Godie, Lee – American Artist

Lee Godie (American, 1908 to 1994)

In 1968, following the deaths of two of her children, Chicago native Lee Godie reinvented herself as an artist and future icon of the Chicago art scene. She began to sell her canvases – paintings that she compared favorably with Cezanne’s – at the entrance to the Art Institute of Chicago, thus associating her creative identity with the Art Institute’s renowned collection of late nineteenth-century French art. The worlds of elegance Godie created with her images belied her lived experience. While she painted likenesses of society types and still-lifes of birds and plants, she lived outdoors and in transient hotels and stored her art supplies in public lockers. The photo booths at the Greyhound bus station provided this self-taught artist with an accessible, affordable medium through which to act out personas that interested her, such as the Gibson Girl and Joan Crawford, whom she imitated with provocative costumes, poses, and makeup. She took several hundred self-portraits, many embellished by hand and sometimes attached to her canvases. Performance wove through every aspect of her art. She valued interacting with her clients and deciding whether they deserved to own her work and, if so, how much they should pay. In 1979, Godie’s paintings were included in Art in Chicago at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. The Carl Hammer Gallery mounted two one-woman exhibitions of her work, and in 1993, the Chicago Cultural Center mounted Lee Godie, A 20-Year Retrospective. Godiea€™s work can be found among the permanent collections of the American Folk Art Museum, New York; the Milwaukee Art Museum; the Arkansas Arts Center; the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC; and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Godie’s tenacious self-invention and devotion to her creative identity never flagged. According to dealer Carl Hammer, when she was asked about her birthdate, she would reply “I don’t celebrate my birthday, I celebrate my status as an artist.”

Information Courtesy of Rago Arts, December, 2018.

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