Glenn Goldberg
April 21 - May 28, 1995

Whirlys, Situations and the Truth
In a world increasingly cluttered with the debris of technological advances and contrivances, it is a relief to realize that the mechanics and motivations of painting have changed very little over the centuries. Painters are still faced with the situation of constructing a picture.

There is something very elemental in making a painting. Painting speaks to the artist's desire for equilibrium with the physical world. It reflects direct experience of sensations and impressions, filtered through the soul, eventually to end up lodged in the back of the mind as ideas or at least notions. How these notions get transferred to a prepared ground hung off the wall is the particular task of the painter.

Glenn Goldberg is a painter who embraces this task and its inherent responsibilities with enthusiasm and purpose, always mindful of the artist's obligation to trustfulness in practice and intent. Most painters confront imagery in one form or another. It's the nature of the medium - even in more object oriented work. But Goldberg is a transformer of imagery. He has used everything from a bird of paradise to a toy boat, from a baseball cap to a floating hot air balloon to to activate his painted areas. He has also made use of the numbers and other symbols of our everyday language.

He's a scavenger of visual information, transforming his chosen images through paint (or in some cases the abrasive removal of it), letting the looseness of the sprayed or brushed enamel make the familiar uncertain. This is not to say that each image in each work is recognizable. But his images have never been very far from the surface, hovering just below the most recent coat of near white, playing-field green or glossy black.

Altering the familiar by layering shape upon shape or by concealing all but the most ghostly traces traces is at times nothing more than process - the everyday give - and - take of a painter at work trying to "get-it-right." But this effect can make for some interesting surfaces. It can leave us scratching our heads , asking questions about what exactly we're looking at, confronting the limitations of our preconceptions.

Indeed, Goldberg describes that fuzzy border between real and abstract, between fact and fiction. He labors hard at manipulating his surfaces and the items he places in them, not only to bend our mind a bit, but more importantly to get us looking. It's as if he's saying, " Go ahead, put your thoughts to work on this. But you're going to have to look closely." That's not difficult to do, because his work draws us in and invites us to participate as it reveals its secrets.

Any consideration of Goldberg's painting must take into account his predominant use of wood as the support. He's partial to a hard support that can be shaped to suit his needs. A wood panel is easily manipulated with a saw or a sander; it stands up well to the constant reworking that marks his work.

These wooden supports usually take the form of a vertical rectangle or a square. But Goldberg also crafts circles or near circles - some of them end up being irregular. He even shears off and rounds over the corners of the rectangles. All of this makes perfect sense for an artist who enjoys pulling the rug out from under our notions of accepted form.

The use of a wood panel or circle also pushes Goldberg's work toward the realm of the object - an area where the artist seems very comfortable. He's still primarily concerned with making a picture. But this doesn't stop him from reminding us that each piece is also a very real form that has mass and weight and takes up space in the room.

In the Whirly paintings first exhibited in New York in March of 1994, Goldberg presented a group of small panels, each one numbered , and similar in size and proportion to this folded brochure. To call these shapes rectangles is pushing them a bit, as true right angles were scarce , the edges were a bit lumpy and most of the corners were blunted or rounded as if the artist hadn't given much thought to precise construction.

Each piece rested on it's own shelf and leaned against the wall at just below eye level, creating the impression of a tablet. I had the urge to take one down and hold it in my hands.

The most surprising development in Goldberg's recent works was the handling of what could be called the background: myriad multicolored flecks and dabs of paint spread over the entire surface. Closer inspection revealed a loose order, a repetition of colors and sizes. Clearly there was a structure, but the dazzling elements made it hard to read at first.

Here, again, was a ground of apparent ambiguity - until we took the time to look.

It was a ground built in layers. But this time, subtraction wasn't part of the equation. Each gesture was there to be read, just next to or on top of the previous one, and without any masking or erasures. Out of this dappled web appeared a floating, or in some cases, slowly rotating concentric circular form. Several of these forms also contained radiating bands, suggesting a pinwheel or a star. The immediate effect was one of movement - radiating out from a central focus, spinning imperceptibly of shimmering against the glazed mosaic plane.

These first Whirlys were followed up sometime later with the larger versions (two- and four foot square), in which the internal figure goes through some changes to become more flower like. Unfolding and spreading out, these forms seem almost to merge with the ground from which they have sprung.

Goldberg also made several paintings during this period in which no image at all appears on the patterned surface. Roughly four by four feet in dimension with a thickness of one-half an inch, these wood panels mounted flush to the wall were dubbed Situation. Free to roam uninterrupted over a ground which has become figure - where no single element dominates - we soon become aware of a steady cadence of dots and dashes in counterpoint.

Situation is a title that the artist uses frequently. In these series of works, it is entirely appropriate. He creates a set of objective conditions, a stimuli, a circumstance that affects the viewer. In doing so, Goldberg locates an elemental aspect of his vocation: a formal compilation of parts intended to bring about a response.

On a shelf in Goldberg's studio is a collection of children's snow globes, those hand -held frozen scenes encased in a clear plastic dome and filled with liquid. When shaken, they produce a snow storm in miniature. One evening while staring at a newly completed painting, I had the momentary feeling of being lost inside of one of those little globes, lost among a cloud of swirling flakes. I was trying to discern where exactly the image ended and the background began. But the amorphous halos - which grew from somewhere near the center, dissolved into fine, white specks, and dispersed onto a night sky of glossy ink black - had me momentarily mesmerized.

Goldberg's most recent works mesmerize in the same way. These pieces are painted on a horizontal format, on either two-by-four or two-by-six foot panels. Goldberg says he sees these works as "verbs," and 38-W 1995 had me thinking of several at once.

In this piece, softball-sized orbs of yellow and purple or orange and green drift across a loosely packed, six-foot expanse of cobalt and white blots. Banded rings radiate from the center of two blossoming, five petalled stars, Each petal is inscribed with an "eye" that looks like the camouflage on a moth's wing. The piece is painted directly on bare, unprimed wood, which is easily visible through the array of colored strokes.

It's a painting that breathes with us. We can get lost in all the activity - until we notice the repeated devices and color pairings. Then the structure puts us back on course and heads us in the right direction.

In Glenn Goldberg's world, we're more likely to encounter the suggested than the definitive. Form becomes transitory, constantly in the flux of the fugitive state. Goldberg's activated fields and their attuned object-images keep tugging at our sleeves, distraction us from our occasional lethargy. These works illuminate with clarity what painting requires of us: patience, attentiveness and a willingness to be guided by our sensations.

Tad Wiley
March 1995
New York, NY


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