Brenda Goodman: “On a New Coast” at The Landing, Los Angeles

Brenda Goodman, “Unfinished Memory,” 40" x 48" oil on wood, 2019

Brenda Goodman’s new show in Los Angeles is really two shows. The central space of The Landing Gallery—where the artist, her partner Linda Dunne and art dealer Gerard O’Brien chatted at a table left from opening night while I viewed Goodman’s paintings—holds the core of the exhibition. There is a selection of large oil on wood abstractions from 2019 interspersed with some recent small and medium-sized pieces. If I had seen only the fresh and ambitious works presented in this vaulted space, I would have left the gallery moved and impressed.

But the show really gained depth for me in O’Brien’s office where carefully chosen examples of Goodman’s early work set the stage. Several of these works—especially a small construction from 1978 and a self-portrait from 1994—gave me direct access to some of the themes and emotions that still resonate in Goodman’s continuing oevre. These works are entry points that are part of a mini-retrospective that Gerard O’Brien felt was crucial to grounding the first major exhibiton of Goodman’s work in Los Angeles. He was right.

Goodman’s Construction (mother) from 1978 says a great deal with limited means: it has a breathtaking narrative compression. In this open grey cube—which contains semi-abstract forms—I sensed both emotional claustrophobia and catharsis. In an e-mail Goodman later sent me, she offered the background of this piece:

The mother construction was about my mother who died on my birthday and for 6 years I would create something for her. The grey shape is a kneaded eraser mixed with graphite and is a tombstone. The brown shape is a dried up rose and the little shape is a guardian angel watching over her.

This construction got me thinking about the role of architecture in Goodman’s work, which struck me as Jungian, broadcasting unconscious meanings. There is a current of Surrealism in the dreamlike intensity found in Goodman’s lovingly constructed scenario.

The sheer strangeness (and bravery) of a Goodman “Self-Portrait” nearby challenged me. Its monstrousness, which I think has just the tiniest hint of humor mixed in, has something to say about the creative process. It brings to mind something I once heard said about Picasso: “Great artist, great monster.” The self-fueled angst of Goodman’s monster-doppelgänger, who seems to vomit paint, brought up a strange thought: is art-making a form of bulimia? It was interesting—and revealing—to contemplate this confession of an artist’s creative process as a form of binge/purge. Heroic creation, an outdated model, is not Goodman’s thing.

Back in the central gallery, after also viewing some Goodman paintings from the 80s, including a massive wall-like piece and an untitled congregation of Gustonish webbed forms, I felt ready to really take in Goodman’s new works. For an artist who has devoted herself to being candid about her anxieties, these works represent a move forward into something fresh: a world of guarded optimism. Goodman does not care for straight lines—so don’t expect her to buy a yardstick and go “Agnes Martin” anytime soon—but the new works do have a somewhat geometric architecture filled with webbing, nets, walls and stones. They feel vulnerable and enduring at the same time.

It’s a nubbly, scarred world somewhere between abstraction and figuration that Goodman creates by using a Dremel tool and linoleum cutters to generate sgraffito. The paintings emanate vibes of age and experience. Seen at a distance, one painting seemed literally charred, but that wasn’t the case: the “charring” was just black paint with red scratches peeking through.

The Sun Does Shine, one of the largest works on view, has the hint of optimism that I found peeking though in several paintings. Its palette—a mix of greyish stones framing a surprising stand of green, blue and pink—made me think of something growing amidst ancient ruins. There are enough vegetal colors in the show that the chef who catered the opening night dinner was able to refer to them in what I understand were some fabulous salads.

On a New Coast offers Southern Californians their first chance to not only see what a great artist has been doing recently but to understand her roots. It is a substantial and serious show—as you would expect from a dedicated artist—that builds on vulnerability to create paintings that feel monumental. That is no small feat.

Brenda Goodman
On a New Coast
January 25 — March 14, 2020

The Landing Gallery

5118 w Jefferson Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90016

p/ 323 272 3194

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John Seed

John Seed

John Seed is the author of “Disrupted Realism.” He has written for the HuffingtonPost, Hyperallergic, Arts of Asia & other fine publications. johnseed@gmail.com