INTRODUCTION by Rachel Campbell Johnston 2012 Marlborough Fine Art Catalogue
It was almost 25 years ago that Catherine Goodman first came
across the town of Manali: a busy hill station in the far north of India in the
mountainous state of Himachal Pradesh.
For the long-ago traveller, this Himalayan outpost, its
houses tumbling like rubble down precarious slopes, marked the start of an
ancient trade route which, winding its way upwards through shadowy pine forests
and boulder-strewn gorges, reached the windswept passes that would lead to
Ladakh. For the modern-day visitor it has become a tourist hub: a place from
which walkers embark on their treks. But for Goodman, Manali was the beginning
of a rather different sort of journey. It was from here that she set off on a
long interior voyage.
"The soul never thinks without a picture," wrote
Aristotle in his De Anima. It's an idea that haunts the whole of art history.
Every image, however diligently literal, however carefully descriptive or
determinedly 'true-to-life' brings the imagination of the person who created it
into play. Every landscape - even the most faithful representation - speaks of
the soul of the person who painted it.
Twenty-five years ago, Goodman made her first drawings in
Manali. She has been returning regularly ever since: making an annual migration
of more than four thousand miles to stand on the same small patch of ground and
paint.With the persistence of Cezanne gazing out from his garden at the rugged
geometries of Mont St Victoire, she has stared for hour upon hour at the
mountains that have reared up around her. She has painted the clouds as they
roil about towering snow-capped pinnacles, the rock-faces that run like a wall
round the world, the drenching rains of the winter and spring's profusion of
apple blossom, the mundane wooden hut where her breakfast of tomatoes on toast
is cooked. And gradually, over the years, this landscape has come to feel like
Why does this place strike so powerful an inner chord? Even
to Goodman, the answer remains a mystery.And yet,it is probably no coincidence
that, in the rich territories of Hindu mythology, Manali is known as the spot
where the ark of Manu, the lawgiver, finally came to rest again after a great
flood. It was from Manali that the world as man knew it was first seen afresh.
It's a challenging image for an artist. Goodman, a graduate
of first Camberwell and then the Royal Academy, a winner of the prestigious RA
Gold Medal and the National Portrait Gallery's coveted BP Portrait Award, is a
long practised painter with a string of solo shows under her belt. A day never
passes in which she does not work. Even when her duties as Artistic Director of
the Prince's Drawing School weigh heavily, she finds time at least to draw.
Over the years she has slowly found the ways by which, working from life she
can (as she describes it) "create a three dimensional reality on a two
"But the landscape of Manali, tests all preconceptions.
It's the sheer scale of the landscape, Goodman suggests: its massive peaks
heaving upwards, obliterating all views. How can anyone who has grown up amid
England's gentle pastorals accommodate such enormity? The adult is returned
afresh to the stunned amazement of the child.
It is this sense of freshness that pervades Goodman's works.
Mapping her way into uncharted territories with drawings, she arrives at
canvases, often so large that they quite literally engulf her. She inhabits her
images as she paints, moving about them as you might move through a real
landscape. Their space becomes the place in which she lives.
From the 17th to the 19th century, a renowned school of
miniaturists flourished in Himachal Pradesh.They painted the very same vistas
which Goodman now tackles. And, though Goodman's huge gestural canvases could
hardly be more different from their finely-wrought confections, they share
something of the same mood. In the Pahari miniatures, the mountain slopes form
the backdrop to the legends of Krishna.They are the scenery against which
spiritual stories unscroll. In Goodman's paintings, they take on a similar
role. They become the stage set upon which her imaginative life is played
out.The Pahari painters made their pigments from local plants. They put the
landscape, quite literally, into their pictures. Goodman, also, is searching
for a sense of true colour - but, for all that she might begin being a little
bit literal, what she aims for in the end is a more profound form of truth.
Colour is linked to feeling in her work. She paints the landscape as it comes together:
not just an assemblage of rocks, trees and plants but a mysterious conflux of
memories, emotions and moods.
The world of Manali pervades Goodman's imagination. It
remains, long after she has returned to London. Alongside the Indian landscapes
of this show, Goodman exhibits pictures of her family home in Phillimore
Gardens. But the rooms which formed her backdrop from early childhood, the
furniture rescued from Russia by refugee grandparents, the bohemian relics of a
father's Bloomsbury roots, are now viewed through the lens of her subsequent
experience. A chair, planted stubbornly impassable at the centre of a painting,
takes on the same monumental presence as a mountain. Textiles accrue an
oriental richness. Goodman's imagination builds bridges between her two homes.
The stuffed and mounted head of a great bristly boar, when seen in Britain,
appears no more than some grisly trophy. But when she incorporates it into a
painting of Manali it finds a new life as Varaha, an incarnation of Vishnu.
As the viewer looks at these pictures, he will find himself
moving through a jumbled world of fragments. These are paintings which work
much like living experience. The components are all shuffled up. They get
hopelessly mixed. Memories are overlain one upon the other. Each mood casts its
light - or shadow - upon the next. The spectator stands upon ground that is
From a distance you see a picture. But step closer and it
disappears into a dense network of bush-strokes.The image melts into a forest
of swipes and dribbles and splotches. Paint loops and spirals and eddies and
sloshes. It is as if the world has dissolved back into that mysterious swell of
feelings with which it was first sensed. Step back a few paces and it slowly
resolves again - though perhaps not into quite the same picture that you saw
the first time.
These canvases evoke a living sense of the relationship
between the mind's inner magic and the outer world. That is why these images
are far more than mere paintings of places. They embody the imagination. They
are the pictures with which the soul thinks.
Catherine Goodman welcomes me into her Chelsea portrait studio, ensconcing me in the only chair, which resembles a throne. I ask about the letters painted on the carpet. "G," Goodman says, "is for Gillon Aitken." He's the literary agent whose portrait she has recently finished. "There is a mark for the easel and one for the chair." Goodman has dubbed this the "light-box" studio, flooded by natural light from north-facing skylights; she has been here for almost three years, having previously been working "in a container building under the Westway". Behind me, shelves crammed with colourful masks, a series of boars' heads and stuffed animals, signifiers of an artist who travels widely, bringing back souvenirs. Goodman paints her portraits here, her landscape works are too big so she keeps an industrial space in Acton, too. She was born in London and won the NPG Portrait Prize in 2002. Her "prize" was to paint the founder of the hospice movement, Dame Cicely Mary Strode Saunders, completing the tough-yet-tender portrait shortly before Strode Saunders' death: "She was fierce and brave and compassionate and loving all at the same time", she recalls. She also finds inspiration in India, a country she first visited as a foundation student at Camberwell and to which she returns at least once a year. She says: "I sometimes wish I had never been to India, once you've been there, there is no going back... What India does and has always done for me is heighten my imaginative life and continually surprise me. I think what first astounded me there was the extraordinary scale of the landscape." When she is there she draws constantly, charcoal drawings with the odd burst of colour, but "holding that memory of colour and light is a challenge to making the work here". At the Drawing School, where she is artistic director, she relishes taking her students to draw outside. "They have never stood and responded to a tree and made a drawing or painting from it. It is very Zen, painting in nature. You have to respond to the moment. The weather throws all kinds of things at you, insects, wind, rain and you have to go with it." I ask about the other letters of sitters stencilled on the rugs. What is the I for? Goodman admits to not remembering: "When I vacuum them they get fainter and eventually disappear." Like all memories.
Catherine Goodman has spent 25 years painting in both the Himalayas and at her studio and home in London. Her work captures both these environments in her signature style, which is energetic to the point of appearing frenzied.
Close up, her pieces seem like a vortex of unordered brush strokes, but on stepping back the subject becomes clearer and it all falls into place. For semi-abstract painters like Goodman there is always a fine line between capturing the energy of an environment and cluttering a piece to such an extent that it loses focus. Her interior works could fall on either side of this fence but it's her paintings of her cabin in its mountainous environs that get this balance spot on.
The powerful works capture the strong winds and snowstorms expected high up in the mountains and provide the viewer with a sensation of what it must be like over there. Her most striking works are those that use a starker palette of greys with either splashes of yellow or red to draw the attention.
Goodman has also experimented with drawings of famous Renaissance works and though they contain her usual energy, an artist copying another never results in their best work.
The central focus of this exhibition are the Himalayan paintings and they rightfully stand out as the best works on display and the ones visitors will want to spend the most time with.
Catherine Goodman: Worlds Within at Marlborough Fine Art Private view Tuesday 11th September 2012 FAD Website, 2012
Marlborough is to present an exhibition of new work by Catherine Goodman.
Goodman is the co-founder and Artistic Director of The Prince's Drawing School and drawing is at the centre of this exhibition. The accompanying catalogue includes essays by critic Rachel Campbell Johnston and art historian Duncan Robinson.
Worlds Within are paintings of the inner landscape. They are the result of twenty-five years of working in the Indian Himalayas and are a dialogue between Indian and London, the artist's home. They combine paintings of mountains and huts with interiors of her family home and studio.
Also showing will be drawings made after paintings by Rembrandt and Veronese in the National Gallery which record her intimate familiarity with these artists.
The scale of the mountainous landscape with its massive peaks impacts on works which dwarf the artist and finds a counterpoint in the intimate drawings from the old masters. Goodman draws every day and this activity is at the centre of everything she does.
Neither subject is a simple rendition but permeated by her emotion, memories and feelings of the subject. Goodman says of her drawings 'They hold smell, temperature, atmosphere' and have to be used 'while there's a freshness in them which after a time dies'. Bold strokes and colour convey the immediacy of her original encounter with the subject.
As Rachel Campbell Johnston writes 'From a distance you see a picture. But step closer and it disappears into a dense network of bush-strokes. The image melts into a forest of swipes and dribbles and splotches. Paint loops and spirals and eddies and sloshes. It is as if the world has dissolved back into that mysterious swell of feelings with which it was first sensed. Step back a few paces and it slowly resolves again - though perhaps not into quite the same picture that you saw the first time.'
To cite Duncan Robinson 'Whether she is drawing from life, drawing from the landscape or drawing from works of art, she does so with the same compulsion, to combine sight with insight, and to distil from what she sees an essence which is entirely her own'.
Preface by Rosie Boycott 2008 Marlborough Fine Art Catalogue
In the Night and Day paintings of Phillimore in Catherine Goodman's new exhibition, the interior studies of a drawing room look at first like rooms caught in a certain time, but a closer look reveals a Russian eighteenth century clock, a Fisher-Price toy, a 1950's side table, the much loved detritus of a family's life. Small children in the corner could be Catherine and her four sisters when they were young, or one of her parents' twelve grandchildren. Phillimore is where Goodman's aristocratic White Russian grandparents lived for the last fifty years of their life, a home that provided their first real sense of security after fleeing for their lives from Tsarist Russia during the revolution. The artefacts and ornaments are remnants of another life, a life of grandeur and ceremony, a life that continued in penury in this flat in Kensington where Catherine's grandparents entertained the surviving emigres. Those who made it to London still dreamed of recapturing the past as they watched the events unfold in Russia with increasing horror. For the young artist, who was first taken there when she was just two days old, the house represented safety, warmth and vital continuity. Now the flat is being sold and the forty-six year old artist wanted to capture the memories. "It is impossible when you are young to understand your upbringing. You need to find the distance. When I was little, I assumed that everyone had the same up-bringing as me, but as I grew older I started to realize how strange, rich and different it was." The Phillimore paintings are Goodman's way of showing how much love and nurture her grandparents gave to her and her siblings.
This impulse led Goodman on to explore both sides of her family in her most recent work. The English side is no less exotic. Catherine's father's grandmother was the doyenne of the Bloomsbury set, Lady Ottoline Morrell. Ottoline gave birth to twins, but the little boy died in infancy, and they named the girl Julian. She was Ottoline's only child, raised at Garsington, the heart of the Bloomsbury set. In the exhibition, Catherine's grandmother is represented by an empty chair, known in the family as The Garsington Chair. It is an antique, ornate Italian chair, with flaking green and gilt paint and a blue cushion, slightly dented as though the occupant had just that minute got up and walked away. It was where, in her memory, she would always find her beloved grandmother. 'Empty chairs are always emotive," she says, "They ask, where has the person gone? When are they coming back? I never painted Julian when she was alive. She lived in the Oxfordshire countryside and we loved going to stay with her, being able to run free through the woods and meadows. Her life had been a strange one - growing up as an only child among all those brilliant and eccentric adults, so often alone. I can now look back and see how much she loved having us there, bringing back to her the exuberance of childhood which her parents' worldly intellectualism denied. Maybe having us there allowed her to dream, but I think of her as a solitary woman, alone in her Italian chair." The still and silent empty chair echoes with an almost visceral loneliness.
A series of masks, lying on tables, or placed in front of mirrors, are metaphors for other family members. Catherine visits India every year, returning with scraps of fabrics, artefacts and masks from the Hindu pantheon. To her father, she has ascribed the mask of a roaring lion, to her sister Sophie, a cat mask, which she found in a Delhi bazaar.
A horned cow, placed in front of a painting of dark Scottish woods, represents her mother: like her mother, cows naturally know to nurture their young while the painting pays homage to her mother's love of Scotland.
Why did she choose masks to portray her closest relatives? Goodman pauses. "I think it is because, as Lewis Carroll's Alice once famously remarked, "How do I know what I think, till I see what I say." But as even the most cursory glance will show, these paintings are not purely about thinking: they are rich in feeling, texture and longing.
Twelve years ago, Catherine's grandparents gave her a small Russian icon, one of the few treasured possessions they had managed to rescue when they were forced to flee Russia in 1918. She hung it in her studio and was distraught when a fire virtually destroyed it, leaving behind just a fragment. A small painting, which recreates the icon, but shows the flames leaping from behind, is her expression of its importance, a way to recreate its worth and its historical and familial significance.
Today, she has a new studio, and two stunning works show both an interior and exterior view. The first looks out towards the busy high speed Great Western line where trains thunder in from the West Country at all hours of the day. From Catherine's box-like studio, situated almost under the tracks, the rhythm of the trains punctuates her day. A second work takes us inside the studio, showing the playful detritus of her working space: here there is all the expected clutter of paints and brushes, but also masks, a tiger skin, a road sign peeking around an easel, little bits of Indian fabric, a painting of a lobster from summer travels and one of a two day old calf which Catherine chanced upon in Ireland. Like all Goodman's paintings, it is suffused with warmth, rich texture and enchantment.
Five portraits complete the exhibition. One, a beautiful and haunting self-portrait shows the artist at the moment when the sanctuaries of childhood fall away and you're suddenly alone. Four others are her models, Isobel Morris and Jack Mathers, who sit regularly for her. Morris has modelled at the Prince's Drawing School, which Catherine has been Artistic Director of since it started eight years ago. One is of Flora Fairbairn, the art curator. The group includes a portrait of The Duchess of Cornwall completed in 2005. It is an informal, almost pensive pose, displaying a sensitivity and simplicity, which is a hallmark of the Goodman's style. It was these qualities that led the judges in 2002 to award the prestigious BP annual portrait award to Goodman for her tender portrait of Dom Anthony Sutch, the Benedictine monk and headmaster of the Roman Catholic Downside School. Her "thoughtful and beautiful" winning painting took two years to complete and has the quiet authority of an icon.
Catherine Goodman lives alone, off the Harrow Road. "I don't know whether painting has kept me solitary," she says, "but it is very difficult to have a big family and be a woman and paint." She paints every day, even on the days when she teaches at the school. She is ruthless and exacting with herself, painting quickly, but spending a long time working on them. A fair amount, she says, get destroyed. All of the twenty paintings exhibited display humanity, warmth and feeling, bringing alive the people and places that matter so much to this artist at the height of her powers.
Turn right at the bus depot, go along the old railway line, plunge into a semi-derelict car park and make your way up a rubble-strewn ramp to what looks like an abandoned container lorry with the letters "CG" painted on the front. Here, if you're fortunate enough not to have been mugged on the way, you'll find the studio of Catherine Goodman, the artist who has just won the prestigious BP Portrait Award. It crouches under the thunderous concrete stanchions of the Westway, against a backdrop of some of west London's most aggressive graffiti.
Goodman is quite happy working inside her aluminium box. Far from using her £25,000 prize to rent more salubrious premises, she plans to spend some of the money improving the light there. She wants to give a party for students at the Prince of Wales's Drawing School in Shoreditch, where she is director and teacher. And she may buy a decent camera to help with her landscape work.
"I'm not used to having very much money," she says, as dreamily as if she had just won the National Lottery. "It's very rare for an artist to get a big windfall like this. I'm very, very grateful." Her charcoal drawings sell for about £1,500 and her bed-sized oil paintings may fetch £10,000, but she works slowly - a painting can take years to finish to her satisfaction - and accepts few commissions. "Art can be tough if people want a lot of attention," she says. "I'm not sure I do. I want to carry on painting and selling and having people tell me what they think of the pictures, but I don't want to be a celebrity. I'm not sure it's very good for artists." As well as being employed by Prince Charles's Foundation, Goodman has been a close friend of Princess Margaret's daughter, Lady Sarah Chatto, since they shared a house during their student days at Camberwell School of Art and later the Royal Academy. Despite (or perhaps because of) these interesting connections, she has avoided celebrity as if it were a contagious disease, and is implacably discreet. Ten years ago, she made a fleeting appearance in the newspapers as "the mystery brunette" who was invited to "make up the numbers" at a small dinner party hosted by Sarah, where Prince Charles was also a guest. Otherwise, until she won the portrait prize last week, she has been as effectively camouflaged in the socio-art scene as her studio in the urban jungle. Partly, this is because figurative painting never makes the same critical waves as conceptual art. Her "thoughtful and beautiful" winning painting of Dom Antony Sutch, the Benedictine monk and headmaster of the Roman Catholic Downside School in Somerset, took two years to complete and is not going to cause demonstrations in the street, or even inside the National Portrait Gallery where it now hangs, along with 55 other paintings chosen from 760 entries. It has the quiet authority of an icon. Goodman, 41, has known Sutch since he was a junior monk at Downside. "I have been going on retreats to Downside since I was 18. Although he looks serious in the portrait, he is spontaneous and has a terrific gift of laughter. I don't know if it's a good picture, but it became an interesting one." Every month for two years, Goodman went to Downside to paint the rotund monk in his favourite chair. Dom Antony sat for a total of more than 100 hours. The four-hour sittings were mostly conducted in complete silence. "I don't ever talk while I'm painting," she says. "If people can handle it, that's what I prefer. It is very interesting to spend a lot of time with people in silence." Goodman says working with severely disabled people has taught her the value of silent communication. Some of her most moving pictures are of her younger sister, Sophie, 37, who walks with sticks and has learning difficulties. "It is a good way of being with her. If you grow up with a handicapped sister, it is part of your life. When I paint Sophie, we are on an equal footing." Goodman, who is half Russian, and whose paternal great-grandmother was the Bloomsburyite arts patron Lady Ottoline Morrell, has three other sisters. The eldest, Mary, is married to the Tory MP Edward Leigh, and has six children. Goodman lives alone, off the Harrow Road. "I don't know whether painting has kept me solitary," she says, "but it is very difficult to have a big family and be a woman and paint." She paints every day, even the three days a week when she is running the Prince of Wales's Drawing Studio on the other side of London. "I try to keep those two lives going. The bad days are as important as the good. I paint quickly, but I spend a very long time on my pictures and I destroy a fair amount." She rummages through stacks of unfinished canvases, challenging me to say which is finished and which is not. It is impossible to tell. On another wall, there is another scrap of photojournalism, showing a grieving woman caught up in the Middle East turmoil. She has translated it into a small oil painting. Goodman's largest body of themed work, which will be the subject of a rare exhibition later this year, was done in India. She spends a month every spring in the Kullu valley in the Western Himalayas. "I have been visiting this valley for 15 years. I like the familiarity, seeing the same vegetable sellers in the same place in the bazaar, year after year. It would be hard for me now to go to a new place to work." Goodman has been described as Prince Charles's art adviser, a role she half-heartedly denies, but probably only on a technicality. He is certainly an active founder of the drawing studio and a skilled watercolourist himself and they are both concerned about the neglect of serious observational drawing in many art schools - an omission the Prince's studio is designed to remedy. She says she receives a "normal salary" for her directorship, which involves hiring fine art teachers, conducting workshops and setting timetables. "It is an important thing to be doing just now, when there is so much debate going on about figurative as opposed to conceptual art, but I probably won't do it for ever." The BP Portrait Award is Britain's biggest prize for figurative painting and, though less controversial than the Turner prize exhibition at Tate Britain, usually attracts more visitors. Catherine Goodman had never entered before and will be unable to do so again, because she has turned 41 since the qualification date.
"I never expected to win this prize," she says, "but it has become a nice affirmation."
Video footage of Catherine Goodman's exhibition at
Marlborough Fine Art, 2012 Copyright Catherine Goodman 2013