Puffy doughnuts and pillowy blobs drift across abstract fields of color in Guy Goodwin’s relief paintings. The artist, a septuagenarian veteran of the New York scene, made the five large works in his Brennan & Griffin exhibition by stacking cut pieces of painted cardboard and fixing the arrangements in place with staples, glue, and screws. The results are playful: bright, bulbous forms evoke curvy playground equipment and neon palettes call to mind early video games. The dynamic compositions also offer subtle perceptual puzzles, appearing to shift unsteadily between two- and three-dimensional space. In Honky Tonk Grotto (all works 2017), one of the largest pieces on view at roughly seven feet square, an egg-yolk yellow “O” composed of a six-inch stack of cardboard protrudes out toward the viewer. Viewed head-on, the form seems to float in front of a burgundy rectangle, which, in turn, is suspended in front of a black screen riddled with holes that allow the painting’s purple background to peek through. By painting each shape in his works a single color, Goodwin clearly delineates his forms, creating the appearance of crisp borders despite the cardboard’s gnarled edges. At the same time, the matte effect of his mix of acrylic and tempera unifies his constructions, allowing us to sense the sameness of the simple materials underneath the varied surfaces.
Goodwin’s high-key abstractions can be compared to the work of his contemporaries, such as Mary Heilmann and Elizabeth Murray, even as they resonate with the work of younger artists like Keltie Ferris and Ruth Root. With his deliberately pared-down vocabulary of forms and taut pictorial spaces, Goodwin nods to the tradition of modernist geometric abstraction while allowing suggestions of vernacular culture to seep in. In the 2000s, he created monochrome compositions featuring letters spelling out the names of generic foods: chicken, pork, broccoli. His new works resemble signage in their scale, attention-grabbing colors, and prominent display of forms that vaguely resemble letters of the alphabet. Still, the pop overtones of Goodwin’s work may derive more from their links to music: the freeform compositions owe much to the rhythms of jazz (an important cultural touchstone for the artist), and some works seem to be inspired by the atmospherics of performance venues. In Dim Lights Thick Smoke, dark red, purple, and blue shapes crowd against a black ground just as patrons in a nightclub squeeze together. A single acid-yellow oval in the top left corner interrupts the composition’s muted palette, like a spotlight shining on stage.
Goodwin has folded about a foot of cardboard on the sides of each work back toward the viewer, deepening the compositional space and underscoring the cavelike associations hinted at in titles that reference grottoes. The edges of the fluid, organic cardboard shapes that extend onto these folded “wings” are flush with the outer lip, so each work looks like a neat rectangle when viewed from the front. Like photographs of coral reefs teeming with life, the works convey a sense of movement arrested in time. The appearance of flux is strongest when the works are seen from a few yards back. Close-up, the focus shifts to the thousands of staples and dozens of screws that hold the cardboard together. The fundamental tension between movement and stasis gives each piece an unsettled quality, as in a frieze immortalizing a transient moment.