SIDNEY GOODMAN b. 1936
The Artist's Parents in the Store, 1973-75
Oil on canvas, 58 1/2 X 77" (148.59 x 195.58 cm.)
Signed, lower right
Museum purchase, 982-0-176
Since he reached his signal style in the early 1970s, Sidney Goodman's paintings have always been an odd, riveting mixture of the physical with the metaphysical, of the everyday with the macabre, often the grotesque. Over the years, his oeuvre has included drawings of nude women writhing with painful pregnancies, a charcoal "giant" playing with in-color, futuristically- dressed Barbie dolls lined up before his eager face, or a man with a heavily bandaged head in an ambiguous, hospital/charnel-house interior. An example of his mature work is the large oil Room with Light (1986, Collection of Malcolm Holzman, New York). Against grayish beige, eerily-lit walls sits a nun, impassive and mandarin-like; beside her on either side are two nude women engaging in private sexual athletics with Graeco-Roman nude male statuary. Such canvases have earned him a reputation as "a modern master of the horrific ... [whose paintings contain] indecipherable yet depressing and disturbing messages."
Ironically, for one with so ripe an aesthetic imagination, Goodman intended to be a baseball player while in high school. Born in Philadelphia, where he continues to live, paint, and teach, most recently at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Goodman says, "I was seriously thinking of going to college to become a gym teacher.... But all along, I always drew." In 1954, he was admitted to the Philadelphia College of Art, graduating in 1958. After a period of neo -expressionist experimentation, Goodman chose to remain with figurative painting, flying directly in the face of the prevailing mode of Abstract Expressionism. By 1962, the stylistic tide was turning, and Goodman garnered plaudits for Find a Way (1961, Museum of Modern Art, New York), featuring a bloated male figure dressed in a hospital gown, floating in midair. The work was purchased in 1961 by the Museum of Modern Art
and shown in their 1962 exhibition, Recent Paintings USA: The Figure.
The Artist's Parents in the Store is both characteristic and uncharacteristic of Goodman-uncharacteristic in that he usually worked with models rather than family or friends. The artist, whose parents were first generation Russian-Jewish immigrants, called it "a kind of homage to my parents." The Butler Institute also purchased a charcoal study for the painting (Fig. 1). Set in his father's Philadelphia fur shop, the scene is characteristic of Goodman's larger body of work in that the shop, with its gleaming vaults, smooth display tables, and backroom cutting table heaped with cloth, is endowed with a four-way mirror that brings a keen metaphysical edge to the formal dynamics of the painting. Goodman's father is seen plainly enough resting against a table, lean and a little fearsome, in the loosely belted white coat of his trade. It is around the image of the artist's mother that the metaphysics revolve; she sits heavily in a silver arm chair, plump, matronly in pink and white, her presence reflected in the mirrors. Beyond her mirror image we are presented, a little jarringly, with the scene outside the shop as caught by the mirrors: a diminutive slice of urban outdoors almost hallucinatory in its ambiguities. We see a stretch of street, what seems to be a light-wood wall rather arbitrarily and mysteriously placed beyond that, and the gable and roof of a house rising behind. While The Artist's Parents in the Store is a fairly conservative work for Goodman, it is still not without large traces of the artist's more radical departures from reality. Its beauties, however, are plainer than usual, and its dislocations less jarring and disturbing than what might have been expected. Austere "homage" is more the key to the painting than hapless horror.