Philadelphia

Guy Goodwin

Dolan/Maxwell

Guy Goodwin’s exhibition of new works consisted of still lifes and bird’s-eye-view cityscapes, meditations on the powers and pleasures of painting. Through a laborious but logically derived developmental process, Good-win’s earlier elaborate wall constructions of roughly biomorphic shapes gradually returned to two-dimensional surfaces, while abstract imagery based on natural or man-made forms succumbed to the depiction of recognizable objects. A group of charcoal drawings and watercolor studies provided additional insight into Goodwin’s careful work process.

Goodwin’s strongest, most remarkable paintings were undoubtedly his still lifes. This modestly scaled series of variations on an intimate world of homely objects all closely associated with nature—shovels, pickaxes, a hose, a garden spade, foliage—is rendered in a rich, dense, primarily warm palette of russets, deep browns, muddy greens, oranges, and ochers. This palette—combined with Goodwin’s penchant for compressed, verticalized space; heavy contouring; and a compositional weightiness with a palpably hard-won quality—imbue these works with a Cézannesque presence.

The still lifes’ nominal subject matter also resonates with certain timeless, rather archaeological connotations that marry perfectly with Goodwin’s blunt, quasi-primitive style, in which form seems almost to have been hewn out of, or wrested from, the paint. His intense painterliness seems to transmute oils into divinely lush mud, and this metaphor of paint as a kind of earth—a generative matrix—suggests Goodwin’s view of painting as a vital organic process, a source, a wellspring.

Sensual pleasure can certainly be derived from paintings of this kind: tactile frissons from a surface by turns opaque and luminous, and compositional felicities in which the spaces of objects—a shovel or flower blossom, for example—read simultaneously as abstractions and identifiable images. By continually reworking the same basic elements, Goodwin seeks to free his paintings from the specificity of content, reaching instead toward a purer, painterly perception, a fixed moment in which figure and ground meld and the rendered object fuses with the physicality of paint: image is surface, surface is image. This kind of formalism desires to transcend itself.

But does it? Goodwin’s paintings exert the pull of the well-seen, deeply felt personal world, and of the well-made object. It is certainly refreshing, even restful, to encounter such forthright, lovingly crafted works that rely neither on heavy irony nor on self-conscious mannerism, but engage a judgment based upon certain classic, formal criteria. Goodwin’s paintings are apologias for a return to painting as an expression of authenticity individuality, and honesty, or as a pathway to the metaphysical—just those concepts considered most problematic, even suspect, for contemporary practice. I both responded to and distrusted these traditionalist sensibilities, and was troubled by their appearance at this moment in the medium’s history. They subscribe to a conceptual conservatism that can be viewed as either reassuring or retrogressive. The issue here seems to be one of sufficiency and larger relevance. Is this enough? Does it matter?

—Paula Marincola