On ViewSikkema Jenkins & Co.
Hop Skip Jump—New Work 2022
February 3–March 11, 2023
Eleven new abstract paintings by Brenda Goodman are on view this month at Sikkema Jenkins & Co, in its main gallery space. The exhibition, Hop Skip Jump, features mostly human-scaled paintings, around 4 to 6 feet per side; two smaller pieces are closer to the size of a large book cover. All are made in oil and mixed media on cradled wood panels. Goodman, now 79, has exhibited extensively since the early 1970s. This is her third solo exhibition at Sikkema Jenkins, and her second of recent works. Last year the gallery collected a group of astonishing self-portraits made from 1974 to the mid-2000s. Materially visceral and physically overwhelming, those paintings allegorized an abject loneliness and bodily loathing. Since 2007, Goodman has worked in a more self-contained abstract language, continuing to explore this same psychic territory through idiosyncratic compositions and overwrought surfaces.
In the paintings now on display, all made in 2022, Goodman seems to be challenging herself to hit a register of equivalent expressive density, but with drastically lighter materials and a newfound formal calm. Gone are the curdled abscesses of ultra-thick impasto, intruding off the wall. Here, she works her oils more like a watercolorist, with slow accretions of exceedingly thin washes. Gone, too, are the obsessive gouges in the wood panel that Goodman has previously carved with a linoleum cutter, evoking tormented acts of fleshy laceration. Goodman is still carving her surfaces, but with more poise and less frantic compulsion. In works like Above and Beyond, incised lines, decisive and razor-thin, disperse coolly across the panel, weaving a crystalline web.
Along and against this intuitive substructure, Goodman constructs an irregular masonry of painterly shape. Working from the light of the panel ground, she begins by putting down jewel-like facets of thinned-out pigments, which she then selectively darkens, dulls, and blanches with translucencies of black, gray, and white. Goodman paints with a palpable respect for the peculiar quality of each form. Applied one at a time, her glazes extend and condense time. We seem to be able to watch as the artist decides, patch by patch, what to conceal and what to reveal.
The resulting all-over compositions sometimes orchestrate a dynamic struggle between light and dark. In Let it Shine and Morning Light, dark and damp walls are pierced by floating windows that emit the prismatic brilliance of stained glass. Yet Goodman confounds that Manichean dualism. The darkness, one finds, has a beauty all its own. Everywhere, minute subtleties of tone and texture generate a lyrical, humming surface. Certain paintings strike me as more frankly gorgeous than anything I’ve seen by Goodman before. In Jump High and Kid You Not, gauzy pastels drip like liquid condensation next to dark, warm-blooded browns; sturdy, Hofmannesque slabs coexist with ethereal wisps and shadowy veils. Dissimilar forms fold over and slip underneath one another, stitching quilt-like compositions that should collapse in a heap but somehow don’t.
The two smallest paintings on display, Mystery and Jumble, are more gnarled, scarred, and weathered. Mystery, more than any other work, invokes the looming presence of the late Philip Guston, an artistic influence that Goodman has publicly acknowledged. In it, a red form, what I read as a cyclops seen in profile, looks at and reaches towards a color chart that’s been physically pasted onto the painting. The chart shows the tints and shades of Cadmium Red—if any artist ever “owned” a palette, Guston owned this one. But it is the same palette that Goodman used to make this very painting. Is the work an allegory for the painter in her studio, trying to pick a color and create something new, but petrified by the precedent of an artistic forefather? Goodman, to her credit, doesn’t tell us—the painting stays mute, remaining open as a result. It keeps that mystery alive.
In Only the Eyes Know, nine eyes peek out from a narrow slot in the center of the panel, between a horizontal black strip and a streaky, liver-shaped mass. Upon closer inspection one finds that the “eyes” staring back at us are actually collaged pieces of cut-out paper—print-outs of details from earlier paintings. What do the eyes know? Again, Goodman doesn’t say.
We don’t have to know. These paintings work not in the realm of intellect, but that of feeling. Goodman’s is a formalism that is never escapist or hermetic, but instead tied to an encyclopedic spectrum of human emotions, including terror, despondency, anger, hope, joy, even love. As she prepares to enter her ninth decade, Goodman has once again come upon a new abstract language that, somehow, remains intimately in touch with those important realities. To this reviewer, that is a remarkable feat.