Written by Julian Rankin | Photographed by Frank Farmer
Two very different looking stacks of finished paintings lean against the wall in William Goodman’s studio. The artist has either lived or worked around this landmark corner of the neighborhood for the better part of 15 years. His exuberant creative exploits with fellow artists in Fondren Corner during the early 2000s are well-known, when the crew of up-and-coming Jackson creatives like Ginger Williams-Cook, Jason Twiggy Lott, and Josh Hailey ran amok and churned out raw art at all hours and every turn. But though this physical space is familiar and staid, Goodman is not the same. He has fresh perspective.
“Back then, I was searching for my voice,” Goodman says of the formative years when Fondren, and the artists therein, began carving out their names. “We were just wild. Letting loose. Nothing else mattered. It was such an important time for all of us. Now, we’re all professional working artists. We needed that time together to do our thing.”
One of the stacks of paintings consists of large portraits of pop music icons, Beyonce and Taylor Swift among them. More canvasses, unstretched, hang on the wall, in process, part of an accompanying series that pays homage to the music heroes and heroines who have transitioned off this mortal plane: Bowie and Elvis and Lennon, with many more to come. These graphically-rendered faces jump forth from backgrounds that mimic the peeling layers of paper and paint that one might find on a building façade in an urban, street art setting, branded with graffiti-tag flourishes that channel the populist, rogue expressions of modern America. The compositions herald the cultural impacts of musical celebrity and legend that rise to the top – suspended at their peaks, defiant and resistant to the wear and tear of time.
“I’m still doing the same kind of stuff as I was back then,” says Goodman of that lyrical, loaded, graphic work, “but it feels more grown up.” It retains the sexiness and raw edge that he’s known for, but with the intentionality and direction that comes with maturity and self-discovery.
In the other stack are evolutions of his signature abstraction; meditations on the nature of self, poured out in color like improvised jazz.
“The abstract work just comes out of me,” he says. “It’s a release. When I crank the music up and get the colors out, it’s a type of therapy. I just paint what comes out of me.”
While there is a natural aesthetic separation between the representational and the abstract, both embody the growth of the maker. “I don’t think I could’ve made something like this in 2004,” Goodman reflects, pointing to brushstrokes of red and yellow. “I could have used these colors, but I don’t think I could’ve nailed this type of composition. I see things differently now.”
Goodman is married now. He owns a house. He and his wife, Nell, have a young daughter named Violet. They have a dog named Sophie Chocolate Milkshake. There’s more at stake than in those earlier years of boundless and freewheeling creation. “When you have a kid, something changes inside of you. It gives more meaning to what you do. When I see myself now I still see a fun, wild, crazy kind of guy. But I also see a responsible and loving husband and father. I’m not messing around.”
That, perhaps, is the biggest shift for Goodman. His paintings are mortgage payments and light bills and college savings accounts and insurance premiums. He has always been a working artist. But only recently has he pursued the business side of art-making as doggedly as the making itself. When he comes into the studio every day at nine o’clock, he might as well be clocking in. The kid who’d “always gone to the beat of my own [fricking] drum” has no time to break his rhythm.
Along with that ever-sharpening perspective, William Goodman’s art is about progress and the journey.
“I don’t believe any artist has truly made it until they’re dead,” he says, smiling. He rattles off a handful of the “dead musicians” he’s bringing back in paint: Janis Joplin, B.B. King, Lou Reed, Hank Williams, Ray Charles, Patsy Cline, Sid Vicious, Freddie Mercury, Frank Zappa, Joey Ramone.
“I have more,” he says, as if it were a mantra.