On ViewMilton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation
Guy Goodwin: Mattress World
Curatorial Advisor David Reed
May 1 – October 23, 2021
This exhibition of paintings and works on paper underscores what a unique, highly accomplished, and still evolving body of work Guy Goodwin has achieved over the past several decades. For the first time, a selection of Goodwin’s notebooks is also presented, in which he draws, working through or on ideas for paintings. The trajectory of Goodwin’s practice over the years is very much worth considering as the paintings here are all recent. The Curatorial Advisor for the show was the artist David Reed.
As early as 1974, Goodwin was focusing on isolating pictorial events in his paintings, something that occurred in response to the prevalent lyrical abstraction in New York at the time. Goodwin needed something less amorphous for his own work and a vital lead came from music—in particular Sonny Rollins’s album Freedom Suite (1958), (his last work recorded for the Riverside label), with Max Roach on drums and Oscar Pettiford on bass. Honed, simplified, direct post-bop jazz. Consequently, Goodwin’s C-Swing painting of the mid-1970s could comprise just five or six distinct moves.
The early 1970s saw Goodwin living, like his good friend Jack Whitten (both from towns on either side of Birmingham, Alabama), in New York City. Here, artists such as Ralph Humphrey, Ron Gorchov, Marilyn Lenkowsky, Elizabeth Murray, Joe Overstreet, Richard Tuttle, and Whitten were exploring both the materiality and physical space of painting.
The word paintings from the 2000s: abstract in their relief-like, stencil-like forms, can be seen as direct precursors of the current paintings, for example, Black Broccoli (2007) and White Grits (2008), works made by layering acrylic-paint-saturated paper onto plexiglass boxes. “I always had Ralph Humphrey in the back of my mind (especially those ’70s paintings of casein and modeling paste on canvas),” Goodwin explained once. “At some point, I turned it around and started working inside the box, and eventually got rid of the top and the bottom edges.” The letters that formed the words of the paintings’ titles gradually became less legible, active as shaped form, language materialized as color and relief shape. This abstraction, like the bodily translation of sound/music to movement as dance, or painting, and the combining of senses—physical, optical, soft, hard, color, and shape and the inherent contradictions therein—are central for Goodwin. After taking a studio in Long Island City, surrounded by shipping companies and warehouses, that used and discarded all sorts of cardboard sheets and boxes in various thickness, Goodwin began around 2010 to use them as a material for his work.
No longer featuring the vertical side panel that created a containing structure, variously described as recalling the diner or nightclub semi-private, upholstered booth: the mattress of the title for this new group of works is now an apposite descriptor link with another particular, quotidian experience. Strangely, if thinking about the claims of foam mattress manufacturers that their products possess memory of a particular body that sleeps on them, making them complicit and adaptive, it’s a metaphysical step to the somatic responsiveness between viewer and painting here. Goodwin recalls seeing an Yvonne Rainer performance in around 1968 in which mattresses were used on stage, the dancers’ bodies moving around them, “the mattresses kind of melded to the bodies and the way they looked.”
Mattress World: Lime lime (2020) evinces Goodwin’s lean color range, typically just four colors—some recurring across the relief forms of the paintings—in this case lime, red, black, green, turquoise blue. The soft tempera color gradients of hard, Elmer’s glue-saturated cardboard interlock, overlap, sink, raise, and inscribe form, attaining a visual motion akin to music’s temporal flow. The visible staples used at each successive layer of cardboard punctuate like stitches. Goodwin grew up in a household where his mother made his clothes and quilts/weavings for their house. The Gee’s Bend quiltmakers, also from Alabama, and the great Rosie Lee Tompkins are part of his visual world.
Color usually determines feel, informing the artist and viewer alike. The melancholic buoyancy of consumer advertising or fast food outlets also exposes the measure of independence that color possesses;in Goodwin’s hands the bright sweet color of the tempera on reclaimed cardboard attracts, becoming intense, direct, and resonant. The shapes may recall the frontal silhouetted things and figures of cartoon animation, however, when experienced are complex, unpredictable—intuitively arrived at rigorous compositions that never lose their feel of spontaneity.
The charcoal drawings further this impression with repeated lines tracing shape and parting in a curvilinear kinesis, the darker lines marking shapes that relate provisionally to the subsequent making of the paintings. Several works in acrylic and tempera mounted on Homasote (a cellulose based fiberboard) are studies for the Mattress paintings; paint marks routinely dabbed around the paper study a pragmatic indication of the trial-and-error process. We can see how gesture is absorbed in the material process, long ago becoming transformed in his paintings. Goodwin has said that he has “paid lots of attention to [Conrad] Marca-Relli’s collage painting, partly because I like how he treats the materials and the wide range of possibilities he had created within his collage language. I love his intense material manipulations that lead to a breakdown of gesture, or even the source of that gesture.” Goodwin has certainly achieved something comparable, and yet completely different.