Álvaro Daniel Márquez

West Coast Woodcut: edges of life

In Maryhill Museum's Year of the Print, an exhibition of contemporary printmaking cuts from urban realism to the rhythms of the natural world

Man at Work, a 2014 linoleum block print by Ronnie Goodman in the exhibition West Coast Woodcut: Contemporary Relief Prints by Regional Artists at Maryhill Museum of Art, fits a classic role of printmaking: It’s a quiet provocation, surprising the viewer with a sudden twist on familiarity. An image of a man standing on a street corner in San Francisco with two huge bags filled with cans and bottles slung over his shoulders, it fits securely into a social-realist tradition that also embraces the likes of Otto Dix, Käthe Kollwitz, and the American regionalists of the 1930s.

Ronnie Goodman, Man at Work, 2014, linoleum block print. Edition 9/16.

Stylistically it could be from the 1930s, and with a little jolt you realize looking at it that in a way it is, or at least it’s a contemporary echo of the Depression years. Man at Work is an image of down-and-outness, of the outsider, the possibly homeless guy sidling against the crowd, and when you see the title the whole little drama expands: Whatever you might have thought on first glance, the man’s no bum. He’s working, gathering the trash, doing a job that other people don’t want to do, scraping by with a quiet dignity that most people never take the time to see. The capper comes when you look at the wall plaque and discover that Goodman himself has led a hard-knock life: He’s homeless, and learned to make art in prison while serving a six-year sentence for burglary. “I have had my belongings confiscated ten times,” Goodman is quoted. “The city has taken my original irreplaceable linocuts – over fifty plates, all of my original artwork.” The explanatory plaque continues: “This includes works that were included in a temporary exhibition in the office of San Francisco mayor, London Breed.”

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