Robert Goodnough, American (1917 - 2010)

Robert Goodnough

Robert Goodnough was born in upstate Cortland, New York. In a career that lasted more than half a century, Mr. Goodnough (pronounced GOOD-now) eluded the neat categories that art critics relied on to codify the work of the Abstract Expressionists. He moved among the second-generation members of the school but at the same time stood apart, and his work — kinetic, calligraphic dashes of primary colors in his early career, and subtle pastels beginning in the 1970s — often flirted with figuration.

Though he later evolved into a full-blown abstractionist, while at Syracuse University, he worked realistically from casts and from life. His move toward abstraction began with study with Amedee Ozenfant and Hans Hofmann in New York City, 1946-1947.

Goodnough would later teach at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, New York University and the Fieldston School in New York City. He also served as an art critic for Art News Magazine from 1950 to 1957.
Goodnough became another of the tens of thousands of artists caught up in the Cubism of Pablo Picasso. He was also attracted by the stark abstractions Piet Mondrian. He combined these styles in the 1950s with that of Hofmann, his teacher, in a hybrid of Cubism and Abstract Expressionism. Since that time, like so many other abstractionists, Goodnough has been influenced by many abstract directions in art, including collage, sculpted constructions of birds and figures, and hard-edge paintings in the 1950s and 60s. From the 1970s, Goodnough has painted very large, geometric, abstract canvases.

Mr. Goodnough’s earlier work, influenced by Mondrian, Matisse and Synthetic Cubism, deployed patches and strokes of paint that suggested tumult and frenetic activity. “Some of his thicket-like designs throb with the fervor of an old symbolic representation of the Burning Bush, while others have the formal, explicit robustness of Léger,” Stuart Preston wrote in a New York Times review of a 1962 show.

In violation of abstractionist orthodoxy, he sometimes embedded images in the complex mesh of what he liked to call “color shapes.” “Charging Bull” (1958) depicts, unmistakably, a charging bull. He also experimented with collages in a manner that recalled Matisse’s cutouts and made sculptured constructions of dinosaurs — a lifelong enthusiasm.

One of Mr. Goodnough’s most striking works from this period, “Form in Motion,” is a large mural executed in 1967 for the Manufacturers Hanover Trust offices in Midtown Manhattan, its vigorous patches of color arrayed in an onrushing to-and-fro pattern suggestive of the pedestrian scrum on the city’s sidewalks.

In the early 1970s, Mr. Goodnough began shifting toward Color Field painting, usually executed in acrylic and oil, to which he added his own idiosyncrasies. In “Slate Grey Statement,” one of the first in this new style, pale dashes of color cluster on a ghostly background of silvery gray. In later paintings the bits of color, now jagged, shardlike and prismatic, take flight across the canvas like a flock of birds. In the 1980s, Mr. Goodnough returned to a style not unlike his earliest work.

Hofmann, at this time in America, probably had more to do with shifting young American painters away from making art from reality and realist thinking into abstraction than any other teacher of painting.

His work is in the following collections: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo; Art Institute of Chicago; Baltimore Museum of Art; Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama; Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Newark Museum, New Jersey; and the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence.


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