Lee Godie | Outsider Art

Lee Godie

Outsider art comes in from the cold at the Hayward Gallery with The Alternative Guide to the Universe.

Celebrating the work of artists, physicists and inventors from the fringes, the exhibition features the extraordinary self-portraits of Lee Godie, a woman who arrived at the steps of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1968 to live on the city streets and sell pictures to passersby for nearly 30 years.

With the photo-booth as her studio Godie created a huge array of guises, possibly to escape the homeless life or to find her way into the world where she felt she belonged – the art world. Once questioned about her birth date she replied, “I don’t celebrate my birthday, I celebrate my status as an artist”.

Godie described herself as a French Impressionist and sold drawings and paintings in watercolour, pencil, tempera and ballpoint pen, likening her work to Cezanne. The black and white images of herself she touched up to darken her eyebrows or add colour to her lips and cheeks.

Following her death in 1994 at the age of 85, Godie’s work has gathered acclaim and hangs in permanent collections at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. She captured naïve portraits of Gatsby-esque characters posed with delicate birds, twigs and flowers as symbols of the natural world within the city she inhabited.

In truth it is Lee Godie’s self-portraits that stick in the mind, photos that in a world of banal selfies stand out as eccentric, puzzling, humorous and poignant. Like her unconventional sales technique - if she liked you and wanted to sell to you she’d unroll the canvas a little further - Godie opened up a magical dressing up box and invited other artists such as Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman and Gillian Wearing to step right in.

The Alternative Guide to the Universe, Hayward Gallery, London 11 June – 26 August 2013


Images © Hammer Gallery, Chicago

A Bi-Centennial c.1976

A Bi-Centennial c.1976

The Seagull (Pink Seagulls)

The Seagull (Pink Seagulls)

ArtDebra Drew