Artist: Brach Goodman
Location: Olomon Cafe, Hamtramck
BG – Coffee (milk?), Spinach hand pie
SRS – Coffee (black), Cinnamon spice cake
“I often think about distraction in life, and how life is continually escaping you,” says Brach Goodman, by way of categorizing some of the recurring visual motifs in a solo show of new work, Burnt Out, which just enjoyed a short run at KO Gallery—the main venue for the young and rambunctious Heavenly Dogs art collective. “So as a creative, you want to validate existence by creating,” he says.
Goodman finds himself at that all-to-crucial moment in the life of a professional creative: the quarter-life crisis. With a formal background in design, and several years under his belt working in advertising, Goodman suddenly found himself cut loose from the confines of corporate creative for the first time, and facing down the leap of faith familiar to all who take the road less traveled.
“I worked at an advertising company for five years, up until July, and then they lost the account, and I was like, well, I have date for a solo show, so I guess I’m going to paint until then,” says Goodman. To me, this is a highly recognizable and highly relatable moment for any artist: the point at which you realize that one has to go all-in, or burn out.
For Burnt Out, Goodman manages to combine his interest in printmaking and painting, taping off negative space and building up layers of vivid color and illustrative detail, peppered with a pixie dusting of overspray. Two main characters appear and reappear in what seem to be loosely autobiographical scenarios—a kind of Brach-surrogate figure and a ponytailed and topless female, sometimes replicated multiple times in the same image. The specter of death hangs in the clouds, and the specter of burnout as a literal mask of fire over various faces. Cheerful rainbows arc through backgrounds and collide with heads and stormclouds. Goodman has cultivated a Surrealist vocabulary, but the aesthetic feels more design-influenced than traditionally painterly.
“Illustrators often pay attention to design, but there’s a certain energy and process to fine art that people think can lack design,” says Goodman. “I usually am drawn to stuff that has a fine design to it. Even stuff that’s not designed well, just that stuff is intentional. You can imply a lot just in how you lay something out. You can make these tangents of things without it having to be photographic.”
Over breakfast, our conversation strayed to the brass tacks of self-care—the practice of which has coincidentally been an in-depth point of focus for both Goodman and myself this summer. Among the many romantic notions of which I would encourage young artists to find a way to free themselves is the toxic misconception that art must be equated with suffering. In a broader, societal sense, I have struggled with identifying the basic tenets of self-care (a word that is bandied about with great frequency, but seems largely to associate buying expensive bath bombs), and abolishing the idea that something is frivolous simply because it makes me happy. Happiness is not frivolous; it is what makes the crap of life tolerable, and engaging in a broad-based denial of anything that does not directly contribute to your basic life functions is a recipe for illness, sadness, and discontent. It is a testament to the power of some artists, that they can draw inspiration out of devastating circumstances, but it is not a prerequisite.
The most important luxury I afford myself is the gift of time—time to make work, time to think, time to create a comfortable environment for my life and work, time to do nothing, time to sleep—and it is encouraging to see Goodman buying his time back, at an age younger than I got the hang of it. It is easy to misunderstand the vigor and metabolism of youth as infinite, and expect to rely on them to propel you through your life and career, but as one creeps across the line into middle age, the benefits of working efficiently, rather than nonstop, become a hedge against the kind of burnout that will bring about an untimely end to both. It’s heartening to see Goodman, along with his Heavenly Dogs cohort, thinking about how to build the structures early that will hopefully sustain their practice for many years and many developments to come.