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Book Reviews

The Art and Life of Betty Goodwin

by Matthew Teitelbaum, Jessica Bradley, eds.

The catalogue for the Art Gallery of Ontario’s retrospective of Betty Goodwin is a solid document of 50 years of work. There are colour plates galore of the Montreal artist’s striking images, like her Swimmer series of floating figures drawn across sheets of Mylar film – a translucent paper that is one of Goodwin’s trademark materials. There are also reproductions of her Vest series, where she ran the garment through presses to create X-ray-like prints, and her giant tarpaulins that are hung across walls like magnificent black holes.

Goodwin’s lyrical work is often about grief and mourning. Her pieces are highly personal and the delicacy of her lines as well as her sense for balance – the weight of black charcoal countering the weightlessness of Mylar, for instance – is what pulls the viewer in visually, in a way that is more like sinking into the work rather than grazing over it.

Rober Racine’s afterword beautifully describes the emotional power of Goodwin’s work, and Anne Michaels’ introduction describes its visual pathos – “How does love leave its mark? Memory, possessions, a taste, an imprint on flesh … a vow” – though her essay seems too brief to get to the heart of Goodwin’s soul searching.

Goodwin’s career and significant breakthrough periods are outlined by MatthewTeitelbaum. But what motivated Goodwin to stick with the figurative, especially in the 1950s, when the famed Montreal Automatistes were pronouncing abstraction as the New World Order, is brief and generalized. He notes her mentors and influences (Joseph Beuys, primarily) but reveals little in the way of understanding how she remained undeterred, especially as a young female artist in the midst of a period that was exclusively male. The appended chronology doesn’t make up for the Life part of the book’s title. Even Jessica Bradley’s interviews with the artist reveal little.Tenacity is what Goodwin describes as her saving grace, but it must have been more than that.


Reviewer: Catherine Osborne

Publisher: Douglas & McIntyre


Price: $65

Page Count: 208 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 1-55054-650-3

Released: Nov.

Issue Date: 1998-11

Categories: Art, Music & Pop Culture