever reason, if she didn’t like you, or your approach to her was not to her liking, there was no amount of money you could offer her to get her to sell you a painting. You were just out of luck. NO SOUP FOR YOU!

She did, however, really like Chicago art dealer Carl Hammer. She often stopped by his art gallery, and they had a special relationship of mutual respect. He was one of the first art dealers to carry and sell her artwork.

Besides being a painter, she also used the photo booth machine at the Trailway’s Bus Station as part of her art making process. Without question, she was creating photographically altered self-portraits before the famous contemporary photographer Cindy Sherman was doing it. Ms. Godie would actually rub paint or other substances on her face to darken it before she stepped into the photo booth. She would wear various costumes to change her identity. And, she was definitely aware of the “totality” of the image when stepped into the photo-making booth. For example, when she chose the “four small images” instead of the one “large” image—it was a conscious decision. You can see that in the the photo above entitled “Lee in a Camera.” There, Godie had to quickly remove herself from the booth between “takes” so that she would have blank spaces in which to write. Check it out. That was an aesthetic decision. After the image was developed, she would often enhance the features of her face with red paint or ball point pen.

Godie’s photographs are rare, and most, if not all, are in private collections.

Intuit, the Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago recently held an exhibition of over 100 pieces of Lee Godie’s work, and was entitled “Finding Beauty: The Art of Lee Godie” (September 12, 2008 - January 3, 2009). This superb show was co- curated by Jessica Moss and David Syrek (who designed the catalog) that’s available for $10. You can read more about Lee Godie here. If you are a fan of self-taught art, joining Intuit is a must— and you get a subscription to their magazine, The Outsider. Check it out!


Christopher said...

Very cool images.

If you like Cindy're sure to enjoy this upcoming movie.

Patricia said...

Thank you for the French bust and also the posting on Lee Goding The obsessive detail on the wax head and that beautiful aquiline nose and sweet red lips! Surely the artisan who sculpted it must have thought that he or she was making art.

Art is made by all sorts of people and I am glad that not one class of artist gets notice. Thanks for these great postings!

John Foster said...

Thanks Christopher, I'll check it out.

And thanks for your post Patricia— you are so right. Art does not reserve itself for any class or kind of people. It takes shape in places one would least expect, and sometimes then, it is so special and unique that it becomes a benchmark for our vision.

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