Betty Goodwin

Galerie René Blouin

While Betty Goodwin’s “Swimmers,” 1982-85, and “Carbon Series,” 1986, with their free-floating, visually truncated figures have a note of tragic finality to them, the “Nerve Series,” 1993, seems more open-ended. Here, her usual allegorization of the human figure has been tempered by real-life photos of exposed root systems transferred onto Mylar and then reworked. The imagery Goodwin has chosen here seems more potent and mysterious precisely because it is more explicit. These works allow us to imagine our own inner feelings about the process of birth, life, death, and decay in an open-ended, nonjudgmental way.

The patternings of exposed root systems that we see in these mixed-media pieces wend their way through each piece enigmatically, conjuring up images of exposed nerve endings. It’s as if Goodwin’s metaphorical guardian angels and defensive allegorical structures have fallen away to reveal a more simple truth: our symbiotic relationship to the earth. Not many artists could pull it off as Goodwin has—she builds upon what is there through trial and error, as roots themselves do in the darkness of their solitude. The figure, half-hidden or partially obliterated in these predominantly black and white pieces is still there but it seems to fade in and out of the stains, faint color applications, and surface treatments in wax, tar, and pastel.

Untitled (Nerves) No. 10 works over photo blow-ups of root systems in a two-part collage in which the lines have been exposed to become hone-white strands. They move down the canvas like snakes that have shed their skin, communicating feeling more readily because they appear so vulnerable, exposed. The single patch of red that bleeds into the composition like a hemorrhage from behind the dark background is an exegesis of pain that we can accept more readily because the context here is nature. Untitled (Nerves) No. 11 has a reduced image of the same roots, reassembled and reproduced with Chromoflex on Mylar. While the colors and lines intertwine and seem to pull together from sheer density, the faintly drawn head, partially erased and set apart from the central rectangular composition spills a series of diagrammatic lines out of its mouth echoing one of the two sculptures in the show, Untitled (Nerves) No. 7. The latter has a human head sculpted out of wax that hangs high up on the gallery wall with a three-meter strand of lead hanging out of its mouth. Goodwin’s “Nerve Series” brings to mind any number of social issues: the difficulty of communication, death, decay, and aging, but its cathartic effect has a lot to do with how she uses her materials to address the inherent vitality, enduring strength, and beauty of these themes.

John K. Grande