Multidisciplinary artist Betty Goodwin dies at 85

Betty Goodwin, one of Canada's most established and celebrated contemporary visual artists, has died at the age of 85.
Betty Goodwin was invested into the Order of Canada by former governor general Adrienne Clarkson in 2003. ((Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press))
Betty Goodwin, one of Canada's most established and celebrated contemporary visual artists, has died at the age of 85.

Goodwin died in hospital on Monday, just three weeks following the death of Martin, her husband of more than 60 years.

"It would be impossible to think about Canadian art of the last 25 years without accounting for her achievement," Matthew Teitelbaum, director of the Art Gallery of Ontario, told CBC News Tuesday afternoon.

"She made it her life's work to think about and to represent the ways in which we struggle against obstacles and, in the end, declare our survival. While there is a sort of mourning, a sadness to [her] work, there's also a feeling of triumph in the sense that her work addresses the various ways in which we survive."

Born and raised in Montreal, Goodwin started her artistic career in the 1940s, beginning with painting, drawing and printmaking. Her choice of media eventually grew to include etching, sculpture, installation, collages and mixed media creations.

Many of her most famous works involved depictions of cloth and textiles — including her celebrated Vest and Tarpaulin series — that are haunting, yet also seemingly infused with life.

Human figures also feature prominently in her work, including in her Swimmers series — in which the subjects alternately appear to be adrift or drowning. The works were part of a celebrated solo exhibition in New York in the early 1980s.

Goodwin was "very distinctly connected to a moment when a generation of artists were beginning to think of the human body — in both a physical and emotional sense — with a renewed energy," said Teitelbaum, who helped spearhead the AGO's acquisition of approximately 200 of Goodwin's works and channel many of the pieces into the gallery's substantial Goodwin retrospective in 1998.

Montrealer Betty Goodwin's work is featured in its own room at the recently re-opened Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. ((Carlo Catenazzi, courtesy AGO Photo Resources)
After its recent renovation, the Toronto gallery now also includes an entire room featuring Goodwin's work "with this most wonderful, poetic skylight that sort of makes a very interesting light in the room," Teitelbaum said.

An artist who enjoyed spending as much time as possible in her Montreal studio making work, Goodwin's creations are included in both public and private collections across the country.

One of Canada's better-known arts figures on the international scene, she had been exhibited in Canadian galleries and abroad. Goodwin was also Canada's official representative at the 1995 Venice Biennale.

Her many accolades have included a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, the Harold Town Prize for drawing, the Paul-Émile Borduas Prize, the Governor General's Award in Visual Arts, the Order of Canada and honorary doctorates from schools across Canada.