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Confounding spectacle: Heather Goodwind at Portland’5

The painter's lush and surrealistic canvases are right at home in the theater space. Patrick Collier considers their colorful allure.

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Portland artist Heather Goodwind has an exhibit of twenty-one of her acrylic on canvas paintings in Antoinette Hatfield Hall at Portland’5 (not a typo), the theater complex at 1111 Southwest Broadway. Organized by the indefatigable curatorial duo Tammy Jo Wilson and Owen Premore of Art in Oregon, the exhibit runs through December. 

Heather Goodwind, The Curtain: Series 34 #1. Image courtesy of Mario Gallucci.

That this current show is situated in a theater is fitting, largely because of the theatricality of the work. A hyperbole of sorts is at work in the same way an actor on the stage projects and exaggerates a character so that the performance carries to the back rows. In a similar manner, Goodwind’s paintings are immediately eye-catching, even from a distance, and call to you across the room. Once approached, they draw you in. The colors pop. One might even say they are eye-candy. They are also, on occasion, quite repellent, and it is this push and pull that makes her work strike a deep chord in our psyches. As such, one would expect a degree of fantasy to play a role in the work, not only as it is created, but also interpreted by the viewer. 

Goodwind has a strategy in creating these psychological vignettes: “I make a mark, then ask myself, ‘if this is true, what else is true?’ I repeat this process with the addition of each new element, using personal experience to build a symbolic image.” She continues: “My work is a constant outpouring of singular impressions: clearly isolated images that capture flashes of emotions, changes in perception, or moments of recognition.” Yet she typically starts with a backdrop — either a landscape or interior space —which sets a mood more than a scene where Goodwind’s spectacles occur. 

Heather Goodwind, Oasis: Series 35 # 3. Image courtesy of the artist

For Oasis: Series 35 #3, she gives us a pink sky. It may be snowing. A radiating flower floats in that sky, with a golden drop of pollen dripping from the bloom’s center. In the foreground is what appears to be a snail with human female legs sitting back on its haunches. The antennae of this creature search the air about it. Yet one antenna, perhaps in its excitement, has extended itself far beyond the body. Enlarged in its exuberance and desire to capture that drop of pollen, it seems about to tear itself away from the main body and become a being in its own right. The overt sensuality in Oasis also borders on violence. I am reminded of any number of films in which a person lost in the desert and near death comes upon a lone palm tree next to a spring (note the small puddle of blue sitting in the acrid yellow ground). Quenching one’s thirst in such a situation is never demur.

Other basic drives and needs are just as persistent in her paintings, even when suppressed. It takes a second to register the backdrop in The Curtain: Series 34 #1, and once we do we are uncertain whether this scene is played out in front of or behind the curtain. As we are witnesses, it may not matter. The activity in the foreground is suggestive. What may be a pink sponge acts as a platform for a flailing creamy yellow worm adorned with red lipstick on an upper orifice. Tension is completed by the amorphous, drippy black apparition that seems to attack the back of the creature. Taken all together, we are witness to an aggressively sexual scene for which the sponge may be the final receptacle. 

Some elements within the work are clearly identifiable, which allows us to create our own narrative. While we may project the scene upon the artist’s personal experience, the symbolism presents itself as something more akin to surrealism than straight figuration. Not that I would say that the work is a representation of dreams; however, I might posit that the paintings arise from the subconscious. The result is a hybridity or mutation of experience that perhaps gets closer to her truth, even as our own visceral reactions to the work expose our own experiences.

Heather Goodwind, Self Portrait with Two Circles: Series 37 # 1. Image courtesy of the artist

Of course, we turn back to the creator as we are looking and ask, “What could she have been thinking? What experience wrought these paintings?” Lest we worry too much, let’s consider Self Portrait with Two Circles: Series 37 #1. The figure echoes My Little Pony, were it not for the flames arcing out of its rear end. The fire follows a trace of a circle, presumably in the process of making her own star instead of relying on the cold, distant one in the background. To my mind I think this painting says “do not underestimate me,” and given Goodwind’s prodigiousness, it is well-taken advice.

One will note that the titles for each work contain a series number and a number for the place the painting is made in the series. If you visit her website, you’ll see that a series can include 2, up to over 80 works. Her latest, Series 37, includes 30 pieces. (This exhibit features works from seven series. Selecting four different paintings would also likely change the tenor of this review.) In her artist statement she sees fit to mention that no work is discarded as she works on a series, so one imagines that as a particular series develops, a dialogue is created between Goodwind and her paintings. As such, we can expect some repetition, just as the stories we tell ourselves about our lives have key moments that we circle back to. Compare the black mass of The Curtain: Series 34 #1 to the blue-and-white apparition in Tony: Series 37 #5. Both “ghosts,” whether they be something or someone, the true nature of which we can never be sure of, are both aggressive and amorphous, and similar. Are they then familiar occurrences, like a past trauma, or perhaps even a bad habit?

Heather Goodwind, Tony: Series 37 # 5. Image courtesy of the artist

Of course, I may be reading too much into the work and thereby exposing aspects of myself. So be it, for the emotional openness and vulnerability — the courage — that Goodwind employs to create her work, in turn requires that viewers be open to the same processes in themselves. 

Patrick Collier is an artist who has written for the Midwest journal “The New Art Examiner,” plus for the online journals UltraPDX and PORT. He holds a BA in Philosophy and an MA in English Literature from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, plus an MFA from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Prior to moving to Oregon in 2003, Collier and his wife operated the Chicago gallery bona fide to critical but not financial success. They live in Corvallis.

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