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Betty Goodwin

Photograph of Betty Goodwin with triptych

Printmaker, Sculptor, Painter, Installation Artist

Betty Goodwin with triptych, 1986

Painting, MOVING TOWARDS FIRE, by Betty Goodwin

Moving Towards Fire

Moving Towards Fire, by Betty Goodwin, 1983

One of Canada's outstanding visual artists, Betty Goodwin communicates an incisive vision of the human condition in her drawings, etchings, sculptures, mixed media and installations. Her art resonates with the importance of our human ties and our common experience. In The Art of Betty Goodwin, Matthew Teitelbaum, Director of the Art Gallery of Toronto, notes that "Betty Goodwin's art reminds us of this always: that art is made as homage and rooted in connectedness to others, that it is made to unite us in reflections on our experience, that it is made to open up and, finally, to extend the space of memory" (p. 35).

Born and raised in Montréal, Betty Goodwin began her career as a painter in the late 1940s. She started exhibiting her paintings and drawings a few years later. Her etching studies, in 1968 and 1969, led to her subsequent experimentation with printing and drawing. By taking copper plate impressions of items of clothing, Goodwin produced a series of etchings of vests, shirts, gloves and hats. This innovative method helped her to create multidimensional, almost human, images. Her work on the Vest series became the subject of a 1972 exhibition at Galerie B in Montréal. From 1972 to 1974, Goodwin collected canvas tarpaulins, which she shaped, stitched, marked and painted to create majestic collages and sculptures, exhibited as the Tarpaulin series.

From 1977 to 1983, Goodwin explored the theme of passage in her installation work. In this work, Betty created interior walls, rooms and passageways with various materials. This series of installations included The Clark Street Project and The Mentana Street Project. In the 1980 exhibition, "Plurality," at the National Gallery of Canada, Betty created Passage in a Red Field, which was comprised of a long, narrow corridor installation, bordered by two thick walls. Goodwin's installation entitled, In Berlin, A Triptych: The Beginning of the Fourth Part, formed a part of the "Okanada" 1982-1983 exhibition at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, Germany, and marked the conclusion of the Passage series.

In the early 1980s, Goodwin continued her in-depth exploration of the human form with a series of works entitled Swimmers. Using graphite, charcoal and oil pastels on vellum or translucent Mylar, Betty created large, haunting images of solitary, floating bodies, which seem to be suspended in a type of aqueous fluid. This series, which included works such as Untitled No. 1 (1982), Swimmer No. 7 (1983) and Moving Towards Fire (1983), was exhibited in 1983 as part of her one-woman show in New York. In 1985, Goodwin's three metre high wall painting, Moving Towards Fire, was a powerful focal point at the "Aurora Borealis" exhibit at the Centre international d'art contemporain de Montréal.

In her 1986 Carbon series, Goodwin used charcoal and wax to create black carbon drawings showing the interaction of human figures. Then, in 1988-1989, Goodwin fashioned small wall sculptures out of steel plates. She attached magnetized ferrite and metal shapes and often added a word, quote or phrase that embodied each work. This collection was Goodwin's Steel Notes series. Her series entitled La mémoire du corps (Memory of the Body) depicted interior radiographic images of the bones, spine, heart and nerves of the body. The Nerve series continued Goodwin's somewhat ambiguous vision of the human form, as works in this series showed bodies connected and bound to the earth by elongated roots.

Over her 50-year career, Betty Goodwin has been the recipient of many awards, notably 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 Gugenheim Foundation Fellowship in 1988 and the Gershon Iskowitz Prize in 1995. Goodwin was the first recipient of the Harold Town Prize for Drawing, in 1998, and has received honorary doctorates from various Canadian universities. With many exhibitions of her work in Canada and abroad, she has received national and international recognition as an artist.

Betty Goodwin's creative use of various media continues to evolve as she strives to portray humanity through themes of loss, mourning and possibilities for change within a complex, uncertain world. Her works can be found in numerous private and public collections in Canada.

Betty Goodwin died in Montreal on December 1, 2008 at the age of 85.


The art of Betty Goodwin. — Edited by Jessica Bradley & Matthew Teitelbaum. — Vancouver : Douglas & McIntyre, c1998. — 180 p.

Black, Barbara. — "Betty Goodwin wins first Harold Town prize". — Concordia's Thursday report [online]. — (November 19, 1998). — [Cited April 12, 2002]. — Access:

Bogardi, Georges. — "The studio : in her reconfigurations of ideas and found materials, Betty Goodwin transforms life into art". — Canadian art. — Vol. 11, no. 3 (Fall 1994). — P. 86-93

Driedger, Sharon Doyle. — "Bodies and blood : Betty Goodwin depicts profound inner landscapes". — Maclean's. — Vol. 108, no. 49 (Dec. 4, 1995). — P. 74

Enright, Robert. — "A bloodstream of images : an interview with Betty Goodwin". — Border crossings. — Vol. 14, no. 4 (Fall 1995). — P. 42-53

Goodwin, Betty. — Betty Goodwin : passages. — Montreal : Concordia Art Gallery, c1986. — 44 p.

Johnson, Brian D. — "Body language". — Maclean's. — Vol. 111, no. 48 (Nov. 30, 1998). — P. 88-89

Kirshner, Sheldon. — "Betty Goodwin : Canada's grande dame of art". — The Canadian Jewish news. — Vol. 29, no. 2 (Jan. 14, 1999). — P. 11

Lepage, Jocelyne. — "Tout le monde aimait Betty". — La Presse. — (December 3, 2008). — P. S2

Milroy, Sarah. — "Death and loss defined artist as Canada’s first lady of soul". — Globe and Mail. — (December 6, 2008). — P. S11

Morin, France ; Goodwin, Betty ; Kwinter, Sanford. — Steel notes, Betty Goodwin. — Ottawa : National Gallery of Canada, c1989. — 151 p. — Text in English, French and Portuguese

Pelham, Zachary.  -  "Mundane secrets : reflecting on the artist Betty Goodwin".  -  ArtsEditor [online].  -  (February 24, 2009).  -  [cited March 4, 2009].  -  Access:

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