Oil on copper
24 1/8 x 36 1/8 inches (61.3 x 91.8 cm)
In collaboration with Cushion Works, San Francisco, Greene Naftali is pleased to present an exhibition of new paintings by BRETT GOODROAD. Curated by Hilton Als, this is the artist's first solo presentation in New York.
Text by Hilton Als
Let's take a walk. Just us. Don't overdress; the weather is mild; the air will be kind to us. We're not going far, just right over here, to one of Brett Goodroad's paintings, a sort of largish picture in a gallery of images that moves us from darkness to light and back again.
It's important to know that as your eye goes from one patch of color and shape to another in one work and then another, that your consciousness will shift, too, meaning that whatever you thought while looking at the exquisite dot of red near the center of the canvas in Untitled (dew) (2021), say, will change and expand as you take in the same painting's yellow, and then the blue above the yellow.
Perhaps not expand so much as rise as the painting rises in its celebration of what paint can do, and what the imagination can do. Goodroad's work asks that we have a little faith again or reestablish our faith in the sumptuous; you remember that; paint's ability to lift the eye and thus us up to the celestial, paint and the imagination being Goodroad's religion, and then our faith because of his faith. Let's walk a little closer now, but to another work, like this one, called Autumn (2021-22). It's painted on copper, and stands about 24 x 36 inches; it's a painting about nature just as Untitled (dew) is about nature—indeed, you can't find a Goodroad, really, that is not about what the air and sky and natural light feel like as they relate to paint, and as paint relates to them—but you're prevented from falling, sinking into Autumn because the artist has created it on another fact of nature: copper. But before I talk to you about copper, I want to talk to you about autumn. It’s a brief but beautiful season, a time of going inwards while the lungs fill with fresh, crisp air, and the skin is particularly alive to falling temperatures and shorter days. But this, too, will pass, this season of torn leaves and fireplaces, because everything passes, becoming something else, and that’s the point of a Goodroad painting, too: to show how this moment passes into something else.
Back to copper. It brings something sculptural to the work, doesn’t it, makes the painting an irrefutable object while at the same time making sure you know it’s a painting because of the images that swim and rise up and run off those Goodroad-handled copper sheets.
Copper: this is different from linen, of course, because linen is derived from cotton, and you can't paint on cotton balls (if you could, Goodroad would have done it already). In short, copper, as used by this artist who spent so many years in San Francisco—where the air is as much as an event as light and moisture—doesn't undergo a process in order to become something else. Instead, Goodroad celebrates copper's elemental nature, it's strength and forthrightness and soulful color, by working with what he has, that hard, shimmering surface where his dreams look different because not only is he working what’s real, right before his very eyes—that copper—just as he’s working with nature, and how it is inextricably bound, and how it feeds his imagination.
There are number of works on copper here, in this gentle but forceful, titanic, and minute museum of the imagination, and I can imagine that Goodroad enjoys what copper feels like to the brush as much as he enjoys what it looks like without paint on it: like something heard, a little cello moment echoing down the halls in Goodroad's museum of thinking which includes not only nature, but nature as seen by Van Gogh, among others, and then messed with by Goodroad, who sees the world whole—which is to say with recognizable figures and landscapes—that get obscured because of how he sees the world, which has its own very distinct rhythm: rivers that slow down and run right through the middle of a canvas as in At the Depot (2021-22). But is it a river? Or "just" how Goodroad sees the color blue, and how the world of paint responds around it?
Either way, it's a profoundly visual work by an artist who believes, still, in the power of the eye, and not theories about the eye. Or "I." And can I just say, as we walk over to Untitled (toll) (2022) that the gold of this piece reminds me of the copper mines in Goodroad's native Montana? While Untitled (toll) isn't painted on copper—it's oil on silk over flannel measuring about 35 x 45 inches—it rests on the eye like a solid, like copper, but copper that's been hit by a surplus of sun, and good feeling.
Those silver and copper mines in Montana: some folks, all men, mostly immigrants, made a lot of money there, during the Gilded Age, they plundered the earth and then left it, and sometimes, when I look at Goodroad's work, I see the paintings as a way of giving back to the earth, because he is in love with it, and how it makes him feel, and how he wants the paint to feel with him in it. In addition to making a case for pleasure, Brett makes a case for mystery. You "read" his paintings and walk away knowing and not knowing what they're "about." In fact, what they're about—at least most of the time—is the joy one should feel plunging into the world as seen in Her Green Island (2014/22). There is a figure there, a sort of smudgy magisterial figure with an upraised hand like the Statue of Liberty, or some other lady—the Columbia Pictures Lady?! She of the white toga, heralding the start of our movie dreams?! —who heralds a new world of possibility and dreams. Reading Goodroad in this way reminds one of the pleasure of the visual text! Looking at Brett Goodroad is to recall pleasure. That transmogrifying joy that collapses into pleasure. And then rises up again. Like singing. About wonder. That is part of what looking at Goodroad does, too. Restores your sense of wonder. How does he do that? By trusting the world that's given him himself, and then running a line straight through it.