SPLIT SECONDS: THE LANDSCAPE PAINTINGS OF MICHAEL GOODWIN
a micro-interview with Elaine Sexton
ELAINE SEXTON: These landscapes have great presence. You seem to have stilled something fleeting, like memory, a moment in which the clouds in the sky looked spectacular or the light shaded the trees on a given day, something forgotten until seeing it again, here. When I say memory, I don’t mean nostalgia, but the climate of a walk by the sea, or a drive, or the way the woods looked after dark, one that comes back, even if you never set foot on a particular path. You seem to share a palette with Edward Hopper, but with less melancholy in the results. What is it that triggers your selection of a setting? Is there a “climate,” for lack of a better word, you are going for? Do you paint from photographs?
MICHAEL GOODWIN: I would agree with you that my paintings are “ moments.” For as long as I can remember Iʼve been aware of certain instances when I wanted to stop linear time. Each is an instance of transcendent beauty. And to this day I can remember many of them, where I was and who I was with. In 1990 I discovered I was/am HIV positive. In a split second everything changed for me. I knew I had to stop what I was doing (a lousy low paying job) and to the best of my ability to live out my days doing what I loved most, to paint, which I hadnʼt done since I left art school in 1977. At first I painted still lives. Little compositions of everyday things l placed together in my bedroom. I found it very grounding at a time when I was very anxious. I didnʼt consider them great works of art. They were simply a practice that helped keep me from having a meltdown on a daily basis. During this time I made a trip up to northern Maine and Canada where I grew up. It was there that l saw, as with new eyes, just how gorgeous the landscape was there. Fortunately I had a camera with me and so then started my almost obsessive need to photograph rural landscapes. When I got back to NYC and saw the results of my picture taking I knew that landscapes would be the subject of my painting from then on.
Now getting back to your idea of my paintings being of certain moments. I clearly see my paintings that way. To me they are points in time when the light was hitting an object (a cloud, a tree, a field for instance) in a way that made that instance the perfect moment. I knew if I were to make that moment last I would have to paint it to keep it. Unlike painting en plein air, which I did when in art school, this would be very different. When you are working outside, in nature, there are so many variables that affect the work. There is the climate, and insects, but most importantly there is the ever changing light. You are forced to work very quickly lest you miss something of grave importance. When painting in nature you are and always will be missing something. It is impossible to mix color fast enough not to miss something. Truly, if I could I would be a plein air painter, it is such an exhilarating experience. But, since I live in the city, and donʼt drive, I make do with working from photographs. For me this is very close to the same thing, and I absolutely love to paint.
There definitely is a climate in my paintings. Initially that climate was always sunny. Preferably just after dawn or shortly before dusk. But in my latter years more and more I find Iʼm interested in all sorts of atmospheric conditions. The palette of a cloudy day can be as complex as that of a sunny day and oftentimes it is. Iʼm very flattered that you find my color choices remind you of Edward Hopper. I totally love his work. I love the sense of isolation he creates in his work as well. Even when there are several people in his paintings you somehow get that feeling that these people are alone. And for me that is evidence of his acute awareness of the isolation that is required of anyone who makes paintings. It is a solitary occupation for me too. And I like it that way.
Michael Goodwin is a landscape painter who lives and works in New York. His work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the Steven Amadee Gallery (New York), Edward Day Gallery, Toronto, Ontario, The Merrill Collection (Westchester, NY), and The Painting Center (New York). His work has also been part of recent group exhibitions at The Painting Center and OK Harris Gallery (New York), and the Watson-MacRae Gallery, Sanibel, FL. He has been the recipient of a Pollack-Krasner Grant. His work can be seen on Instagram at: michaelgoodwin_landscapes