Detroit artist Brenda Goodman
rediscovering the figure in Manhattan



On a recent trip to New York City, I caught up with frequent contributor and exiled Detroiter Vince Carducci, and the two of us visited Detroit artist Brenda Goodman in her Manhattan studio. Goodman treated us to an unexpected viewing of her newest body of work which she agreed to share with readers before it is seen on gallery walls.

For those familiar with Goodman's work from the last several years (including a solo show in 2003 at Revolution Gallery and this year's Revolution 10 Year Anniversary) her current offering is a surprise. She has re-introduced the figure, boldly and triumphantly to the forefront of her work, something she has not done since the mid 90s. Goodman also integrates elements of collage, an aspect to her painting which she began employing in a series exhibited at Littlejohn Contemporary Gallery in New York this past year . (For more on this, see Vince Carducci's review in February's Art in America.)

Goodman's past figurative work used the body to create intense psychological and emotional portraits. Her forms were more monster than human - an amalgamation of doubt and self-loathing. The new works share a visual linkage to the earlier pieces, but the figure is handled with more sensuality. Where the older figurative works were stark and drained of color, Goodman has brought in the vivid color of her landscape works. The subject is the actual physicality of the body and how we look at it.

Regardless of her subject matter, Goodman's style is consistently engaging. Drips, pulls, splatters take on their own life and are akin to the sort of imagery we might imagine finding on the surface of Mars. These are geological moments, all shaped by different forces. Body is landscape, with the fingers alone displaying the history of mark making. (See in particular Self Portrait #1) Far from being chaotic, these elements are integrated into an overarching landscape, that reflect the artist's experiential moments. In this way the painting surface becomes a metaphor for our lives - full of unique, at times incongruous moments that together shape who we are.

Collage is a fundamental component of Goodman's current work. In many of the pieces, the central figure is confronted by a host of masked phantoms (Self Portrait #3). These inner demons are comprised of photographic images of the artist wearing a mask, which she has applied to the canvas and then covered with layers of color. In Self Portrait #2, Goodman has plastered the piece's background with images representing her entire past body of work, including student pieces. She paints over them and weaves them into the landscape while her figure juts out from the surface, emerging from the sea of history.

Since our visit, Goodman has radically altered two of the paintings. In allowing us to see her unfinished works, the former Detroiter let us in on the essential strength of her work: a willingness to expose her vulnerabilities matched with an unyielding determination to press onward and discover new means of expression.

Nick Sousanis - (A big thanks to Vince Carducci for making this article possible.)

© 2002