STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For Digital First Media
Woodmere Art Museum houses more than 3,000 works of art celebrating the artists of Philadelphia. One of its latest exhibitions showcases Eileen Goodman, an artist who called Elkins Park home for years.
“The Weight of Watercolor: The Art of Eileen Goodman” includes work spanning five decades, from her early figurative drawings, prints, and oils to her recent monumental watercolors, according to the museum’s website. Works featuring peonies, fruit, and arranged still life will be displayed and viewers can see how she achieves “saturated color, nuanced tonal ranges, and complex textures.”
Goodman, who was born in Atlantic City in 1937, attended the Philadelphia Museum School of Art (now the University of the Arts), where she studied illustration. She has been featured in a number of solo exhibitions, most recently at Philadelphia’s Gross McCleaf Gallery. Her work is held in the collections of Bryn Mawr College, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the National Gallery of Art.
Goodman, who now calls Wyncote home, said in a telephone interview that some of the watercolors are quite large, up to 40 by 60 inches. She started as an illustrator, then worked with oils. In the 1990s, she started working with watercolor.
“At some point, they took over and they got bigger,” she said. “I’m able to do with them what I was trying to get at with oils.”
She said she grew to meet the challenge.
“You have to be freer,” she said. “They’re representational, but with that scale, I didn’t want to be literal.”
Goodman takes photos, makes 4- by 6-inch prints, then paints what catches her eye or what asks to be painted.
“They talk back to me,” she said. “They say, ‘Paint me! paint me!’”
She has always painted what’s around her. When her daughter was young, she painted toys, for instance. But she tries to see things “in a way that isn’t the most conventional or ordinary, even though the objects are ordinary,” she said. “The objects are around, but seen in a new light and a new dark – the shadows became more and more important to me. It reveals forms and hides them.”
She focuses on still life paintings because of “the arrangements, the lighting, the surfaces, the textures – all of which I love,” she said. “I love the way light falls across objects. That’s very important to me.”
Bill Valerio, Woodmere’s director, has always been taken by Goodman’s work, he said in a telephone interview.
“Watercolor is a medium that’s dramatic. It’s all about accidents that happen with flow and seepage and the artist’s control over that,” he said. “Eileen has an ability to make large, deep, dramatic paintings.”
Goodman said she doesn’t have an idea of what the paintings mean when she creates them, but Valerio sees much in her work.
“She’s able to take still life and flower painting and talk about life, death, sensuality, and everything in between,” he said. “The relationships between elements are all played out between a peach, an eggplant, and a blue cup, or a field of poppies blowing in the wind interacting with the environment. They tell important stories symbolic of life.”
Because Woodmere focuses on Philadelphia artists, Valerio is excited not only to have some Goodman works in the collection, but to be able to mount this show.
“Eileen has been part of the conversation of the arts in the city for years and we’re thrilled,” he said.
Goodman is, too, and she hopes people will enjoy the exhibit. She’s looking forward to meeting viewers on Jan. 9 during a Gallery Talk. In the meantime, as she always has, she’ll continue to paint. Who knows what path her creativity will take her down next?
“I just hope I grow along with the work,” she said.