Petite, peppery Brenda Goodman was always a bit of an odd “man” out in the creative tumult that erupted in Detroit’s Cass Corridor in the 1970s.
If the largely male artistic movement that produced Gordon Newton, Robert Sestok and Michael Luchs had an appealing, rough-edged machismo to it, Goodman, now 72, stood out as an unsparingly introspective painter whose doubts and struggles filled her canvases.
“The guys just didn’t do that,” says Goodman, who has simultaneous shows up now at the Detroit’s Center Galleries at the College for Creative Studies and Paul Kotula Projects in Ferndale.
The exhibits — respectively “Brenda Goodman: Selected Work 1961-2015” and “Brenda Goodman: A Life on Paper” — constitute a remarkable career retrospective spanning 50 years. The two run through Dec. 19.
Of her Corridor comrades, Goodman says, “The guys were all doing war and bullets, and I wasn’t coming from that place.” She recalls one of them told her if she wanted to do “this sort of thing,” i.e., emotionally raw work, “Don’t show it. Put it under your bed.’”
It goes without saying Goodman, who left Detroit for the bright lights and hard struggle of New York in 1976, ignored that well-intended advice.
Paul Kotula, who started exhibiting Goodman in Ferndale in the 1990s, says what he loves about her is her fearlessness. “Brenda’s not afraid to show emotion through material, not afraid of revealing truths,” he says.
That fearlessness is on vivid display starting with her student work from the School of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts (now CCS), on an exterior wall just as you enter her show at Center Galleries.
Goodman’s very first painting, “Celeste,” a rough-daubed portrait of a doll with blank, hopeless eyes, tells all you need to know about this artist’s capacity for the deep and the disturbing.
Small wonder CCS’s legendary painting professor Sarkis Sarkisian once referred to Goodman as his “little genius.” (He made her promise, she says, not to tell the other students.)
The doll portrait also speaks to an innate talent for craft, augmented by rigorous instruction in art fundamentals in college. Wandering her show, the word artist and CCS professor Ryan Standfest picks is “succulent.”
And while Goodman has veered from the abstract to the figurative and back over the course of her fertile career, some of her most arresting pieces are self-portraits from her mid-’90s “eating series.”
That this slim, tomboy-ish artist ever had a weight problem is hard to figure, given how she looks today. But like many, she’s struggled, and that effort and anguish made its way into drawings and paintings.
“It had to,” Goodman says, “because my work is so connected to what’s going on with my body, my being, and my life.”
At CCS, “Self Portrait 4” may remind you a bit of Goya’s “Saturn Eating His Son,” though Goodman’s reference is more historical than stylistic.
All the same, the vast painting is a potent essay in helplessness and self-loathing that anyone, whether they’ve had a weight problem or not, will immediately grasp.
As the art critic John Yau recently wrote in Hyperallergic, “(Goodman) has had a long interest in what lies behind appearances, in the demonic and grotesque forces percolating beneath the surface.”
But this is an artist with a sense of humor, as well.
With “Two Figures in the Rain,” a work on paper at Paul Kotula Projects, Goodman’s rendered herself and her lover of 27 years, Linda Dunne, as two agreeably lumpy, side-by-side boulders in Central Park.
‘Brenda Goodman: Selected Work 1961-2015’
Through Dec. 19
Center Galleries, College for Creative Studies, 301 Frederick, Detroit
10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday (closed the day after Thanksgiving)
‘Brenda Goodman: A Life on Paper’
Through Dec. 19
Paul Kotula Projects, 23255 Woodward, 2nd floor, Ferndale
11 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursday-Saturday