New York

Sidney Goodman

Terry Dintenfass Gallery

There is, of course, no such thing as realism. As Donald Kuspit recently pointed out, the hyperprecision of a painter like Philip Pearlstein is actually rooted in a fascination with abstract, reified surfaces. By contrast, Sidney Goodman’s notion of the real has less to do with verisimilitude than with the intensity of dreams; his work looks back, through aspects of Surrealism, to the eccentric fin-de-siècle visions of artists such as Odilon Redon.

Like many of the Symbolists, Goodman is more consistently effective on paper than on canvas; his paintings, though ambitious, are sometimes overly rhetorical. Of course, some may find even his drawings to be overstated; this is not an artist who knows how to take it easy. On the evidence of his recent drawings, Goodman would appear to be someone willing himself to visionary status, his unlikely means to that end being a compound of beaux-arts pictorial rhetoric and cinematic tropes.

In Night Vision, 1993, a large work in pastel and charcoal, Goodman plays, as he often does, on the contrast between black and white passages and those in color. At the right, emerging from a deep black ground, we see, as though from above, a sleeping woman, her flesh bathed in brightness. Inexplicably, her head lies in shadow. To her left sit fat red coils of what might be a python, though there is no detail that might identify this as anything other than an abstract configuration. Presumably, then, these are the coils of sleep, perhaps a figuration of the autonomic internal impulses that issue in dream images, one of which must be the grisaille, statuelike form with blind eyes that gestures in the bottom left-hand corner, rising from the coils like one of Laocoön’s sons.

Night Vision conjoins two naturally impossible modes of seeing: the God’s-eyeview and inward vision. Perhaps more disturbing are those works in which nothing explicitly contradicts natural vision and yet the image has an air of the inexplicable, as in Man Pulling Animal, 1993, Bloody Head with Fist, 1994, or the three remarkable portraits of the artist’s mother. Through a subtle dislocation of viewpoint and by turning our attention away from presumptive points of drama, Goodman diffuses an eerie, “metaphysical” atmosphere over the solid core of earthy naturalism embodied in the bulky substantiality of his figures. This is where Goodman is at his most cinematic, approximating the anticipatory moment—obligatory to all horror films but transformed into a self-contained style by David Lynch—in which reality goes out of joint although, or because, the monster or mass murderer has not yet materialized. Of course, this is a lot harder to do without a soundtrack of eerie, rumbling music—Goodman’s “music” is all there on paper.

Barry Schwabsky