Joe Goode does not deny the psychological impact on the viewer of the shotgun blasts that have peppered some of his canvases.
Violence, though, was not the point. The purpose of the pellet holes was to expose layers of painted-on colors, enabling the viewer to sense bits of color, an effect much like perceiving the color of grass in the background when looking at a tree.
The shotgun was only a device that came to hand, the way an apple or a brush stroke is a device. It matters not if a painting is abstract or representational. These, too, are merely devices to Goode. The key, he said, is whether the artist conveys his vision.
The latest exhibition of paintings by Goode opened Friday at the Thomas Babeor Gallery in La Jolla and will run through Feb. 1. There are no scattershot-riddled abstractions this time, though the paintings are abstract. The subject of this series is forest fires--one more device in the lexicon of Joe Goode.
Should you look him up in a book on 20th-Century artists, chances are good that Goode will be identified erroneously as a pop artist. He never really was a pop artist, Goode said by telephone from his home in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in Central California. But in the 1960s he painted common objects such as a series of milk bottles, placed in front of canvases painted either a solid color or with an outline of the bottle. It was easy to include, or confuse, such paintings with Warhol's cans of Campbell's soup.
It didn't matter to Goode that he wasn't really painting pop art, as long as the curator could make a case for his inclusion in an exhibition.
"When curators were getting a group of young artists together for a show they had to have a category," Goode said. "Inevitably, artists do get categorized for communication's sake. The main thing is to be in that show. Your particular goal is to get your work seen."
A more catholic and long-term view of Goode's subjects, including a spoon and a glass, a "house with windows" a series on skies, reveals a crucial link: the idea "of looking through . . . what you're looking at." He wasn't just painting skies but hinting at skies behind skies.
Goode thinks paintings are perceived on different levels, depending on the viewer. "The first time a person sees one of my paintings it would mean one thing," he said. "If a person has seen my work over 20 years, it would have a different meaning. The more information you have of something, the more you can bring to it, the more complex it can be."
The current exhibition grew out of a forest fire Goode saw about four years ago. The series, containing individual oil on canvas pictures and triptychs showing the beginning, middle and end of a fire, has been in the making for about three years. This is its first public exhibit.
Goode grew up in suburban Oklahoma City, learning painting at the knee of his father, a portrait artist. "The thing that appealed to me first," Goode recalled, "was that, with a pencil, he could make a picture of F.D.R. that looked like F.D.R. As I got older the thing that fascinated me more was his way of looking at something."
When Goode was about 7, his father took him out to a lake. Together they drew a log. Each Sunday they returned and redrew the log. Unknown to young Goode, his father kept the paintings and at the end of a year showed them to him. There was the same log, but viewed in different contexts. In the winter it was laden with snow. Moss covered it in spring, and in the summer, it lay hot and dry. The young artist was learning how to see as a painter, learning "a way of looking at something" that became Goode's lifelong artistic motivation.
"My father was a very conservative portrait painter," he said. "But essentially he was looking at things very much like contemporary artists look at things. I look at art from the point of view that it's 99% seeing. The technical part is a very small percentage of it."
Goode is an artist who has always made a living--he says "survived"--from his painting. His last job other than painting was as a janitor while studying at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Until eight years ago Goode, who turns 49 in March, had spent most of his adult life working in the Los Angeles art scene. He now lives near Sequoia National Park. It is 8 1/2 miles to the nearest community, Springville, and he doesn't miss the city at all, living on 40 acres of land where his wife, Natalie, raises Morgan horses and he paints.
So what does this successful American artist have to say about art in the 20th Century? What does an artist who has abandoned a city say about such centers of art?
They are boons to artists--a place to be discovered--but there are major drawbacks, Goode observed.
"Take New York. Every artist you know who becomes prominent or well-known, as soon as they do, they leave New York," he said. "When I was in Los Angeles I had to go to an awful lot of functions I don't have to go to now. When you isolate yourself from a population, you are able to pursue on your own time schedule the things you want to pursue. I think it's true in a number of occupations. You establish yourself and the first thing you want to do is leave because you are established."
Art, according to Goode, is not ranked very highly in the 20th Century. "It's not as high as science. But science isn't as high as entertainment. I think it's a lot easier to make a million dollars as a football player or a singer, given the same amount of talent. But I'm not so sure it matters. Inevitably some (art) will be deemed significant to society."
Goode believes that because art has not been considered important, there has been space for development and innovation. "If it were important, its importance would be its financial value. That would be the value of it. As in entertainment, financially it couldn't afford to have more depth to it," he said.
"I think if there had been an emphasis on painting and art in the first part of the 20th Century we would never have heard of abstract expressionists. I think Jackson Pollock was in a position to do what he did because nobody cared. Had he been making $30,000 or $40,000 off every one of those drip paintings they wouldn't have looked the same."