THE ANGLES OF JOE GOOD
Written by: ERIN CLARK
Photography by: PRAKASH SHROFF
For Goode, his first test of commitment may have come on a Los Angeles Freeway. Commuting between Los Angeles and Box Canyon, famous only as home, for a time, to Charles Manson and his murderous gang, it took Joe as long as three hours to get to classes at Chouinard Art Institute in downtown L.A. He would leave the house at 5 o’clock in the morning and return late at night, often balancing groceries precariously on his motorbike. He was exhausted all of the time. “I moved out to this place in Box Canyon because an instructor offered it rent free – kind of like house sitting, but it was December and it’s raining, and I have a wife and one year old baby to support. It was a terrible personal time – the worst time of my life,” he says. But he kept working. Ultimately, the marriage didn’t last and Goode was soon out of Box Canyon, but the commitment to the creative, despite whatever hardships he might encounter, took hold. However difficult, however inconvenient, however inhospitable life might be or become, he was, for better or worse, an artist, destined to create a “new way of looking at things.”
Goode sold his 1955 Ford Fairlane, bought an airplane ticket, and headed to Los Angeles. “It was the first time I was on an airplane,” he remembers. “I flew in at night, and I don’t mind telling you, I was terrified. I saw all those lights and wondered how I was ever going to find anyone. I was supposed to stay with Ed (Ruscha), but I had no idea how to get there. I think I finally called someone to come pick me up. I was scared but going to California was as much about freedom as it was art.”
Goode got his first show right out of school. An instructor sent him to the Huysman Gallery where he met with Henry Hopkins, who was establishing himself as a force in the L.A. scene. Hopkins took a look at a few of Goode’s drawings, and then asked if he’d like to have a show, and did he know any other artists who might be interested? “My heart was pounding right out of my chest,” Joe remembers. “I’m thinking, ‘Whoa, that’s all there is to this?’ It was too easy.” Joe quickly gave Hopkins a list of his artist friends and the “War Babies” show was born. It was a first show for Joe, his good friend Ed Ruscha and others. The Huysman Gallery was on La Cienega, right across the street from the better-known Ferus Gallery. Both galleries showed a number of the same artists, but Goode was never included in a Ferus show. Although well aware of the gallery’s reputation, Goode rejects the idea that Ferus was the only influential gallery in Los Angeles at the time. “The best dealer in town was Nick Wilder,” he says. “Nick was on par with Walter Hopps (Ferus Gallery). Look at the artist list at a Nick Wilder show and it was every bit as impressive as a Ferus show.”
Although developing diverging styles, both artists were at the center of the burgeoning Pop Art Movement in Southern California. The two, along with Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Wayne Thiebaud were included in a landmark exhibition at the Pasadena Art Museum titled “New Paintings of Common Objects” – a description Goode much prefers over “Pop Art.” Trying to find context to his life and his art, Goode made a conscious decision to paint what was in front of him – to paint what he knew. His work wasn’t political or statement oriented; instead he was looking for personal images that he could show in a new way.
The Milk Bottle Paintings, with their visual three-dimensionality came first, followed by a series of house paintings, where the artist drew, in line form, stereotypical suburban houses in the middle of the canvas and surrounded them with monochromatic fields of color. The paintings pull the viewer into a vortex that feels familiar (we all know those houses) and a little suffocating at the same time. At this point it would be easy to speculate about the artist’s feeling on suburbia or a traditional childhood in Oklahoma and all of the expectations that go with that, but Goode says don’t bother. “There is no psychological or literary meaning. It’s just visual,” he says bluntly.
If there is a common thread to Joe’s work through the years, it would be the concept of “looking through,” which admittedly didn’t even gel for the artist until subsequent series on staircases and windows. In the case of the latter, Goode painted the sky as the wall with the window in the center of the canvas, turning the usual visual inside out, so to speak. Goode provided more intrigue with the Staircase Series. With these installation pieces, which are more sculpture than anything, Goode takes us up and down, and through – where it actually goes, however, is entirely up to the imagination.
“Moving back” to Los Angeles is misleading, because Joe never really left. He may have lived in Springville, but he always maintained a studio in the city. Los Angeles as a place and as a point of view is in his blood. “I like L.A.,” he says with typical understatement. “I like almost everything about it, except the traffic. I like that you can be an artist here and work in relative privacy. ”If I didn’t live in L.A., I’d live in Japan – it’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen.” The first time Goode went to Japan he traveled by private plane. The owner, collector Fred Weisman, had commissioned Ed Ruscha to paint the outside, and Joe to paint the inside. “I painted a sky the entire length of the ceiling. The sunrise was at the back and the sunset was at the front. Ed painted the outside,” says Goode. It’s probably safe to assume that with Ruscha and Goode in charge, the work was compelling, but it was eventually destroyed when the then Los Angeles Rams bought the plane and had it repainted. “They had to do it – it was in the contract. Only Fred could own the ‘paintings.’ Ed thought of that,” Goode remembers with a chuckle.
The Japan trip made an impression and Goode has been back many times, and exhibited there often over the years. And although they met in the United States, his wife, Hiromi Katayama, is Japanese. The idea of moving to Japan maybe appealing, but it’s probably not going to happen. Goode is part of the Southern California landscape, even more so after a frightening night in May of 2005.
He found inspiration in the ashes by first photographing the devastation and then incorporating the images into new pieces. He painted over the photographs, added other images from other painting periods and developed a new body of work. Like the regeneration that happens after a forest fire, Joe’s new vision took root. There were easy to see differences like acrylic paint instead of oil, and harder to articulate but no less profound changes like freedom from constraints, self-imposed and otherwise. “I have always painted in series,” he says, “but this kind of blew the lid off that and I realized I can make one if I want or I can make fifty. I don’t have to make this in serial context. The fire took me back to basics. I always want to make something I haven’t seen before. Or see something in a new way. That has been my criteria all along.”