Lee Godie and the need for transformation

This post is dedicated to my friend, Rudy, who, long before Amelie,  recognized the magic of photo booth photos.

Lee GoodieThis is Lee Godie.  Lee was born  in Chicago in 1908. Eventually, she married and had 3 children.  But her marriage failed and two of her children died.  Shattered, she became a homeless in every sense of the word and began living on the streets of Chicago. Around the age of 60, she began sidewalk sales of her paintings in front of the Chicago Institute of Art. Lee said she was a “French Impressionist” and a much better painter than Cezanne.  Thus, she believed, not everyone merited her art so she sold selectively.

Lee liked paint so much she would often paint herself and her clothes. She enjoy experimenting with fashion and often created her attire using items she’d find while rummaging through the trash.

As for her art, Lee drew and painted on whatever materials she could find.  But, in my opinion, her true art came from the altered self-portraits she made using the foto booth at the Trailway’s Bus Station. Before taking the foto, Lee would transform herself using a variety of costumes to change her identity.  And, once the photos were developed, she would continue to change her look by manipulating the fotos with a variety of materials such as ball point pens and tempra. Long before Cindy Sherman, Lee was working with the concept of self-transformation as an art form. And what a transformation.

Lee Goodie

Lee Goodie

 For much of the morning, I’ve been staring at Lee’s self-portraits trying to understand the “Why” behind them.

In general, Lee does not look into the camera. Avoiding eye contact, she poses. But she always poses as someone else.  What is she trying to say? What has the street taught her? What does she know that I will never learn sitting here in my comfortable home with my cat curled up next to me as I type this on my computer?

My initial response to her fotos is: she’s slightly deranged–even though in an intelligent way. But maybe it’s exactly this that makes her an artist. Sometimes art is no more than an effort to give madness meaning and direction. Or to find a home for one’s pain.

Luckily, towards the end of her life, Lee was re-united with her long-lost daughter (who’s created a Lee Godie Memorial Page) and, at the age of 86, did not have to die alone on the streets.

Lee Goodie Lee Goodie

Lee Goodie

related links:  Finding Beauty: The Art of Lee Godie + Lee Godie: The artist not in residence + Carnival Punks, Flannery O’Connor and How To Become a Schizophrenic: 10 Questions for Shannon Lucy + Lee Godie at Hammer Gallery + LEE GODIE 1908 – 1994 + A Beautiful Life Photography, Outsider and Otherwise + Images from the outer limits + Alternative Guide to the Universe explores the work of self-taught artists and architects, fringe physicists and visionary inventors, all of whom offer bracingly unorthodox perspectives on the world we live in + Lee Godie Exhibition


Godie pillow painting

pillow painting by Lee Godie 

Godie enjoyed creating her self-invented ‘pillow paintings’ which consisted of two pictures sewed together and stuffed with newspapers.

About Art for Housewives

The Storyteller....
This entry was posted in People and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Lee Godie and the need for transformation

  1. audreymucci says:

    Thank you for this-I would have never known about her.

  2. Mont Serrat says:

    me encanto esta publicación, muy interesante el trabajo de Lee, pero me encantó tu reflexión:
    “…Sometimes art is no more than an effort to give madness meaning and direction. Or to find a home for one’s pain.”
    I identify with the creative disorder … I think everyone has a spark of madness itself; and I think in history, the great works (film, music, ect..) that have touched us, I sprout from a moment of madness and passion.

  3. jo Quirk says:

    Another gem Cynthia. I think thee is a lot of talent “out there” with the outsiders and not always in a code we understand but still manages to touch something in us.

  4. saskia says:

    what a story, what a life, thank you for introducing her into mine!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s