It’s All Goodyear (November/December 2010)

November / December 2010

By Chris Vitiello

And what is the predicament of the painter, a decade into the 21st century? After Modernists and Postmodernists have fought wars over abstraction and representation across canvasses now quietly hung in museums, what weapons, bandages, and tools remain for the contemporary studio painter to deploy?

Will Goodyear would answer, “All of them.”

Goodyear’s recent paintings can be read as an archive of the last 150 years of art, from the painterly gesture and the early days of photography, through improvisational elements of Abstract Expressionist non-objectivity, into a digital era in which images flutter through contexts like phantoms. On wooden panels layered with paint, beeswax, charcoal, oil pastel, and even tobacco juice, screen-printed buildings and historical scenes crouch beneath and jut into resonant skies. Upon eye contact, one is drawn into their atmospheric multiplicity, moving physically closer to them in order to see details open up.

Goodyear resolves these disparate aesthetics within uncomplicated compositions, the classical structure of which may be buried beneath literally ten or more layers. Balanced and simultaneous, these paintings stand as examples of why a trapeze artist is still called an artist.

Usually, at the beginning of an artist’s profile, their location is given with the word “based” after it, but even location is multiple right now for the 31-year-old Goodyear. He commutes several times a week between Greenville, where he is completing an MFA at East Carolina University and opening his thesis show November 5 at Emerge Gallery, and Raleigh, where he lives with his wife Debra and their young daughter Ainsley and shows work at Adam Cave Fine Art.

This commute leaves a visible, even filmic, impression on Goodyear’s paintings. The repetitive rushing-past of loblolly pines; the omnipresent sky, both exhilarating and ominous; the music blaring from the car’s stereo, ambivalent to the hurtling landscape—all of this informs a calm simultaneity in Goodyear’s work. If you’ve driven an eastern North Carolina interstate, you know this comfortable disorientation. It might not look like you’re getting anywhere regardless of your speedometer’s readout, but the landscape you’re speeding through is rich and varied, and eventually you arrive at your destination.

Goodyear himself is always both arriving and leaving. On the verge of finishing his studies, he’s living in both the present and the future, culminating his three years of school while seeking studio space and a new community of artists in the state capital. The key to his balancing it all is in those resonant skies.

Ralph Waldo Emerson’s journal entry that “The sky is the daily bread of the eyes” rings true in Goodyear’s work. Color fields, whether hovering above overlapping skylines of contemporary Raleigh and Seattle or above turn-of-the-century rioters in Wilmington, occupy the majority of the paintings’ areas. They contrast the congested, urban areas constructed at the bottom of the picture. “It gives your eye a definite place to rest,” Goodyear explains. “You can look at all of this stuff down here and try to take it all in. And you can always retreat to this large area of a more peaceful aesthetic. I could describe that as my own little retreat.”

There’s nothing simple, however, about these skies. The intensely worked and layered surfaces change as one walks toward or away from them and the different materials at different layers of the mix emerge.

Gallery owner Adam Cave, who showed Goodyear’s work along with that of Annemarie Gugelmann in the “Metropolitans” show this past October, carries a painting from room to room to display its optical complexities: “I have never had an artist whose work changes color so dramatically from daylight to electric lights. Because he puts a lot of very strong color underneath, and covers it up, different kinds of lights pull it out.”

Cave points to Seattle Study, which appears to be a nightscape. “This painting goes from the very dark, somber, umber quality you see here in daylight to, when it’s all electric light, completely green. Its brightness is so strong that it doesn’t seem that much darker than this painting here.” Cave points to Large Building, Larger Sky, a diptych on hollow-core doors featuring Raleigh’s Wachovia building beneath an unmistakable Carolina noon.

“I work really quickly and really up close while the materials are wet, to build up layers without thinking too much about the composition or formal characteristics,” Goodyear says of his process. “Everything is done with a sense of immediacy.”

Although outlining and tracing finds its way into the work in small ways, Goodyear employs neither drawing nor collage in any way. His literal images come solely from screen printing, polymer lift, and Xerox transfer techniques.

“A lot of unpredictable things happen in the transfer process,” he explains. “You lose a lot of the image and then you can pull it back. Once I put that imagery down, drawing helps to fill in some of the gaps, and to bridge the two worlds: the photo imagery with the gestural paint and texture.”

The unpredictability and disrupted imagery is as much for the mind as for the eye. When Goodyear fragments or complicates a historical image, he is representing its social complexity as well, while avoiding painting from a soapbox.

This fall, he is hanging his thesis show, which explores the idea of the public monument, focusing specifically on how Charles Aycock—North Carolina’s governor from 1901 to 1905—has been memorialized and misremembered. In ten pieces, some inset within a large wall engraved with Aycock’s words, Goodyear deals with both Aycock’s legacy as an advocate of public education, and his uncelebrated white supremacist platform and involvement in the 1898 Wilmington race riots. “There’s very little out there in the form of public monument that tells anything else about his public legacy,” he points out.

In a work entitled A Champion of Public Education, Amongst Other Things, Goodyear’s layered sky around a bronze statue of Aycock can be read as being stained with either the blood of rioters or legislative ink, or simply as a weathered parchment in a public square.

Goodyear also gathers images that document or refer to the rest of the story. His research is not so much aimed at truth-telling as it is at complicating the idea of a one-to-one correspondence between memorial and man, and more generally, image and meaning. Multiple historical moments dwell in one painting, proximate and interpenetrated, because their politics are irresolvable. In the end, a monument really only stares back.

Occasionally, Goodyear’s research literally determines the materiality of the paintings—some of the Aycock-related work contains layers of tobacco stains, emphasizing the link between the political machinery of eastern North Carolina and the economic fuel that powers it. “Aesthetics are wonderful, but I hope to be able to add some depth and deal with some actual issues,” Goodyear says.

He has already placed a few paintings in corporate or work environments around the Triangle, and done commissions “dealing with the visuals of that particular place, dealing with what the people see who live there, work there.” Expressing his aspirations for a painting in an office building lobby, he says “It’s basically fancy wallpaper, but hopefully a handful of people are forming some kind of connections with it. Whatever I have to say is pretty much useless if I’m the only one looking at it.”

Cave sees big things in his future: “Will has demonstrated over and over again that he has the chops, the staying power, the focus, the professionalism—and he was doing it prior to going back to school.”

Goodyear’s paintings reward multiple viewings over time, and provoke considerations of one’s place and its history. Regardless of how his personal transitions affect the imagery and ideas on the panels, his work will exemplify Ezra Pound’s assertion that great art is “news that stays news.”


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