Standing naked, I tried not to stare directly into the bright light. I felt completely outside of my body, and a little bit faint, until a calming voice urged me to relax and breathe, to just shake the stress out of my arms and shoulders. The voice had the consistency of warm caramel, and within moments, I was again conscious and aware that I was safely with Bonnie Goldberg in the basement of the Columbia Museum of Art’s “About Face” studio.
This out-of-body moment was inspired by a conversation I had with Goldberg during her solo show in December 2010 at Frame of Mind, a local eye-wear boutique that doubles as a gallery. Goldberg expressed that the emotional connection she felt with a model was far more important than a model’s physical qualities. The idea intrigued me, and I later suggested, in writing this story, that I pose for Goldberg as a way to understand firsthand what it is like to model for her. I also wanted to be nude, or at least partially so, because I love the way Goldberg paints nudes, which were plentiful at her December show. And though I didn’t know Goldberg very well, I felt a natural trust in her.
“I love the spirit and strength of women,” Goldberg said over a glass of wine at Hampton Vineyard after our session. “I think women who are modeling feel empowered by the experience, and I want to translate that into my drawings and paintings. Women offer so much. We are not afraid to cry, to care, or to express tenderness. I want that strength and love in my work.”
Goldberg says she does occasionally paint men but prefers female subjects because she believes the female form more naturally lends itself to her style of expression.
“When I look at men, they have very square shoulders and straight lines. But women have beautiful gestural bodies with curve and feel. It is not just their bodies, it’s also the feeling and emotion they emit,” she explained. “There is something about men that is just too structured for me.”
A wife and mother of two grown children, Goldberg entered the art world a little later than many of her colleagues in Columbia’s art scene today. She’s largely self-taught and only began to take workshops after a painter who lived next door suggested it. Her children were about high school age, and she found herself with new pockets of time and was looking for something else to do. Most notably, she studied with internationally renowned artists, including Alex Powers and Katherine Chang Liu, at the twice-annual Springmaid Watermedia Workshops in Myrtle Beach. She was a regular at the workshops for more than 10 years and found the experience quite encouraging.
“I am not very academic,” Goldberg said. “The people I studied with were chosen by me because they offered something that I was looking for in their work. A few were hard on me, but I want to be pushed. What would you get from a pat on the back if you were trying to grow? You learn so much from your failures. If you always succeeded, how would you know where to go?
“I worked really hard, and I just realized this is who I wanted to be. It was almost ‘Bonnie Part 2.’ I love the doors it has opened for me and the people I have met.”
It may seem difficult to understand Goldberg’s embrace of failures. Except for her own self-identified failures, there’s been little evidence that she wasn’t a success right from the very beginning. In fact, Goldberg actually sold the first painting she ever completed. After an art class, a woman saw her place the finished canvas in the back of her car. The woman seemed immediately intrigued and began to ask questions.
“She asked if she could buy it,” Goldberg recalled. “And I pretended that I do this sort of thing all the time. She asked how much, and I just threw out an amount off the top of my head − $300. And she bought it on the spot!”
That evening, she went home to her husband, Harry, and children, Lisa and Daniel, eager to share her news. She made copies of the check and displayed them all around the kitchen. It was a thrill. These days, she is a little more reflective about sales of her work.
“I am always grateful and appreciative that someone would want something I created as part of their life,” she said.
Over the 20-odd years Goldberg has been a professional artist, she’s found challenges with commissioned work and adapted to ensure her clients are satisfied. In the beginning, some clients mistakenly expected a portrait in the conventional sense. But Goldberg is an abstract figurative artist, meaning that she doesn’t translate images literally to the canvas. Instead, her paintings reflect the energy and spirit of her subjects. That may mean that a feature might be incomplete or unusually shaped or even blend into the scenery. Often her figures seem to have radiant, colorful auras. Sometimes they closely resemble the model; sometimes they do not.
She first realized the need to modify her approach to commissioned portraits when a client took issue with the way Goldberg painted her arm.
“I didn’t meet her expectations, but it became a good experience for me,” she explained. “Now I will do two pieces for a commission. It allows me the freedom to paint what I want to paint” while creating an alternate that may better satisfy the client’s expectations.
“I don’t want somebody to have something they don’t like. I paint commissions very consciously. I make sure they (clients) listen to me. I am not a portrait painter. If that is what they want, then I can introduce them to many wonderful portrait artists.”
Few people know that Goldberg’s nude self-portrait was included in her Frame-of-Mind show last December.
“I posed myself into a contented pose, kind of folding into myself,” she said. “Then I had my husband take a photo, and I worked from that.”
Still, Goldberg has never posed nude for a figure class. She prefers to be on the other side of the canvas. She is thoughtful and deliberative as she poses her models, using directions such as “turn your head that way,” “look down,” or “move your shoulders to the right.” Every instruction is intended to catch the model at her best angle for the painting that is coming clearer into view with each movement.
While many of Goldberg’s figure models are young and technically beautiful, she also paints women with more years on their frame. She finds beauty in all of them.
“My figure work is the embodiment of who I am as an artist,” Goldberg says in her online artist’s statement. “I connect to the lines and shapes of the pose, the gesture of the model, and find the essence of the person who is posing.”
Goldberg feels that contemporary women enjoy the freedom to explore and express their full creative potential, and that liberation is expressed in the positive energy they radiate.
“I don’t think we depend on men and their opinions the way our mothers did,” she said. “Women can learn to grow old gracefully and define themselves by more than what they look like. You can only look like you are 30 for so long. There are a lot of ways to be beautiful.”
As she sips her wine and listens attentively, Goldberg exudes grace. She is ageless and quite beautiful in her own right. And while she does not volunteer her age, she notes that she is the mother of grown children in their 30’s. She is not fazed by aging in the way so many women are, the ones who obsessively examine with dismay every new line in the bathroom mirror.
“The hardest part about being older for me is the realization that life is finite,” Goldberg said. “There are so many things I want to do. That is when I realize I don’t have forever.”
Goldberg’s artist’s statement also asserts that “art teaches us what is important in life.” I asked her to elaborate on that thought.
“I think, honestly, whether we go to the theatre or movies, read a book, or view visual art, we see ourselves, and we see the way the world can be or should be. And it makes us think about our own lives and our own priorities,” Goldberg explained. “It’s not just with painting. It is with all the arts. …
“With all that is going on in today’s world, with the economy, I think we need to be very, very careful that we don’t take so much away from life by cutting the arts and not exposing our children to anything other than the basics of learning. What kind of life are they going to live? Creativity is where your heart and soul come from.”
A couple of years ago, Goldberg received a phone call from a woman who had seen a painting of hers and was moved to write a poem about it. The poem dealt with the woman’s childhood and her bittersweet personal journey. She hadn’t realized until she noticed the title of Goldberg’s painting how relevant it was.
“I had named the painting ‘I think I saw you crying,’” Goldberg recalled. “The woman had written her poem about some things that made her cry. That particular painting affected her that way. When things like this happen, it makes you realize the impact that your work has on other people and the impact other people can have on you. That really touches my life in an amazing way.”
During a trip to France about five years ago, Goldberg found herself reflecting again on where she still wants to go with her art and about life being finite.
“There was gallery after gallery of gorgeous art. It was almost an epiphany of what people can do with art,” she said. “I met this artist, and we were sitting on the floor of a gallery and talking art in two different languages. It is not that I think that I don’t have time. It’s just that I know I don’t have forever. … Actually, I hope I am never finished, that I never see what I am capable of. It’s all about getting there – the journey.”
Goldberg’s work is represented in Columbia by Paul D. Sloan, Interiors. Her paintings also appear at Nonnah’s in the Vista. Goldberg and artist Kirkland Smith, who paint together with About Face, are contemplating a joint show in 2012. For more information about Bonnie Goldberg, visit bonniegoldberg.com
from undefined magazine – Book 11
Printed April 11, 2011
Story: Kristine Hartvigsen Photography: Sarah Kobos
©2010-2012 undefined magazine