Document No. 272–Transparent Motifs with Painter Joe Goode
Photography by Hedi Slimane
Interview by Felix Burrichter
Joe Goode’s five-decade-strong oeuvre started in the ’60s with his now iconic milk bottle paintings securing him a place in the pantheon of pop art. Over the years, Goode has melded traditional and nontraditional media with a diversity of references that includes everything from his Midwestern roots to life in L.A., Atget, and classic English still lives. Reached over the phone in his L.A. studio following a photo shoot with Hedi Slimane, the youthful septuagenarian freely muses about gambling, the benefits of acrylic versus oil, and how long it took him to see through his own art.
FELIX BURRICHTER: How did the photo shoot go?
JOE GOODE: Fine! They were here in the studio for a long time, I think for an hour and a half. I thought they’re going to do the whole magazine on me. [Laughs]
FELIX: Hedi Slimane specifically requested to photograph you. Did you know him before?
JOE: No, never.
FELIX: And are you familiar with his work?
JOE: A little bit.
FELIX: Are you interested in fashion?
JOE: Not really. All my fashion comes from Uniqlo and H&M. I did buy some nice jackets in Japan that I still wear.
FELIX: One of the most fascinating things I learned about you is that before you started working as an artist you made your living gambling. Is that true?
JOE: I did that partly. I had other jobs and stuff when I was still living in Oklahoma City, but when I came out here [L.A.], that’s basically all I did for a short period of time. I called it supplementing my income.
FELIX: What did you do, poker?
JOE: Yeah, poker. There was a group of directors and producers in Hollywood that I got involved in through some artist friends of mine. They took all of our money one time, and we kind of figured out how they did it, so I started playing regularly with them and got our money back. It took me about six to eight months.
FELIX: Is that how you paid for Chouinard [The Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles]?
JOE: No, I didn’t do that at Chouinard. I only did that for a year and a half after I arrived in L.A. straight from Oklahoma City. I also went to the race track for a couple of years. On my professional resume it says I had something to do every year except from like ’62 or ’63 or whenever it was…and that’s when I was at Hollywood Park or Santa Anita Park to bet on horses.
FELIX: Really? You actually did that full time?
JOE: Yeah. That’s all I did for that time. That was work. The only reason I quit was because it’s harder than painting.
FELIX: Do you do any of that anymore?
JOE: No. My current gamble [working in the art world] is risky enough.
FELIX: So when did you come out to L.A.?
JOE: I came out here in 1961.
FELIX: Didn’t you move out to L.A. because your friend Ed Ruscha had been out there for a year or so?
JOE: Yeah, Ed was in L.A. already for a couple of years, but I couldn’t make up my mind between L.A. and New York. One day I had gone out with a friend of mine, the photographer Jerry McMillan. He was also from Oklahoma City, we even went to the same high school. He had come home for the holidays and he was just getting ready to go back to California the next day, and he says to me; “You want to come to California, you don’t want to go to New York.” But I just couldn’t make up my mind. So I said I’d figure it out. I got out of his car and that same day it started snowing, three or four inches. So I said to Jerry, “Hey, listen, I’m going with you.” In the end it was the weather that convinced me it was better to go to California than to New York.
FELIX: So you’ve passed your 50th L.A. anniversary. You must have seen it all?
JOE: Yeah, a lot of it. [Laughs]
FELIX: L.A. is synonymous with the entertainment industry, but it also has such an important art scene. You would think those two worlds mix a lot more, but they actually don’t.
JOE: Yeah. Not as much as you might expect. I do have friends that are in the entertainment world. Harrison Ford, for example, whom I know and consider a friend. But I don’t see him socially very often. I hired him to do my kitchen when I still lived in Hollywood. He was a carpenter at the time.
FELIX: Maybe artists come to L.A. to be left alone?
JOE: Yes. The interesting thing about working in Los Angeles as opposed to New York is that there is no specific area where artists have studios. They’re all over the place. They’re in Inglewood, some are downtown, some are in Pasadena… And that’s a good thing, because you don’t get a concentration of people coming to see artists’ studios. So it’s a great place to do work. Also, I mean, where else in the whole fucking world can you work where you don’t have to have heat or air conditioning to work in a studio?
FELIX: Would you say that your work is also inextricably linked to L.A., or California?
JOE: I think by and large, the series of pictures I’ve made over the years do to some degree relate to where I am. My series of paintings may start from a certain point of my environment, but then they generally evolve and take off to a point where they just come out of themselves. I have no objection to being associated with California that way because that is, for the most part, where most of my influence has taken place. But I also spent eight months in London and time in Europe.
FELIX: There’s an interesting series of yours where you appropriate the 19th-century Parisian street photography by Eugène Atget.
JOE: Oh yes. The pictures I blew up and made diptychs out of them. That’s a perfect example of not necessarily having anything to do with influences that I’ve in California. I don’t know anyone from out here that would have done anything like that.
FELIX: If anything, I think in a lot of your work, I feel like it reflects more the sort of vastness and openness of the Midwest.
JOE: That’s true. The skies and clouds are more associated with Oklahoma than California. In Oklahoma, you can see forever.
FELIX: Maybe that’s where this strong sense of the elements comes from in your work. Water, air — the famous torn cloud paintings from the 1970s — down to your more recent experiments with burning and fire…
JOE: Yes, that’s true. The one thing that ties everything I’ve ever done together, I’ve always made images where you can see through them. Like in the case of the milk bottle painting, the bottle actually comes out of the painting. Looking at a sky and you see a window, and everything is kind of reversed. Everything I do has something to do with some kind of transparency. Even an image of a fire is something you can see through. You can see through the fire to a burning building. So I was really surprised when I saw that in my art. As an artist, I don’t think you’re going to see anything like that until you’ve worked for a while, and it took me almost 50 years to realize that about my own work.
FELIX: Is realizing this all of a sudden a good thing or a bad thing?
JOE: I don’t think it’s good or bad. I just always thought I was more disconnected than I actually am. [Laughs}
FELIX: Have you ever painted on glass?
JOE: I’m painting on fiberglass right now. One of the weirdest things I’ve ever done.
FELIX: Using acrylic paint, I assume? I think a few years back you made a switch from oil to acrylic?
JOE: Yes. A fire in my studio actually made that happen. The fire started because of paint rags that were stacked up that someone forgot to separate and put in a fireproof can. That’s when I decided not to use oil paint anymore.
FELIX: So switching to acrylic paint was merely for practical reasons?
JOE: Yeah. I mean it wasn’t anything I was looking forward to. I wasn’t looking forward to learning how to paint again, because acrylic is a totally different medium from working with oil. You can get more depth with oil paint than with acrylic because acrylic is just more opaque. Oil is more transparent, for some reason. I don’t know what it is. I must say, since I first started using acrylic, they’re a lot better now then they used to be. The advantage of acrylic is that you can wash your hands and it comes right off.
FELIX: The fiberglass you’re painting on isn’t clear, though, is it?
JOE: No it’s opaque, and it doesn’t show through. Except it does show through because I’m cutting the edges off it after I paint it. So you see the insides of the fiberglass, the aluminum, honeycomb and all that.
FELIX: Because of your early work, especially those the iconic milk bottle paintings, you sometimes get labeled as a pop artist. Do you like that? Or do you mind?
JOE: I really don’t care. I just thought it didn’t really fit, but it didn’t matter to me. You know what my deal is about that: You can call it anything you want as long as you show it.
FELIX: And as long as somebody buys it too, right?
JOE: Well, that’s the icing on the cake.