Friday, August 18, 2006

French Impressionism from a Bag | Lee Godie | Carl Hammer Gallery

French Impressionism from a Bag | Lee Godie | Carl Hammer
Originally Posted on Panel-House: June 2004

“Lee Godie: French Impressionism from a Bag” opened recently at Carl Hammer Gallery. Although Godie died ten years ago, she continues to shape Chicago’s art community in numerous ways, an indication of which is the thorough, illuminating catalog which accompanies the exhibition. Godie crossed the paths of art collectors, art students and various passer-bys and imparted some of her magic upon them. Perhaps Godie’s larger influence however is her position in a revenue driven gallery scene where an artist is positioned between creating and selling.

Godie’s art is categorized as outsider which she definitely was. Extremely reticent about her personal life, Godie was married and had three children but after her marriage ended and two of her children passed away, she began to live on the streets in the mid sixties. It was here where Godie made and sold her art. Both Godie’s art and personality were important to her success – each thrived off the other. Stories of her are utterly unusual, humorous and memorable. For instance, she proposed marriage to Carl Hammer several times; at times she would affix a million dollar price tag to her works (opting to lower the price eventually).

Due to her humble lifestyle, Godie would work primarily in mixed media, often adding pen to photographs taken of herself in a photo booth. She would then manipulate these self-portraits and take on different personas, sometimes painting bright red lips on herself. Femininity occupied an important aspect in Godie’s work apparent in such titles as I A Woman and Miss America. These titles along with Godie’s ubiquitous fur coat reveal her penchant for luxury and femininity despite her poverty.

It is in this vein that we can recognize Godie’s ability to create a brand of pure art. Her role as an artist permeated her entire lifestyle yet she resisted gallery representation until 1991. Despite this, Godie did achieve artistic success in the late seventies and entered many collections due to her own entrepreneurial skills. She was unique since she was able to distance herself from the art market yet still make her living off of it on her own terms. Both her lifestyle and art should serve as a guide to artists who are sometimes put off by thinking of their art in terms of commodity. Godie recognized the value of making money but when she made art she was able to put these thoughts aside. Through this she developed a genre of work that encapsulates her personality and innate desire to create art.

Written by Mary Gustaitis Beyer

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