Weekly Update – Sidney Goodman’s life mirror at PAFA

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This week’s Weekly has my review of Sidney Goodman’s drawing retrospective at Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.  Below is the copy.

Portraits and paintings depicting humans are perennial crowd pleasers. The best of these works hold up the mirror and speak psychological truth about the human condition.

Sidney Goodman, Man in the Mirror, 1987-88 Charcoal and pastel on paper 22 x 30 inches Collection of Malcolm Holzman
Sidney Goodman, Man in the Mirror, 1987-88 Charcoal and pastel on paper 22 x 30 inches Collection of Malcolm Holzman

Sidney Goodman, a long-time Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts professor known for paintings of figures caught in surreal moments, is being celebrated at the Academy with a major show of his drawings, some dating back to 1980.

With more than 60 works on paper in charcoal, pastel, watercolor and ink, the show is hung thematically to accentuate the various threads in the artist’s work over time: works about violence and social chaos, works that celebrate the flesh and love-making, and intimate scenes of his family including some stunning self portraits.

A compositional wizard influenced by classical art and by Francisco Goya’s dark depictions of the world, Goodman renders entwined bodies with virtuoso panache.

HEAD WITH RED
Head With Red, 1988
Charcoal and pastel on paper
64 x 59 inches
Collection of Nat and Georgia Kramer

Like the old masters, Goodman imbues his works with passion and big physical gestures. The best works, like the tiny Man Pulling an Animal or Man in the Mirror compel you with steely-eyed ambiguity and the lack of self-consciousness which conveys a narrative without pomp or coyness. Whatever these men are doing—be it pulling a carcass from a pile of dead animals or staring at themselves in the mirror—the human struggle with a complex world is apparent even though the story’s particulars are obscure. And that makes for a satisfying picture.

Goodman is best when he is his own model and subject. Works like Man in the Mirror, Head With Red, Man With Dolls and Birdwatcher are perhaps the simplest and most haunting in the show: simple because they depict a single person—the artist—in a straightforward manner. They’re also haunting because the images are mock-heroic.

The self-questioning and doubt about the human depicted in these images is a sentiment every viewer can identify with. We’re all, in a way, the man (or woman) in the mirror, staring blankly, exposed in the simple act of morning ablutions, seeing ourselves as a specimen of humanity, and maybe a less-than-average specimen at that.

As in Rembrandt’s late self-portraits, Man in the Mirror (from 1987-1988 when the artist was 51 years old—he’s now 73) is poignant for presenting the frailty of flesh all humans will experience—receding hairline, soft sagging body and eyes that have lost their spark.

ARTIST'S MOTHER II
The Artist’s Mother II, 1994
47 1/2 x 33 1/2 inches
Charcoal and pastel on paper

Many of the artist’s depictions of his wife and family are reminscent of works by Philadelphia’s other master of figures and portraits, Andrew Wyeth. But Wyeth’s illustrational depictions are deadpan and icy whereas Goodman’s pictures of his wife, his aging mother and his son Luke are heated and wildly romantic. They are endearing for being so self-revelatory.

Sidney Goodman: “Man in the Mirror.” Through Sept. 20. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 128 N. Broad St. pafa.org

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