© Brenda Goodman, Breakthrough 60x84 oil on canvas 1985

Brenda Goodman, Breakthrough, 1985, oil on canvas, 60 x 84 in. All images: © & courtesy the artist.

The Abyss

For 12 years as a young artist, I worked with symbols. There was a symbol for everyone and everything in my life — a visual diary of my everyday life, the good and the bad. The Dinner was one of the last of these paintings. The symbols I put in it got so tight and precise, I began obsessing over whether I should move one of the chopsticks on the table a sixteenth of an inch. I was giving all and receiving nothing back. I felt frustrated. Then I quit a three-pack-a-day cigarette habit and stayed out of my studio for 9 months because of the strong need to smoke and think and smoke and work.

© Brenda Goodman, The Dinner 72x72 oil on canvas 1983

Brenda Goodman, The Dinner, 1983, oil on canvas, 72 x 72 in.

One day after all those months, I picked up some 6×8 inch index cards and scribbled marks all over them, then started picking out shapes that resonated for me. I was on my way — it was so freeing and loose and exciting. And unlike the symbol paintings, I had no idea what these new paintings were about. They became large. In the one, called Breakthrough, I was humming along; and then I got stuck. The middle of the right hand side wasn’t working but it was so beautiful I didn’t want to give it up. I was standing on the edge of the abyss but willfully chose not to jump in. I did not want to “wreck” this painting but was afraid there would be no light on the other end. I had never before or after felt this anxiety so intensely. The jump would mean letting go of that precious section and I would have to TRUST that something else would appear — and that something would resolve and complete the painting.

© Brenda Goodman Feb. 85  white out, colored pencil. ink 540w

© Brenda Goodman, Feb. 11. 85 white out, colored pencil, ink 540w
Top:Brenda Goodman, Feb. 85, 1985, white out, colored pencil and ink on paper, 6 x 8 in.
Bottom:Brenda Goodman, Feb. 11. 85, 1985, white out, colored pencil and ink on paper, 6 x 8 in.

After days of struggle I finally let go. I wiped out that area, and Presto…the painting was quickly finished. More than 30 years later, that abyss isn’t so scary anymore because I know if I let go of my will and ego and paint out the precious area the painting will finish itself in no time. If you do this over and over you acquire a level of trust that makes it easier. This process, I believe, is the most spiritual aspect of making a painting. Letting go, surrender and trust.

Brenda Goodman (b. Detroit, 1943; lives and works in Pine Hill, NY) has been painting since 1960. Her painting has most recently been the subject of a solo exhibition at Life on Mars Gallery, NY (March 2015) and was included in the American Academy of Arts and Letters 2015 Invitational Exhibition of Visual Arts. She is also a recipient of the Academy’s Art Award (2015). Her other notable awards include fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts (2006, 1996) and the National Endowment for the Arts (1991). A career retrospective is upcoming at the College for Creative Studies, Detroit, MI, Ms Goodman’s alma mater, later in 2015. Full bio here at Life on Mars Gallery, NY. Full CV here at brendagoodman.com

Editor’s Recs

John Yau on Brenda Goodman: New Paintings at Life on Mars Gallery (Hyperallergic, April 2015)

Brenda Goodman at Life On Mars (Gorky’s Granddaughter, April 2015)

Brenda Goodman in conversation with Ashley Garrett (Figure/Ground, March 2015)

Brenda Goodman in conversation with Brett Baker (Painters’ Table, July 2014)

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