Guy Goodwin


Guy Goodwin has been exhibiting in New York for a little more than a decade, during which time his work has undergone radical change. From the late ’70s until the early ’80s, he applied thick layers of paint to the smooth surfaces of shaped wooden forms, which were then assembled into high-relief painting-objects. Clearly, Goodwin was being literal in his conflation of paint and the construction of painting, yet he had more in common with Milton Resnick, say, than with Frank Stella. His work of this period was both blunt and inelegant. By the mid ’80s, he was dissatisfied with insisting on paint’s obdurate physicality and reevaluated his approach to abstraction. From 1985 until recently, he depicted large abstract still lifes and cityscapes. This exhibition consisted of paintings done in the past two years, and suggested that Goodwin is now not only looking at landscape, but is using it to reconsider a variety of issues regarding subject matter and process.

All nine paintings are done in oil on linen. The final layer is varnish, and the surfaces glisten. For the most part, Goodwin’s approach remains blunt and direct; he defines his forms through broad brushstrokes. In addition to being both themselves and boardlike forms, the brushstrokes are trajectories and directionals. Goodwin’s sensitivity to shifts in light, placement, and the stress of one color against another is matched by few contemporaries. Consequently, what could easily become a routine approach to painting is transformed into a vivid and sensual process.

If Goodwin’s paintings of the mid ’80s hovered between abstraction and image, then his recent paintings suggest themselves as physical equivalents to music. Named after well-known jazz compositions, both Freedom Suite, 1989, and Return in “E”, 1988, are among the least overtly imagistic paintings in this exhibition. Using a vocabulary that consists largely of equal-sized brushstrokes (about the width of the artist’s hand), he marks off segments and intervals of rich creamy color, evokes subtle shifts in tone, and jumps from warm pinks to cool gray-blues. The paint strokes are stacked up, like durable planks, and the light and color emanating from these patches evoke a disquieting space. The richly physical surfaces pull you toward the painting, while the cool unnatural light and abstract forms push you back until an image coalesces. These paintings reach a standoff between the tactile and the visual, substance and sight; the images seem to hover between form and dissolution.

Goodwin revitalizes the late, highly tactile work of Georges Braque. His earthy palette—mossy green, spruce blue, swamp brown, pale pink, and sulfurous yellow—suggests a northern New England landscape. His paintings are a commentary on their own making; they insinuate painting’s own discounted status into the critical discourse.

Like Philip Guston, Goodwin is an exquisite paint handler who wants to overcome his own facility and eloquence. Earlier in his career, Goodwin deliberately strove against his painterly tendencies by insisting on the literal. Now, he has embarked on an investigation of the fluid relationship between process and image. This restlessness may well help him reach a realm of constant surprises.

John Yau