Our musuems are compensating for the oncoming winter with the colors of summer in the work of artists.
Eileen Goodman (born 1937, American) is a watercolorist of long and high standing in Philadelphia. She defines the challenges and surprises of working with watercolors on large format paper as accidents and the control of accidents.
I don’t know why I never completely took to water colours. I imagine it has to do with the vanishing softness of the colors. They make me a little anxious because our world is so hard and often bad. Mainly it is my long exposure to the bright, clear lines of oil painting with its solid objects, and unambiguous self-presentations and clear relationships within the frame and to ourselves. Take it or leave it, they say, and I almost always take it. You can almost enter an oil painting because it would have the heft to survive your passage.
This is not true of a watercolor.
Eileen Goodman talks of accidents on the paper and the effort to control these accidents.
The inherent willfulness of the watercolor medium and its tussle with the hand, eye and mind of the artist must be an adventure. In imagination and discipline and risk-taking and patience and manual dexterity. The paint runs and settles on the paper as it will. The ugly words blotchiness and splotch threaten, I suppose.
This artist uses no white paint and it is the naked paper which contributes white to her paintings. All the more skilled must be her control of where the paint is settling so that she can protect the white spaces for compositional coherence and clarity.
Finally, the large format paper, the artist says, she has to move around on her flat worktable in order to reach the whole surface because she is not a giant. This, of course, has nothing to do with oil painting. Nor with Jackson Pollock who placed his canvas on the floor and danced over it, brush in hand, controlling the flow of paint to canvas.
These watercolor compositions are the result of an interaction between the artist, the paper, the watercolors and the photographs taken of the object. The artist places a guiding grid on each photograph. Each actor is active to a greater or lesser degree. In a manner of speaking. I suppose an interaction of some kind plays a part in every artistic medium. But the adventure with watercolor does seem unusually energetic, interactive and whole-bodied. And for an outcome which, here, is the opposite of energetic and whole-bodied.
Nor did I find these paintings interactive in the manner of an oil painting. The compositions are testimonies to a specific moment in time past. You cannot enter the composition. It would make no sense: you would be a vast blotch.
The images this artist creates are ethereal, fragmentary; soft-edged, unobtrusively present. Even the edges of the paper are frayed.
Your eye moves from the image-as-a-whole to its constituent parts. Any patch of paint you look at is a coherent little world unto itself: the original tussle transformed into pale washes of color in and overlapping shapes which could be lozenges, ovals, circles, rectangles, triangles, strands, matchsticks, shadows, clouds, waves, continents, deep space.
These images seem as fleeting as the lives of the flowers and of the fresh fruit. The second and third times I visited the exhibition, I was almost surprised that these images had survived my absence and were still there, holding their breaths. In a manner of speaking. The textiles portrayed, several vintage, pristine as the first time I saw them.
I would have to be dead-souled to have neither curiosity nor sympathy nor admiration for work of such poise and presence. It is nothing but pleasure.
Eileen Goodman’s work is on view at The Woodmere Museum of the Art of Philadelphia and Its Region in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia until March 13, 2016.
Valentine Day’s Sweets, 2003, and details
Poppies and peonies, 2005
Peonies, 1991, and details
Eggplant and Wisteria, 2010.
Garden with Poppies, 1993, and details
Detail of Parrot Tulip, 2013
Roses and Clementines, 2000
Tumbling Clementines, 2004, and details
Wild-Haired Doll with Roses, 1984, and details