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Moving Towards Fire

May 13th, 2019

A painting by Betty Goodwin of two figures moving in opposite directions.
AGO.152292 – Betty Roodish Goodwin. Swimmers, 1984. Oil, oil stick, graphite on translucent paper, Sheet (irregular shape): 58 × 62 cm. AGO.152292 © Estate of Betty Roodish Goodwin. Courtesy of the Frum Family

Expressive and visceral, Canadian artist Betty Goodwin’s work explores some of the darkest sides of the human experience. Canadian Art called it “an exemplar of the poetic power of pain, loss, grief and the resilience of the human condition.” With a career spanning five decades, Goodwin (1923–2008) is known as one of Canada’s most accomplished and influential artists. A new installation called Betty Goodwin: Moving Towards Fire is now on display on Level 2 in the Joan & Jerry Lozinski and the R. Samuel McLaughlin Galleries (201 and 247).

Goodwin started her career as a painter in Montreal in the 1940s and was largely self-taught. Showing her undeniable talent early, it only took a few short years before she began exhibiting her work in galleries. She experimented with a variety of media including painting, etching, printmaking and drawing, and often used unconventional materials. In the beginning of the 1980s, she began to focus almost exclusively on drawing. “Drawing,” Goodwin once wrote, “is the most unalienated medium. It doesn’t have an audience in mind, just the artist’s expression.” It’s this era of Goodwin’s career that is the focus of Betty Goodwin: Moving Towards Fire.

A figure moving in the dark
Betty Roodish Goodwin. Untitled, 1987. Oil, oil stick, iridescent and metallic colour, graphite and charcoal on prepared aluminium composite panel, Overall: 121.9 × 274.3 × 1 cm.  AGO.152290 © Estate of Betty Roodish Goodwin. Courtesy of the Frum Family.

Comprised of artworks and archival materials from the mid-1980s, the exhibition showcases Goodwin’s technical expertise and her innovative use of materials. This show also includes a rare large-scale drawing on aluminum from 1987, recently acquired by the AGO. The recurring motif of the figure in these works, along with her use of muted, dark colours and materials, creates an instinctive sense of the human body’s vulnerability and isolation. Goodwin’s approach to art is highly personal and intuitive; she once described it as a “nonverbal battle.” In these pieces she worked and reworked the surface, adding and wiping away layers of wash and pigment, evoking conflicting feelings of both movement and captivity in the work.

Goodwin was a leader in the Montreal art scene during her life, and also earned international acclaim, representing Canada at the Venice Biennale in 1995. The AGO is home to the largest collection of Betty Goodwin’s work in the country.

Betty Goodwin: Moving Towards Fire is on view now on Level 2 in the Joan & Jerry Lozinski and the R. Samuel McLaughlin Galleries (247 and 201) and is included with AGO Annual Pass or with General Admission (free for visitors 25 and under and AGO Members).

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