George Woodman: A Life in Art

Mar 9, 2016 10:12PM

George Woodman has spent a lifetime immersed in art. The octogenarian was already painting by the age of 13, and he went on to build a career—and a family—with creativity at its center.

Woodman is perhaps known just as much for his family as he is for his art. His wife is the celebrated ceramist Betty Woodman, and his son, Charles Woodman, is a video artist. His late daughter, Francesca Woodman, gained posthumous fame for her visionary black-and-white photographs, which influenced her father’s work just as his work had influenced hers. 

Woodman began his career as an abstract painter, producing highly structured compositions driven by explorations of pattern and color. “For many years I was an abstract painter who was in many respects a minimalist,” he has said. “My paintings were complicated and geometric and disciplined.” He pursued this work for three decades, until his daughter’s tragic suicide in 1981. The cache of photographs she left behind changed his life and his artistic focus.

Not long after Francesca’s death, Woodman migrated toward photography, a medium he has been experimenting with ever since. “Photography to me is this remarkably indulgent amusement,” he has said. “[Y]ou can do what you want with it, people come in and out of my studio, the models come and they are fun and we enjoy it and it’s great. It’s a lot better than being an abstract painter at this point.”

Nevertheless, Woodman’s roots in painting and his formalist approach feed into his photography. Often centered on nude young women, his photos reference his daughter’s work while reflecting his own unique vision. He shoots in black and white, then augments his prints by painting in colored geometric shapes or by shading in parts with eye-catching hues.

Woodman often nods to art history by having his models hold reproductions of canonical paintings and sculptures or by having his models pose in reference to such works. Those referenced artworks are inhabitants of Woodman’s art-filled life. As he once said of sculptures in the Louvre, “They are my friends and I am glad to see them.”

Karen Kedmey

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