The Watersports Tape (2018) Gouache on Paper. 11" x 14"
SETH GOODMAN's figurative drawings and paintings are fictional vignettes created in response to reported news. His subjects range from America's ruling class—politicians, business men, federal judges, heads of state—to unknown individuals from the lower class, highlighting income and power disparities. His masterful rendering adds gravity to his satirical humor. Seth earned his BFA at University of North Carolina at Asheville and his MFA from Towson University in Maryland. He has exhibited across the U.S. and in Berlin, Germany, where he was an Artist-in-Residence at Takt Artist Residency (2012). In 2019, he opened two solo exhibitions: Behind the Capital Curtain at Lock Haven University (PA) and Certitudes and Tittle-Tattle at Howard County Community College (Baltimore). Seth is an Associate Professor of Art at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where he lives.
OtherPeoplesPixels: What’s the best language to describe your work: satire, parody, allegory?
Seth Goodman: Depending on the specific piece, I think I’m comfortable with allegory or satire. But on a more personal level, my work is a result of me feeling an intense responsibility to be informed and involved with some of the most significant current happenings in our world. I want to insert my voice in the larger conversation. I’ve trained as a painter my entire adult life. Given my control and understanding of the medium, I choose to make paintings and drawings about these important topical events and influential people. I listen to the news and podcasts as much as I possibly can, sometimes for twelve or more hours on studio days. I am absolutely obsessed with everything happening in our world, especially events that intersect with politics and economic injustice.
Barbara Bush at the Border (2019) Gouache on Paper. 11" x 14"
OPP: It doesn’t seem though that your work advocates for any partisan point of view, so they aren't politically dogmatic, which is a good thing.
SG: I have no real interest in making work that is simply a reflection of my political beliefs or leanings. I’d classify the narrative elements in my work as closer to a visual form of prose poetry that’s heavily embedded in the power of both scenario and the use of known celebrity figures as conceptual symbols. Mix in a creative penchant to use episodic structure that is both physically apparent with compartmentalized spaces and with episodic narrative structure, and that’s essentially my work. The omnipresent third person voice represented in the text exudes a distinctly banal tone. I hope this brevity adds to the satisfaction the viewer can gain when absorbing or deconstructing the work more as poetry with hidden meaning.
The Florence Fiasco (2016) Graphite and Gouache on Paper. 11" x 14"
OPP: Walk us through the choices you make in a single piece.
SG: In the painting Florence Fiasco, Mitch McConnell and Jared Fogle meet by chance while vacationing in Italy. Right away, I’m asking the viewer to connect these two public figures as spokesmen who represent entities beyond themselves. Both have a dark cloud hiding behind them. Jared's darkness is no longer hidden given that he’s currently living in prison. But with Mitch, just throw a dart at his voting record and you’ll probably find something that has either hurt the interests of the American people, caused pain to some group of human beings abroad in the form of military action or sanctions, or enriched the wealthiest among us under the guise of supply-side economics. They’re dressed as the quintessential dorky tourists, complete with comfy sneaks, light backpacks, ball caps for sun protection and cargo pockets to fit the extra gear. They are unable to connect to this other land and culture. Using the Rick Steves’ guidebook, they decide to hitch up to engage in the most cliché of tourist activities in Florence. No offense to Rick Steves, but he also represents the “square” who attempts to, but largely fails at, engaging the outside world on an equal level. They’re the cursed Americans giving all of us a bad name. United States domestic and foreign policy represents every single American regardless of who we voted for. Rightfully so, the world sees us and judges us based on our policies and actions.
Young Scalia (2016) Gouache on Paper. 11" x 14"
OPP: I feel an uncomfortable sensation of pity for the people you represent. The speculation about their private moments humanizes them, evoking empathy, while simultaneously revealing their hypocrisy, evoking disdain. What are your thoughts on this response?
SG: I’m absolutely thrilled and fascinated to hear you say “an uncomfortable sensation of pity.” When representing public figures, I often think about how our thirst to worship celebrities contributes to the superhuman status of star power. There’s a whole lot about the ruling class that disgusts me, but I think there’s a lot of grey area in there. Even the Dick Cheneys or Vladimir Putins of the world are not pure evil. What events in their personal history led them to act the way they do now? Thinking about our elected representatives, is it really so obvious that lawmakers are beholden only to corporate interests? A left of center example could be Cory Booker, who voted in 2017 against allowing Americans to purchase cheaper pharmaceuticals from Canada, stepping predictably in line with his heavy Big Pharma ties in New Jersey and with his past campaign contributions. Does Booker really think that his constituents believe that Canadian drugs are less safe? How is that possible? One right of center example is Jeff Sessions. He was denied a federal judgeship in the 80s for being overtly racist only to be confirmed just a few short years ago as America’s top law enforcement officer. In May of 2017, Sessions announced families crossing our border illegally would be separated, partly in the hope of establishing a deterrent from crossing. He even attempted to use Christian doctrine as a defense of his actions. I think it’s pretty safe to say Jeff Sessions is worthy of our condemnation, but there has to be more to it than that. I’m sure he doesn’t go home from work every night only to burn ants with a magnifying glass or torture little puppies. I love imagining what makes these people tick and attempting to poetically toy with the hypocrisy that might escape a mainstream view.
I also love that you mention the “speculation about their private moments." I think this sentiment plays nicely with the tension imbued in the work involving a truth/rumor dynamic. Some scenarios are very obviously invented, occasionally introduced like gossip but very clearly as fiction. With some of the other situations that I portray, I’m hoping the viewer might really believe that they are true events. Maybe it’s something obscure that actually occurred involving a particular public figure. This tension is exciting for me to contemplate, especially when a work is finished and installed. It becomes an interesting intersection with the fake/partisan news movement that’s so prevalent today.
Diane's Nightly Ritual (2019) Gouache on Paper. 14" x 11"
OPP: I’ve noticed the glaring absence of President Donald Trump. Why? Too easy?
SG: I have really tried to steer away from Trump-centered narratives for a few reasons. First, so many satirical works about Trump are already being broadcast on a variety of different platforms that it’s like trying to bake a gourmet cake and sell it at Sam’s Club. It’s too easy for my message to get drowned out or get dumbed-down. Next, it’s too easy in the sense that his despicable and foolish behavior is very public. If he were a nicer person, I would feel deeply embarrassed for him. Lastly, I have dozens or even hundreds of ideas for new works that I’m very excited to make that do not involve portraying Trump directly. I can largely avoid him without sacrificing anything.
That said—because I absolutely could not resist—I have recently made two works that include Trump. The Episode of Rosanne that Never Aired portrays the Connor gang traveling by royal carriage in a foreign land. Along the way, they picked up a stray dog and a few disheveled orphan children. They eventually get to a great fortification, and the gate is manned by Trump. Will he let them pass? I thought this plot would have been a plausible future episode of Rosanne that also would’ve actually guest-starred Trump, if the show wasn’t cancelled. The other work depicting Trump needs to be properly photographed before posting to my website, but it’s about Trump’s Access Hollywood comments coming alive in a fictional version of his man cave. It also involves Ivanka and Trump’s need to “make great deals.”
Proletariat Parade Goer (2018) Oil and Gouache on Board. 20" x 18"
OPP: Tell me about the Proletariat works from 2018. In these paintings, unknown consumers, voters, protestors evoke zombies for me. Whose perspective is being represented here?
SG: This short series is mostly about the socioeconomic class convulsions in America. The protagonist certainly has zombie-like qualities, but he’s not a zombie. He originates from a 1980s American cult classic movie Robocop. There’s an infamous scene that shows the bad guy getting doused with toxic waste, then waddling around with his flesh melting off yelling “Help me! Help me!” Even if viewers don’t recognize the specific movie reference, I thought he would be a good form to represent the underclass as repulsive and damaged.
The specific scenarios and accompanying text allow for a more nuanced exploration of class strata concerns. One work shows a shopper at Hobby Lobby uncontrollably salivating from sale prices, only to be considered freakish by the cashier. With this, I’m asking the viewer to recall the controversies about the hard-right, Christian-owned Hobby Lobby empire. One involved denying contraceptive options to employees and the other was about the illegal smuggling of countless, historically important, artifacts out of the Middle East into a personal collection. Within the painting, the packed store shelves may prompt connections to the object hoarding and the class separation of wealth while the salivation reference may speak more to the contraception angle with salivation being an uncontrollable biological action akin to sex drive. The reaction of disgust by the cashier is meant to speak to ideas of judgement.
Another work in the series speaks more to the celebrity worship of the ruling or political class and how insignificant the commoners or proletariat-class can be considered. A crowd of sign-bearing supporters assembles, en masse, to see a glimpse of the passing presidential motorcade. My proletariat character pushes his way directly into the path of the motorcade procession. This is, in one respect, a nod to the demise of the Robocop character being smashed and subsequently liquefied by a fast moving car. It’s also meant to show the obscene lengths we will go to in order to view of the rich and famous. The motorcade protects the ruling class from outside threats, and in this instance, it also insulates them from our filthy and damaged bodies and our unbearable presence.
Unsettled Proletariat (2018) Oil on Paper. 22" x 28"
OPP: Earlier works revolve around unrecognizable “common people” of America. I’m thinking of works like Coping with End Times (2014), Supporting the Troops Without a First Thought (American Edition) (2015) and Inside the Single Wide (2011). Are these based on actual individuals, or are these allegorical Americans? What is being critiqued in these earlier works?
SG: I grew up in a low-income small town in Upstate New York that was located next to a very high-income town, Saratoga Springs. This shaped my perspective early on in life to be concerned with income and class disparities in America. Seeing the world through a lens based on class and wealth remains a noticeable component of my current work as well.
Economic inequality is arguably the most pressing issue of our day. My earlier work attempts to connect with these issues but from the bottom up. Much like Harmony Korine did with the movie, Gummo, I want to give a voice to America’s underclass but do it largely informed by my personal history. So, to answer your question more directly, some of the painted characters may reference myself, others might connect loosely to people that I’ve known in the past but have a likeness that is appropriated, while others are folks that I’ve actually come across or know intimately.
The Bet (2018) Gouache on Paper. 11" x 14"
OPP: Tell us about your most recent solo exhibition Behind the Capital Curtain, which opened in November 2019. What was the overall goal of this show?
SG: I’ve had an extremely productive period in the last three years or so. Behind the Capital Curtain was my second solo exhibition in 2019, and it contained a large group of the work that I made over that three-year period.
More than anything, I’m hoping the viewer will become more interested in the movements of our political system and world events and the innate responsibility that we have to become an active part of it. I feel this is the most realistic “best case” to expect from the viewer. It’s highly doubtful that I will have the power to change a person’s political stance, especially considering the divisiveness of the times we live in. There’s a ton of outstanding, relevant and original creative content out there that we can engage with and I need to feel that what I’m saying is worth the viewer’s time and effort. If I can spark an interest in people to think about some of these topics more deeply, then I’ve more than done my job.
To see more of Seth's work, please visit sethgoodman.net.