Forceful still lifes

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

"The Making of the Dauphine," Dick Goody's new solo show at Detroit's N'Namdi Center for Contemporary Art through April 18, is a bright visual treat — just the thing you need on a freezing day in early March.

Yet for all their strong colors, these paintings — most of which are still lifes — are nuanced and "ambiguous," to use Goody's term, and not the unbridled fun that their underground-comics style and vivid palette first suggest.

But this is typical Goody, a Londoner who teaches art at Oakland University and curates some of the Detroit area's best shows at the school's art gallery. His work often suggests one thing at first glance, and something rather different on the second.

There's a strong biographical feel to these portraits of piles of books, Italian meals, or ashtrays paired with gin bottles. Everything feels rooted in experience and observation. This storytelling quality comes as no surprise once you learn the paintings were based on drawings Goody did for his dystopian novella, "The Dauphine."

"I love Dick's work," says Royal Oak artist Mary Fortuna, for years the exhibitions director at Rochester's Paint Creek Center for the Arts. "I get excited whenever I hear he has a new show."

Fortuna says she was particularly taken with Goody's still lifes, and sees a parallel with Max Beckmann, the German Expressionist whose works were denounced and banned by the Nazis.

"There's this immediacy and forcefulness to everything," she says, "this emphatic quality, these bold outlines. Nothing Dick does is fussy or over-worked. It's almost the opposite. It's almost under-worked."

Indeed, there's a striking confidence in the way Goody reduces common objects to their elemental basics. Take a look at the fork in "Tweed Leliedwarsstraat No. 6," a portrait of a meal starring a dish of spaghetti and meatballs and a couple bottles of wine.

That fork, with its simple shape and remarkable visual weight, spoke to Fortuna.

"I kept looking at it. It's got this feeling like you could pick it up and stab someone. I know that sounds terrible, but it was so real — despite the fact that there's no attempt to make things look 'realistic.'"

Equally compelling is "Bottle in Lake," a wine bottle floating in black water, the ripples around it glinting red and yellow in the moonlight.

"Didn't it just transport you somewhere?" Fortuna asks. "The simplicity of it all!"

'The Making of the Dauphine' - Dick Goody

Through April 18

N'Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, 52 E. Forest, Detroit

Noon - 6 p.m., Tuesday - Saturday

(313) 831-8700