My Job: Painter
by Glenn Goldberg
I grew up in the Bronx, New York City. I was not taken to cultural venues other than the school museum trips that happened in the public schools that I attended. I grew up hanging out on the corner after school, playing sports (baseball, basketball and handball), meeting up at Jack’s Candy Store in the neighborhood, and dating the captain of the cheerleaders at James Monroe High School. I dropped out of college, traveled (hitch-hiked) across Canada and the U.S., and began drawing, painting and playing music at that point. Campuses were active politically (war in Vietnam) and there was much experimentation with drugs, music, and sex. It was during this period that art began to captivate me.
Art is the main work channel through which I grow. It involves devotion, a work ethic, curiosity, soul searching, independence, self acceptance and courage. It is loaded with many ups and downs and presents many challenges along the way. I could never have predicted the work that I have made and am currently making. Despite how internally driven the process is, outside forces help to shape and alter its path, thus the surprises that occur. My paintings are a hybrid of American training (via European tradition) plus influences from American folk traditions, Asian art, African art, children’s tales and utilitarian objects. I view art as an offering that ideally does not point back to its maker. My job as a painter is to get out of the way and fabricate a viable and honorable condition. Other bodies of work are involved with tinkering, hobbies, boyishness, play, and work that hovers without knowing its purpose. They usually are manifest in 3 dimensions, photos, posters and other concoctions.
Nature is important as a guiding force, but the need to be in the midst of it is not strong. I grew up in the concrete realm…schoolyards, playgrounds, outdoor urban settings. I need to get away, but am a city boy. Perhaps the nature references in my work (flowers, birds, mother forms) are a function of nature deprivation syndrome. I imagine I suffer from that and thus need to fabricate my own natural scenes that become first person soul feeders. As a New York artist, I experience nature by finding a blade of grass that grows in between the concrete slabs on the sidewalk, or by traveling to exotic places (defined as anywhere with water, trees and a squirrel or two).
When I make a drawing on a wall, it brings back the days of it being disallowed as a child. So there is an element of taboo to that act. It also will be painted over (much like the sand mandalas of monks that get tossed away) never to be again. It is also free, not for sale, and viewed by few. That gives it a special place somehow. The fact that there is no object (support, cloth, wood, paper etc.) makes it very nice also, without that stuff in-between the image and its holder/support structure.
My minimalist works were a way for me to start over…start at the beginning after years of filling up the whole rectangle with forms and colors. So the paintings became about an image on a white, creamy ground. I became interested in figure and ground in a rather pure and simple way. The surface became a bed or a blanket to house and coddle an image. I also was interested in the semantics of forming, e.g. how a line or shape acquires meaning and/or reference. I have always wanted to paint pictures, whether literal or implicitly referential, and starting off with nothing was a way to explore the magic of that process. Minimalism and its interest in how a work begins was a very exciting and helpful idea for me. It cleaned my slate and wiped out many assumptions. Also, the sparseness and efficiency of Chinese art dovetailed neatly with what I took from minimalist ideology.
Work by Glenn Goldberg
I believe strongly in the experimental aspect of making work and living. We try things, explore, ask questions, fail, stumble, prevail, and actually win sometimes, which is a funny way to look at making art or life. Exhilaration occurs as a function of the stretch, the reach, the attempt. Unfortunately, so does falling on one’s face. I like the gamble of art as a life choice, and the secondary gambles that get played out in each piece. As a result of that belief, I accept the range of works that I have made despite having preferences. As we grow in the realm of self-acceptance, regrets seem to float away one by one. I feel that way about my work. All of the things that I have made are part of the richness of my fortunate life…they don’t have to be good or meaningful all the time, they just have to be a function of my allowing myself to live.
I work with a bucket of water, a handful of brushes, a surface to make a picture, and some colors. When I build, I build with my hands and generally use wood, foam, fabric and/or glass. The process is not elaborate. Complexity is a function of the addition of one decisive move after another. I used to jump into complexity quickly and try to fight my way out. Now I build complexity brick by brick, touch by touch. I imagine that is somewhat ritualistic. It feels like a practice akin to chanting, working out in the gym, breathing, pitching or shooting. Shooting is part of the game and as one shoots several times, a game is ultimately formed (along with all of the other acts that comprise the game). Making art is a replacement for religion, shamanism, and other forms of spiritual/alchemical development. It is not healthy for art to be driven by negativity, cynicism, decadence or fighting some fruitless man vs. nature battle. For me, making art is about heading towards the ideal, gift giving, offering, and a degree of selflessness, awe and statement of appreciation. It is qualified and absorbs other deviant qualities but it is best to try to limit those forces if we are able.
Sports are important to me, particularly team sports. I am interested in leadership, sacrifice, repetitive tasks, improvement, fair play, development, coping with winning and losing, and working towards goals day by day. Despite the solitary nature of my work, many of the things I have learned and have taught (I have coached a lot) have been learned through sports. Perseverance is another great quality, as are humility, focus, patience, relentlessness, purpose and respect. It is what we do, not what we say, that counts the most. As my father taught me in relation to baseball: “Do your talking with your bat!”
This is an interview with Deanna Sirlin. She has removed the questions so that only the artist voice is read.
Works by Glenn Goldberg
Glenn Goldberg is an artist who lives and works in New York City.