Robert Goodnough • American (1917-2010)
Humorous Abduction II C: 1962 • Oil on Canvas 52-3/4" x 66-3/4"
Canton Museum of Art Permanent Collection • Gift of Mary Myers, 2008.15
A half century later, in a videotaped interview with ArtsWestchester, Robert Goodnough remembered meeting Picasso on that summer afternoon in the south of France. “I (realized) this guy’s got a new approach to things, more than just copying, and it kind of got me back interested in new things.” Picasso was just the first brush he had with famous avant-garde artists of the twentieth century. By nature a curious man, Goodnough sought out what he called “the avant-garde ferment.”
Back in New York after war’s end, Goodnough began hanging out with a group of artists shaking the very foundations of art. Known as the New York School, they were establishing Abstract Expressionism as the first true American art movement. A graduate art student and protégé of Tony Smith, Goodnough was right in the heart of the action and relished the opportunity to explore their world. He visited their studios, drank their wine, talked with them late into the night. The result was an important book that, over 50 years later, gives us a window into the artists driving art away from the painting of subjects toward pure abstraction. Subject Matter of the Artist: An Analysis of Contemporary Subject Matter in Painting as Derived from Interviews with those Artists Referred to as the Intrasubjectivists. Say that ten times … fast.
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It is a long, complex name for a rather lively book based on interviews with some of the most famous artists of the time. Jackson Pollock. Willem De Kooning. Mark Rothko. Robert Motherwell. Adolph Gottlieb. All are covered in a rich prose hidden behind one of the most obtuse book titles in modern history. It was pure Goodnaugh. He was a massive talent with absolutely no interest in self-promotion or staying in one place, artistically, for very long.
You could easily view Goodnough as an artistic sponge, absorbing ideas and techniques from the hoi polloi of the art world who became his friends and interview subjects. He learned montage from Picasso. Abstract shapes from De Kooning. Paint application from Rothko and Pollock. He also left behind some of the most intriguing paintings and sculptures of the Abstract Expressionist movement. And, it all started on a summer afternoon in the south of France, 162 kilometers from the frontlines of World War II.
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“He had a lifelong fascination with dinosaurs and created a number of sculptures of ‘Dinny the Dinosaur’. Okay, step away from the canvas.”
“He is as well known for his writings about leading abstract artists as he is for his own abstract art. He was very good at both.”
“He once wrote a book titled: ‘Subject Matter of the Artist: An Analysis of Contemporary Subject Matter in Painting as Derived from Interviews with those Artists Referred to as the Intrasubjectivists.’ It was not on the Best Seller list.
“His earliest work was done in a very accomplished Realistic style. Then he met Picasso and all bets were off.”