Off-Ramp arts correspondent Marc Haefele reviews Joe Goode's “Old Ideas with New Solutions." See it at the Kohn Gallery through May 13.
One of Joe Goode’s fond memories of the New York art scene of the '60s was when the great Andy Warhol invited him to dinner at “my favorite restaurant.” Goode, who was then so poor he had hitchhiked to Manhattan, was dazzled. Would it be Grenouille or maybe the Cote Basque, where Truman Capote nestled among his entourage of millionaire fashionistas?
But the “favorite” turned out to be the Walgreen’s drug store lunch counter. Painter Goode, just turned 80, likes to recall experiences like that. And maybe that one helped confirm his decision to remain a California painter for the rest of his life. He's one of the eminent West Coast artists of the last century and this one besides.
In the strictest sense, despite a year spent studying at the Chouinard Institute, Goode invented himself as a painter. His father was a skilled professional commercial artist, but even as he left Oklahoma City as a high school dropout in 1959, Goode didn’t know he wanted to paint. He was just another Sooner kid who came to LA for the weather.
But the sprawl and variety and intensity of the fast-growing Western metropolis stimulated him, even as he struggled to stay alive and solvent, to look inward and find himself as a major visual creator.
Now he has a major show at the Kohn Gallery, focusing on the last 5 years of his output. With it comes a magisterial catalog-bio book by Kristine McKenna, offering a sympathetic and intelligent analysis and sampling of 56 years of his work.
As Goode puts it himself, “The thing that excites me is making something I have never seen before, and I make that happen as often as I can.” Yet he also likes to work with what he has seen before. And so much of his recent work incorporates motifs of his earliest. Take the famous four-square milk bottle, for instance.
It was a shape he first noticed on his Eastside front porch in the early 60s. It spoke to him at a time were “objects” were speaking to a new generation of painters, many of them called “pop,” a description Goode was often assigned, but personally rejected. Yet he kept painting the rectilinear shapes in his early period, when he emerged as a major figure at the historic Pasadena “New Painting of Common Objects” show in 1962.
Over the years since, Goode painted a whole lot of pictures minus the bottle, but somehow, it remained his signature symbol. It’s bounced back: it appears on the cover of McKenna’s new book, it appears in front of some of his latest work, with an active, rather than its former passive personality—splashing milk-white liquid explosions all over the canvas, or hurling the sparse, pale shadow of milk against a background as deep an indigo like a darkened sea. It suggests infinity but is also a remanifestation. McKenna calls Goode’s evolved painting a “winding journey through…rich terrain for almost six decades.”
Increasingly, over the later years, Goode’s work has become involved with nature—evocations of fires, tornadoes, waterfalls, dark oceanscapes subtly woven out of elusive night-time hues, trees, moons, tornadoes and sunspots. These pictures come in sequences, but the sequences tend to overlap. A disastrous hiatus transpired in 2005, when Goode’s studio, along with the lion’s share of his work in progress, was destroyed by fire.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, his first show following the fire (in 2008) was called “Paint is Nature,’’ raising to its zenith Goode’s terrific skills with acrylics. But this was work like nothing he had ever done before, at the dawn of his eighth decade.
The ongoing Kohn show gives us newer work on archival board. It includes two pictures referring to two other great painters: “Braque and Picasso on Fire” and “Braque and Picasso Still Talk About it.” The colors refer to his Forest Fire paintings of decades ago, but that fury is contained, evolved, almost charming. There is a good deal more here that shows us how Goode keeps returning, and keeps progressing, as he enters his eighties, painting strong. Staying ahead of us.