Joe Goode: Seeing through things
By Sarah A. Spitz on March 30, 2017
I’ve often wondered why writing about art must be so complex, so ponderous, so filled with grandiose vocabulary and overly-intellectual concepts. Not so with Kohn Gallery’s catalog, “Joe Goode: Paintings, 1960-2016.” What’s great is the direct language in which it’s written, including verbatim interviews with Goode himself. Ed Ruscha wrote the introduction (they’ve been close friends for many decades) and respected art writer Kristine McKenna, formerly of the Los Angeles Times, provided the text.
Goode is a local boy – if you can call him a boy at age 80. I was privileged to be invited to the opening of his latest series of paintings (2012-2016) at the Kohn Gallery in Hollywood last week, followed by an art world star-filled dinner at Lucques in West Hollywood, honoring his 80th birthday.
Born in Oklahoma but a long-time Californian identified with the Light/Space and Conceptual art movements, Joe Goode’s studio is located on Palms just off Centinela. He’s one of a group of now-renowned, then-emerging artists like Ed Ruscha, Larry Bell, James Turrell, Robert Irwin, many of them associated with Chouinard School, which later became CalArts.
A group of visionary curators and gallerists helped them along, including Walter Hopps—then of the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum)—one of the first to organize a Pop Art show (the historic “New Painting of Common Objects”) including Goode’s work; and Nicholas Wilder, whose gallery was artist-centric—when he sold a work, he’d divide the money amongst all the artists he represented. Wilder exhibited Goode’s series of “stair” sculptures, not one of which sold.
Inspired by Marcel Duchamp, who created the concept of “ready-mades” as art (remember the famous Urinal from the legendary Armory Art show?), Goode’s engagement with common objects led him to a life-long fascination with milk bottles. Why? Because they allowed him to see the space in front of, through and behind the bottle.
Back in the day, milk was delivered to your doorstep in bottles; coming home one morning, he said, “I looked at them and thought, ‘that’s what I want to paint.’ There was a plane both in front of them and behind them, so the three dimensional space was clearly delineated, and they occupied the space in a way that was defined and ambiguous at the same time. I started thinking about a bottle coming out of a painting and was intrigued by the idea of activating the space in front of a painting by placing a milk bottle there.”
But it’s not just milk bottles; he’s painted clouds, trees, waterfalls, skies, moons, the ocean, and especially fire, works that have been compared in their depth of coloration to “the painter of light,” J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), whose landscapes dissolved into abstraction and helped inspire Impressionism.
Perhaps it was prophetic that fire caught his attention because in 2006, Goode’s studio was destroyed by fire, along with 200 paintings, mostly his own. Rebuilding his studio and starting from scratch, the works on view at Kohn Gallery include four major series painted in the fire’s aftermath: Milk Bottle, Ocean Blue, California Summer and TV Blues, the latter three taking into account global warming and its impact.
And a side note: one of my favorite stores, Hiromi Paper, has left Bergamot Station for Culver City, much to my sorrow. It turns out that Hiromi is Goode’s wife. Not knowing who she was, I asked her name – when she said “Hiromi,” I replied th