This post is dedicated to my friend, Rudy, who, long before Amelie, recognized the magic of photo booth photos.
This 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.
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.
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 enjoyed creating her self-invented ‘pillow paintings’ which consisted of two pictures sewed together and stuffed with newspapers.