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From the Vault: Artist William Goodman

Submitted Art "Metagram No. 17" by William Goodman, oil on canvas, 1970. Gift of the artist.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Aubrey Hobart

Special to the Daily Record

In 1971, William Goodman completed a 30-foot mural titled “Oddy Knocky,” which is now one of the most beloved paintings in the collection of the Roswell Museum and Art Center (RMAC).

To celebrate the 50th birthday of this extraordinary work of art, RMAC is pleased to present a retrospective exhibition showcasing more than five decades of wild and wonderful work by William Goodman.

Goodman is not just a painter, he’s also a sculptor, printmaker, draftsman, inventor, illustrator and toymaker. Whether he’s making a musical instrument, an intricate drawing, or an 18-foot tall abstract steel sculpture, the consistent thread is that each takes a great deal of time and patience. However, some motifs appear regularly throughout his work: Sinuous vines with striped leaves, a flat iron, Albrecht Dürer’s “Rhinoceros,” soldiers in different poses, and a single five-pointed star, among others. These elements usually relate to specific memories of Goodman’s life in the military, in art school, or when he worked as a surveyor.

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Born in Wimbledon, England in 1937, Goodman says he had a structured but aimless childhood. His father was a mechanical engineer with a penchant for inventions, and his mother had a brief career smuggling feathers for ladies’ hats. During World War II, Goodman and his older brother were sent out of London for a time to avoid the bombings, but their stay with a great aunt was cut short and they returned to the city. After the war, Goodman went to boarding school, which he describes as like Hogwarts but without the magic. The school necessitated military service and Goodman wasn’t interested in the army, so after graduation he chose to serve in the Royal Navy because he wanted to “get at it from the inside.”

Goodman spent two years trying to prevent Saudi Arabian arms from reaching Muscat during the Oman War, eventually being promoted to Able Seaman. However, he didn’t care for the discipline of the English navy and left to explore the world, starting with North America. In 1959, Goodman spent some time in Canada before buying a Harley Davidson motorcycle, crossing into the United States at Niagara Falls, and biking across the country to San Francisco. His world tour ended there because he liked the beatnik energy of the city so much. Goodman’s father, who had visited the States prior, felt it was a good place for his son to settle and helped with his immigration documentation.

Walking to work every day, Goodman saw a building that caught his eye. Eventually, his curiosity caught up to him, and he went inside to discover that it was the California School of Fine Arts — now the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI). He’d never considered an art career, but decided to enroll anyway. Goodman began as a painter, studying with famed abstract expressionist Richard Diebenkorn, but found he liked the freedom of the sculpture department better. The college also helped him find a job in a pathology lab. Other than making tea and answering phones, Goodman got to attend a number of autopsies and found them quite interesting. After graduation, he spent a year in the Merchant Marines before returning to SFAI for graduate work. A teaching opportunity in Albuquerque then brought Goodman to New Mexico, and the Roswell Artist-in-Residence program lured him further south in the state.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Goodman lived in a building on the grounds of the Walker Air Force Base, which had closed in 1967. After many years of making sculpture, he wanted to return to painting, so he worked on commissions by brothers Robert O. Anderson and Donald Anderson, before producing the enormous “Oddy Knocky.” The 30-foot long painting was first created in a small room in Goodman’s home, so it was designed to wrap around three walls and engulf the viewer, but after the work was exhibited in Juarez, the curator who brought it to Texas thought it would be better if they installed it on a long single wall, and the piece has been shown that way ever since.

As his painting commissions ended, Goodman needed to find another source of income, so he enrolled in a surveying course, thinking he might be able to draw maps. Instead, he took a job in the field at a coal mine in Wyoming. The work was challenging, but the experience led to the creation of his Landmask series. The first construction was a scale model of a coal mining problem, but the pieces quickly evolved into more artistic depictions of unreal landscapes. Four years later, Goodman joined a surveying team who covered western Texas and eastern New Mexico. With little else to do in the evenings, he completed intricate drawings in his hotel rooms.

Finally, Goodman settled in New Mexico, buying some land in the small community of Tinnie in the Hondo valley. There he continues to work out of a converted mechanic’s shop, welding the towering sculptures that line the property. Goodman spends the rest of his time building toys, games, whirligigs, and repairing an old motel on the property to fill it with his paintings and landmasks. When asked about the variety of things he makes, Goodman simply said that when he realized he was never going to be a famous artist, it freed him to make the things he likes. Fortunately, Goodman is willing to share his wonderful world with the rest of us. His exhibit, titled “A Lucky Escape: The Wild World of William Goodman,” opens at RMAC on June 12, which includes a take-home or build-onsite kids art activity, an opportunity to meet the artist and free admission for Roswell residents.

Aubrey Hobart is the curator of collections and exhibitions at the Roswell Museum and Art Center, 1011 N. Richardson Ave.

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