Betty Goodwin

Sable-Castelli Gallery

Betty Goodwin’s drawings explore the physical parameters of gesture, both real and imaginary. Working with wax, pigment, and ash, Goodwin creates life-size figures that seem to hover on enormous sheets of translucent vellum. Her characters are remote and faceless, caught between human presence and absence. She takes full liberty to remove a limb or extend the significance of a movement through repeated layers of opalescent color. In drawings such as Figure with Megaphone, 1988, the individual forms entwine themselves in a multiplicity of arm and leg movements that offer few clues. By stripping the surface surrounding the figure of incident, the artist has poised all attention on the combustive energy housed within these bodies.

In Goodwin’s earlier drawings, her multiple figures are inextricably bound and doubled in relationships of dependency. Using themes of human portage and physical bonding, the artist explored the intricacies of the corporeal world. Now these interacting figures have been replaced by solitary ones who wrap themselves in a deathlike grip, their displaced bodies emitting an apocalyptic sense of trepidation and self-absorption.

But the drawings do not merely function on a single level. Within the parameters of the frame, Goodwin has subtly constructed a space that interposes reality with illusion. Compartmentalizing the figures with sharp abutments, she returns to the spatial precedents established in her earlier three-dimensional tarpaulin sculptures and minimalist installations. Now the spatial control has been transferred from the object to the figures themselves, as they function within the blocked area of pigmentation. In Without cease the earth faintly trembles, 1988, Goodwin restricts the physical movements of the figure via a suspended steel plumb line that extends downward from the top of the drawing. The rod marks the area to which the figure is confined, yet Goodwin tests this boundary by extending the figure’s gestures. On one side lies the density of human form; on the other, the openness of space.

In previous work, Goodwin has used the form of the megaphone as a conductor for both words and vision. It wasn’t until the “Swimmer” series of drawings, begun in 1983, that she released protagonists into her centerless universe. Now her solitary figures are bound by the fierce reverberation of some unseen voice. But is this voice being expelled or captured? For Goodwin, the answer lies in a multiplicity of gestures and meanings that extend our line of sight.

Linda Genereux