The most powerful statement I’ve come across on the controversial state constitution Amendment 1 is not from the pastiche of yard signs spread all across the land right now or even from some of the snazzy web imagery out there which can be quite engaging. (There is also just a certain amount of sheer outrageousness out there too which shows you how sensitive an issue this amendment is across the state.) For me the most captivating response on the amendment debate emerges in a single poetic antiphon from the palette of painter Will Goodyear who is opening a rousing show this month at Adam Cave’s gallery in Raleigh. The artist’s recent work includes a series of paintings couched in all the iconography and wrongheaded historical precedent swirling around the raging political debate over this amendment. What Goodyear has done is succeed in accomplishing that most formidable of tasks: using a looming (and at the time of this writing still to be decided) hotbed political issue as a springboard for both dynamic cultural exposition and highly personal artistic exploration as well.
The amendment, in case you’ve been living under a rock or have somehow otherwise been kept blissfully unaware these past several months, is North Carolina Senate Bill 514 (2011) proposing to amend the state constitution to ban same sex marriage and define “that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in the state.” (North Carolina remains the sole Southern state without such a constitutional provision though state law currently declares same-sex marriage as not valid.) This is of course a complex issue and thorny complicated territory must be navigated particularly in terms of civil unions which have broad ramifications in matters like child custody, hospital visitation and inheritance rights. Comparisons have already been made between this amendment and another in North Carolina’s past (with 18th century roots) banning interracial marriage. That one remained on the books all the way up until 1971 and is in fact a starting point for Goodyear particularly in his Legacy of Inequality panels included in the show.
These richly layered paintings juxtapose lawmaker images with state capital imagery and other works of Raleigh architecture and environs. The piece is in keeping with Goodyear’s ongoing interest in the urban environment of the city and the underlying significance of people, place and society. For Goodyear a portrait has a broad definition and can encompass “your works, your environment, your sociopolitical environment” as he described to me on a recent studio visit.
Goodyear often begins an image with the tools of printmaking media specifically by building up a layered screen created by photographic transfers or by drawing media. As Cave describes, “one of the things I found very interesting and it’s hard to see when you look at the finished pieces is that he is as free in using the screens as he is in using paint. It’s not like he does one screen and then moves on. He keeps screening and screening and it’s the same image or a piece of [it] and he’s working all over with that image. And then he puts that away and starts the other processes. So even with the screening it’s not like it’s just that one process.”
A key component to Goodyear’s imagery is his aggressive mark making and paint handling which hearkens back to Abstract Expressionism. Working and reworking the surface is critical to the painter’s process –he paints on durable panel for precisely this reason–and he will generally begin with water based paint and drawing media which he then seals with beeswax. On top of this he will begin to scratch back through and utilize additional drawing and oil based media to impart ethereal murky atmospheric effects which gradually reveal or conceal various landmarks, physical placemarkers, figures or even autobiographical snippets of the body. It’s quite the balancing act to maintain and oftentimes the most dramatic visual elements such as a bold shock of color come last.
When you go, keep in mind that the show maintains a three-pronged approach mixing in notions of self image (both emotional sense of self and the biological self), environment (in terms of our physical and sociopolitical) and the socioeconomic landscape which all come together to create the artist’s own sense of self in the world. No easy task this and Goodyear manages to make his laborious process look like it came off quite deftly. This show is in short much like the voting day itself, something to mark on your calendars and is not to be missed.
(Note: As an added bonus for First Friday the third floor of the gallery’s building will house a large-scale temporary installation / portrait show shot in locales all across the state recently and focusing on what family is, the wide range of meanings and the ramifications of this vote.)
A Matter of Context: New Works by Will Goodyear is on view at Adam Cave Fine in Raleigh from May 3 – June 16, 2012.