Friday, January 16, 2009

comfort in affinity

Yesterday I went to Galerie René Blouin to see a tribute exhibition of Betty Goodwin's work. It seemed a fitting place to go and pay homage because René Blouin was a great friend of Betty Goodwin's and represents her work (as well as the work of another of my favourite artists, Kiki Smith).

There were prints, assemblage, sculpture, drawings, and paintings. The smallest work in the show caught my eye. While I am quite familiar with much of Betty Goodwin's work, I hadn't encountered this piece before. It was a small plexiglass box with the skeleton of a small bird attached by wire to a metal plate and a handful of long black hair coiled like a nest beneath it. The bird's skeleton was mostly exposed with some evidence of dried flesh. It was exquisite. Typical of Betty Goodwin's work, it was stark yet tenderly vulnerable.

I was drawn to the tiny pearlescent feet of the bird and was immediately taken back a few months ago to a bird that flew into our window and did not survive. At that time, I was moved by the fragile beauty of this dead bird and I photographed it. Revisiting these photos, triggered by and connected to the piece I viewed yesterday, and experienced in the state of melancholy that I have been inhabiting lately, gives me great comfort. I share some of those photos with you now and perhaps the emotion which accompanies them.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

betty goodwin 1923 - 2008

Betty Goodwin, Passing Through (Nerves Series), 1994

I've not been on top of the news these days and I have only just learned that Betty Goodwin died on December 1st at the age of 85. Betty Goodwin's work resonates with me in a way that no other work does. I relate to her imagery, I connect with her use of materials, and I respond to her work in a deeply visceral manner. There is recognition on so many levels. It is the intimacy, the fragility, the subtlety, the vulnerability expressed in her work which moves me. Her passing saddens me but there is comfort in knowing that her work will continue to influence the work of others. Including mine.

Betty Goodwin, Black Arms, 1985

Here is an excerpt from a Maclean's article from 1998 which makes an excellent start in describing her work: Betty Goodwin draws on the skin of things. She makes art with flattened shrouds of disembodied clothes, old vests pressed into paper like dried flowers. She stitches scars onto a black tarpaulin that hangs folded, with ropes dangling, like a stage curtain. She works dark bruises into paper and Mylar. And in her body of work, the body is always making itself felt, as a vessel of memory, the flesh smudged by love or torture. She draws swimmers who may or may not be drowning. Bodies that could be floating or falling. Bones, nerves, phantom limbs illuminated by pain. But behind the dull ache and discreet terror, there is a resilient beauty. And an openness. Her work resonates with echoes of the work being done and undone - the shuddering rhythm of countless erasures, and the presence of penciled figures left unerased from early drafts, like pictographs from past lives.

Betty Goodwin, Figure/Ladder Series, IV, 1996