A painter who has been committed throughout her long career to abstraction, Judith Godwin uses the gestural methods and expressive color of abstract expressionism to convey her responses to life and nature. The sources from which she has drawn inspiration include the dance and choreography of Martha Graham (a longtime friend of the artist), Zen philosophy (an interest she shared with fellow artist Kenzo Okada, jazz, and gardens.
Godwin was born in Suffolk, Virginia, where her aspirations to paint were supported by her parents and especially by her father, who had interests in architecture and landscape gardening. In 1950, while attending Mary Baldwin College, in Staunton, Virginia, Godwin saw a performance by Martha Graham. The two soon established a friendship that lasted until Graham’s death in 1991. In 1953 Godwin moved to New York City and enrolled at the Art Students League, where her teachers included Will Barnet, Harry Sternberg, and Vaclav Vytlacil. She continued her training under Hans Hofmann in Provincetown and New York. At Hofmann’s New York art school she associated with fellow students Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, James Brooks, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Marcel Duchamp, and Okada. Affiliating with the the burgeoning abstract expressionist movement, she developed a dynamic style in which she emphasized loose geometric forms and a prismatic richness of color.
Judith Godwin - Crusade, 1977
Oil on canvas, 52 x 90 inches
In 1958 Godwin exhibited her work in the prestigious Stable Gallery Invitational and in the inaugural show at Betty Parsons’s Section Eleven. She would continue to show with Parsons in the years that followed. Toward the end of the 1950s Godwin developed a harsher, rougher facture. She recalls that at the time “if you were a [woman] painter . . . you had to paint as strongly, as violently as the men did.”1 In 1963 she purchased a brownstone in Greenwich Village that had previously been owned by Franz Kline, and in the following year she took a four-month trip around the world, visiting France, Spain, Italy, Iran, Egypt, India, and Japan. During the decade of the 1960s Godwin expanded her repertoire, drawing on a range of sources including that of Native American art. She also developed an interest in interior design, which she pursued by becoming an apprentice to a plasterer, a mason, and a carpenter. A member of the Society of Interior Designers, she restored several eighteenth-century homes in Connecticut. She also worked as a landscape gardener in New York and Connecticut, while creating abstract expressionist designs for a New York fabric house.
During the 1970s and 1980s Godwin’s work gained complexity and force as she combined structure and spontaneity. In some of her works of the 1980s she used stenciled applications, consisting of petal-like forms, while in some of her images she used pastel colors and metallic paints, adding a new sensuous quality to her art.
Godwin has continued to work actively as a painter to the present. In the catalogue for Godwin’s 2001 exhibition at Rutgers University, Joan Marter wrote: “After fifty years of painting, Godwin is willing to take risks, while she has also mastered the patience necessary to achieve her desired effects. Hers is a virtuoso performance of controlled spontaneity. Although the final appearance of her composition retains the brilliance of bold gesturalism, Judith Godwin has understood the advantage of waiting, sometimes for days on end, so that passages of thick oil paint will dry before painting bold gestural strokes over them. The use of collage, handled with precision, can produce dramatic changes that rival the punctuation of dry-brushed areas.”2
Godwin has received many awards and honors, including an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond (1989), a career achievement award from Mary Baldwin College, Staunton, Virginia (2002), an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree, also from Mary Baldwin College, and a Professional Achievement Alumni Award from the School of the Arts, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond.
Along with numerous group shows, her work has been the subject of a number of solo exhibitions, including shows at Mary Baldwin College (1978), Womansbank, Richmond, Virginia (1981), Northern Michigan University, Marquette (1984), Lockwood-Matthews Mansion Museum, Norwalk, Connecticut (1985), Northern Virginia Community College, Alexandria (1988), Danville Museum, Virginia and Suffolk Museum, Virginia (1989), Amarillo Museum of Art, Texas (1995), Art Museum of Western Virginia, Roanoke (1997), Albany Museum of Art, Georgia (2000), Rutgers University, New Jersey (2001), Delaware Center for the Arts, Wilmington (2002), Towson University, Maryland (2003), and McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas (2008).
Godwin’s work is represented in many important private and public collections, including Amarillo Museum of Art, Amarillo, Texas; Anderson Gallery, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond; Art Institute of Chicago; Chase Manhattan Collection, New York; Gannett Center, Columbia University, New York; General Electric Company, New York; Greenville County Museum, South Carolina; Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Mary Baldwin College, Staunton, Virginia; McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, Texas; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Milwaukee Art Museum; Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, Massachusetts; Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Museum of Art, Osaka, Japan; National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, South Wales; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C.; Newark Museum, New Jersey; North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, University of Nebraska, Lincoln; Smith College Museum of Art, Southampton, Massachusetts; Sovran Bank, Richmond, Virginia; Suffolk Museum of Art, Virginia; Ulrich Museum, Wichita State University, Kansas; United Virginia Bank, Richmond; University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; United States Navy Y.M.C.A., Norfolk, Virginia; Utah Museum of Fine Arts, Salt Lake City; Vassar College Museum, Poughkeepsie, New York; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond; Weatherspoon Art Gallery, University of North Carolina, Greensboro; and Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut.
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1.Godwin, interview, with Ann Gibson, New York, cited in Ann Gibson, Judith Godwin: Style and Grace, exh. cat. (Roanoke, Va.), 18.
2. Joan Marter, Judith Godwin: Color and Movement, exh. cat. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University, 2001).