STILL TRYING TO EXPLAIN THE UNIVERSE

By Kathryn Funk

The current exhibition of mixed media paintings, collages and prints, Caught Between Heaven and Earth, by Erin Goodwin-Guerrero at the Triton Museum, demonstrates the force the artist has committed to her work for decades.  The size of the exhibition, mostly of work done in the prior year, suggests that mounting an overdue retrospective of Goodwin-Guerrero’s work would be truly massive.

For those that know Goodwin-Guerrero’s work, the vocabulary is familiar, but remains fresh nonetheless.  One still finds mystery and enchantment within each, and a sort of fragmented narrative that carries from earlier to the most recent body of work.  Goodwin-Guerrero uses many of the same elements repeatedly yet never to a point of redundancy.  We see her favorite images of snakes, roosters, dinosaurs, boxers, and fingerprints along with religious, biological, astronomical and astrological iconography used in varying ways, always soliciting new meaning in their juxtapositions.

Surviving as a Vegetarian, 2010 by Erin Goodwin-Guerrero

Goodwin-Guerrero states that she sees herself as a “civil agitator who stimulates socio-political dialogues” through “irony, satire and good humor applied to serious matters.”  Humor and playfulness is indeed evident in the current body of work.  A case in point is Surviving as a Vegetarian. Carrots, radishes and melon surround the skeleton of a long-extinct dinosaur.  The artist has deftly prepared the background of blood red abstraction to give sharp contrast to the white skeleton of the dinosaur, seen entering on the lower left and exiting on the upper right. A hint of the eternal factor of change and evolution, a yellow spiral slips off the top edge from an isolated drippy green field, the latter element being a wonderful formal balance to the green melon in the lower left.  It leads one to wonder what exactly did bring this beast to its eventual extinction.

A sense of depth both visually and intellectually, is another hallmark of Goodwin-Guerrero’s work.  The artist achieves this by first preparing the background – often entirely negating the original white surface.  Layering begins with familiar yet seemingly unrelated images woven across the field, some screened, some painted or collaged directly on the surface.  This layered approach draws the viewer into the depths of each piece as formal elements situate and balance its content.  A rich textural surface evolves into its narrative.

Lunarcheology,  2010, a mix of collage, paint, drawing and screenprint

Lunarcheology, (2010) is an example of the blending of deep space and foreground.  The pocked surface of a portion of the moon appears to pull forward through a patchwork of a dark blue, checkered background, bringing with it the evidence of mark making by the artist.  Above is another dark overlay of what the lunar surface might look like up close – abstracted and “mysterious” as the artist has written across the surface.  Images of fossils, bone fragments and biological diagrams pull the image together giving rise to age-old questions of life forms outside our immediately known realm.

Goodwin- Guerrero’s Sailing East to Reach the West, 2010, at the Triton Museum in Santa Clara

History, science, religion and politics are all brought together in Sailing East to Reach the West, (2010).  The figure of the virgin and a papal crozier cross the divide as referenced by the nautical Turkish knots from the East with fossils and sea stars echoing the shape of the papal staff as they spiral toward the promised land in the West.

The Shrinking Earth and Expanding Universe, 2010, by Erin Goodwin-Guerrero

In The Shrinking Earth and Expanding Universe, (2010), a ferocious looking dinosaur appears to be in futile pursuit of a space ship flanked by gyroscopes spinning in mass across the skies, the phases of the moon referencing the advancing time.  And a giant fingerprint seen behind the space vehicle mocks the act of human intervention on our destiny. Playful? Yes. Serious?  Also, yes.

Goodwin-Guerrero’s mixed media image: Rest in Peace, Savage Beast

Colorfully paint splattered paper (and canvas) provides a field for several pieces in the exhibition. Again in  Rest in Peace Savage Beast, (2010), the background is an important starting point for all of Goodwin-Guerrero’s work. This technique serves not only as a unifying element but also as a seductive means for orchestrating the artist’s individual elements. Rest in Peace Savage Beast features the jawbone of some ancient extinct animal played against dark (black) gladiolas both printed in positive and silhouette. Not quite enough to hold the composition, the artist adds her draughtsman’s rose engine in red and red dots dripping from the beast’s jaw.  These two red elements compliment the largely black overlays of jawbone and flowers and create a circular movement.   As Goodwin-Guerrero acknowledged in her museum talk, she makes no mystery of her play with formal elements as integral to the unity and completion of the image.

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Another piece, As Above, So Below, (2009), uses this same colorful background as its base. Goodwin-Guerrero carefully mutes it with a black mottled screened texture upon which she adds cellular and molecular structures along with the white overlay of an ancient astrological star chart.

It is often difficult to determine the screen printing from the actual hand drawn/painted elements. Having watched the artist paint directly onto her prints in her studio (therefore the “mixed media” notations on the museum’s labels) one can rest assured that this is an artist of great technical skill – beyond her incredible cerebral and intuitive senses.  The three paintings in the exhibition demonstrate her incredible ability and steady hand.

Tigre Serves The Pulque, 2005, acrylic and screenprint on canvas

Among the works on canvas, Tigre Serves the Pulque, (2004), reveals lingering signs of the mottled background upon which the painting was begun.  It is a wonderful confluence of the artist’s use of multiple techniques. The viewer is treated to the realistic parrots perched on the stylized tree branches being confronted by hyper-stylized serpent, lizard and skeleton as the “tigre” serves up his mayhem: a potent cup of the ancient Meso-American pulque.  One of the masterfully executed elements in the painting is a three-plane skewed-schematic of viewing, deftly integrated to be revealed only at close examination.  The Mayan figure and temple structures aid in this integration as do the black and white flying flint knife “eyes.”

There is little time left (the exhibition closes 9/18/10) but it is well worth the effort.

Kathryn Funk is an independent curator whose shows have been seen recently at City Windows Gallery, Bill Gould Design and the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art.  She has followed Goodwin-Guerrero’s  work for over fifteen years and shown it in various venues.

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