Robert Goodman’s Smoke and Mirrors

Michael Lieberman finds himself in a rare state upon seeing Robert Goodman's latest work. There are just eight pieces in the show--so spend time with each one. -- Artblog editor

I’ve been trying, I think in vain, to place Robert Goodman’s work in an art historical perspective. For some reason, I keep returning to Georgia O’Keeffe and Helen Frankenthaler. To their blended colors and fluid margins; to the luminescence that you sometimes find in their work; to their sensitivity. But then Goodman takes an unexpected turn and tiptoes into the realm of the magician’s smoke and mirrors, in which figurative and other objects seem to appear or disappear, or are hidden within abstractions like Rorschachs.

Cut and Restored HR
“Cut and Restored” (2015), gouache, spray paint, acrylic, graphite on paper, 24” x 29.” Image courtesy of The Seraphin Gallery.

Goodman entices the viewer to pass through the surface of his paintings: “As viewers traverse the space of my works, the paintings break down and reorganize around them.” Reminds me of Buster Keaton as a projectionist in “Sherlock Jr.,” dreaming of walking down the aisle of the theater and jumping into the film, which has been transformed into the mystery story and romance that he is struggling with in his life. Not all of the pieces in Goodman’s show at Seraphin had that effect upon me, but half of them did. It was a feeling of visceral engagement that for me distinguishes art I appreciate from art that that moves me. Like the great abstract expressionists and the Color Field painters, Goodman captures the glorious spirit of the natural world, including the natural world of our emotions.

False Cut HR
“False Cut” (2015), gouache, spray-paint, acrylic, graphite on paper, 11” x 14.” Image courtesy of The Seraphin Gallery.

There are only eight pieces in this exhibition. Four larger canvases and four works on paper of varying sizes, including collage. Three of them are reproduced here. Goodman’s combinations of media—mixes of oil, acrylic, gouache, graphite, and spray paint—are brilliant and unique. One of the most impressive elements of his work is its depth and movement, with bursts of dashing color that emerge from unusual darkness, darkness that is subtly infected with its own color or light. It is fascinating to experience Goodman’s almost psychological use of color: on the one hand you find unexpected, but completely harmonious and flat, melded color blends, such as the amazing orange, white, and gray combinations in his “Cut and Restored,” and in other works dense walls of deep intricate marks of colors like those found in “False Cut”.

Untitled robert goodman
“Untitled” (2015), oil, acrylic, spray-paint, on canvas, 60” x 66 1/4.” Image courtesy of The Seraphin Gallery

The centerpiece of the show is Goodman’s “Untitled,” reproduced here. This to me is Goodman at his finest: the brilliant contrast of light, color, and darkness, the ambiguity of direction, the mysterious, luminescent, transformative power of the cylindrical object that dominates the canvas. I found his more abstract pieces, such as this one, more provocative than those that obliquely engage representational elements, with the exception perhaps of “Cut and Restored,” which is quite compelling. In all of his work, Goodman is fearless and unself-conscious, and these are the forces that catalyze the euphoria and tension that he is shooting to elicit in his painting.

Robert Goodman is chairman of Fine Arts at Moore College of Art. He has exhibited extensively in the Philadelphia area and nationwide, and his work is on display in public collections at the Woodmere Art Museum and the William Way Center.

I tend to find myself at a loss for words when faced with artwork or literature that affects me deeply, and here that certainly is the case. Goodman’s is work that must be seen and experienced. Don’t miss it.

Robert Goodman’s Smoke and Mirrors at Seraphin Gallery runs through Jan. 24, 2016.