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Elemental Elegance 

Art Review: Mark Goodwin at BigTown Gallery

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The title of Randolph artist Mark Goodwin’s exhibit, “An Introduction,” at Rochester’s BigTown Gallery is deceptively simple. The show is essentially Goodwin’s introduction to Vermont viewers, and vice versa. Though he was part of an earlier group exhibit, this is his first solo show since relocating to the state in 2008.

Just inside the gallery, a graphite rectangle catches the eye. “Not One Thing” lives up to its name. The burnished painting, which combines mixed media, marks and textures, looks simultaneously primitive and architectural. The surface is so heavily worked that it seems scrubbed in places, almost like a stretched hide. Goodwin’s work frequently involves embossed lines that stand up on the surface of the painting. In this piece, diagonal lines embossed in a skewed chevron pattern are both leaflike and skeletal — an archetypal pattern that recurs in nature and man-made structures.

In the same work, a secondary network of embossed marks coalesces over the crackled, rubbed surface, giving it nuance and softness. If the worn surface resembles that of an artifact, the painting also looks strikingly contemporary in context, hanging in a gallery surrounded by more than 50 of Goodwin’s other works.

The pieces range from the constellation of saturated red and black orbs in “Many” to the restrained palette and geometric marks of his embossed and burnished works. Goodwin often creates his paintings on handmade textiles woven by his wife, fiber artist Bhakti Ziek. Her beautiful weavings thus become substitutes for canvas, adding depth and variety to what would otherwise be a blank surface. In “Center Fold,” Goodwin adhered a deeply worked painting on paper to a loosely woven textile by Ziek. His burnished, blue-gray piece, with its palmate pattern of lines and delicate shimmer, contrasts beautifully with the textile. The roughness of the fiber is tactile and visceral, which enhances the subtlety and gloss of the painting.

Many of the works here were completed in the past two years and share a fluent vocabulary of marks. The overarching qualities of the show are harmony, originality, tactility and restraint. Goodwin works across a variety of media, creating paintings and sculptures that are cohesive without being repetitive. The grid-like patterning and almost metallic surface of his painting “Up, Down, Between” could be a flattened variation of the artist’s graphite-gray block sculpture “Cube,” yet the two pieces seem to communicate, rather than compete, in the gallery space.

Goodwin travels extensively, which influences his perspective and work. He writes in his artist’s statement, “My work is inspired by my travels around the world and being exposed to a multiplicity of cultural differences. This outlook is central to my current studio work, which has moved into a new area hovering between sculpture and drawing.”

With their embossed lines and manipulated surfaces, Goodwin’s works do straddle those media, and they explore ancient archetypal forms with a contemporary sensibility. In “Puzzle,” a large wood sculpture, the grain serves as a kind of underpainting beneath layers of wax and milk paint. The artist cut slender crescent shapes and rectangles from the sides and top of the piece, then balanced them inside the spaces from which they were removed. The displaced/replaced pieces create a sense of movement, while the totemic simplicity of the form is quietly innovative. Goodwin’s use of material and form is sophisticated.

In the presence of these resonant works, an adage of songwriters springs to mind: The simplest songs are the hardest to write.

Want to see for yourself?

Mark Goodwin, “An Introduction,” at BigTown Gallery, Rochester. Through May 29.

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Amy Rahn

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