Betty Roodish Goodwin

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Betty Roodish Goodwin

1923 - 2008

Betty Goodwin was born in Montreal, and began her career as an artist at the close of World War II. Her early work included still life and figurative works, and scenes of life in Montreal's Jewish east side. For the first few years of the 1950s she worked in a social realist style, then progressed to depicting domestic environments in a proto-Cubist style. Over the course of her oeuvre, she became known for her distinctive figurative work that expressed the fragility and complexity of the human experience. She worked as a painter, printmaker and sculptor.

In 1968, Goodwin studied printmaking with Yves Gaucher at Sir George Williams University, and from 1969 to 1974 she worked on a series of etchings that featured articles of clothing such as vests, gloves, caps and shirts. The source of these images was personal - her father trained as a tailor in Romania and had a company for vest-making in Montreal.
As a painter, Goodwin also worked in series. From 1972 to 1974 she produced the Tarpaulins, large mixed media abstract works whose surfaces were inscribed with marks and which included elements such as rope and wire. In 1977 she was occupied with the theme of passage, and constructed installations of rooms and passageways with various materials. In 1988 to 1989 came the Steel Note series - wall pieces made of metal and iron filings, held together by a magnet on a steel plate and which included text messages.

The human form was a dominant theme, and her first floating figure appeared in her work in 1963. From 1982 to 1988 she produced her iconic Swimmers series, a group of works in which her figures float, climb, sink and swim in a spatial zone that does not allude to geography - seeming rather to embody psychological states. It is not surprising that Goodwin often referenced Samuel Beckett and his existential writing about the journey we take through life. These works are imbued with an intensity of emotion that expresses loss, inner struggle, experiences of memory and the passage of time and states of being, including that of life to death. In 1986 she produced the Carbon series, charcoal and wax drawing showing interactions between human figures. Her figurative work continued to evolve in the Memory of the Body series from 1990 to 1995, which included images of bones, beds and baths, followed by the Nerve series, in which the bodies were connected to the earth by elongated roots.

Goodwin represented Canada at the Venice Biennial in 1995, and in 1996 held a major exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada entitled Betty Goodwin: Signs of Life. Her awards included the Lynch-Stauton Award of Distinction in 1983, the Banff Centre National Award for Visual Arts in 1984, the Prix Paul-Émile Borduas in 1986, a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in 1988, the Gershon Iskowitz Prize in 1995, the Harold Town Prize in 1998, the Governor General's Award and the Order of Canada in 2003. She died in Montreal in 2008.