THE INCARNATION OF LINE
By Christopher Addison
The line is preeminent in every one of Carol Brown Goldberg’s paintings assembled for this exhibition, stitched across canvas and paper with a determined strength that invites, surrounds, ducks and weaves through space. It charts the artist’s open, questing mind acknowledging her interest in physics, music and civics, winds under itself, activates the pure unmarked space in which she begins and seems to have neither beginning nor end. It finds space for quiet, often in the corners and edges of her compositions, and as easily embraces color as it does lie unencumbered by it. Further, it allows the artist’s hand to track her questing mind.
Drawing is such a basic artistic technique used by parietal artists as many as 35,000 years ago in Indonesia, in Europe at Lascaux and Pech Merle and Altimira during the Paeolithic period and in Africa and Australia 5,000 to10,000 years ago. Drawing evokes a powerful, deep and direct connection that is no less potent today than it was for the community of peoples from which these parietal artists emerged. In this artist’s drawing is her personal mythology, family history and inspired discovery with a consistent style and easy flow. Seared into her line is an inexorable quest for meaning, for connection, for a creative legacy.
William Butler Yeats and his wife indulged in automatic writing in an attempt to tap into the spirit realm chronicled in “A Vision”. Vincent Van Gogh augmented his letters to his brother with humble subjects and compositions evoked by staccato lines. The Running Grass script of the Japanese Zen calligraphers made highly individuated art from otherwise stiff, pictographic characters. In each case these lines were stylized vehicles for a higher expression that moved beyond verbal utterances. So too, with Goldberg’s line. It is indeed an expression by the artist of a transcendent inner experience, styled by her hand and professional training and seeking more than to be random marks on a durable surface. The eye follows where the line leads, as in a mandala, seeking beginning and end, creation and annihilation. It is thus fitting that these paintings, even those devoid of color, are highly suggestive of gardens. Gardens are typically where mankind seeks to impose order onto nature. This artist creates vast, natural spaces in which she works in markings suggestive of tendrils and vines, pods and flowers, trunks and roots intertwined in a riotous complexity, echoing the Butterfly Effect of Chaos Theory whereby a single small change, a line in this case, has a cumulative and enlarging effect on a system: weather, biology or a painting. These paintings hold, for a long moment, chaos at bay. The artist’s gardens seek order too while granting nature its sovereignty.
These Extravagant Edens, large and small, are birthing places, as the titles suggest, for the artist’s visual worlds. See parallels in the jungles of Henri Rousseau and the compositions of Wassily Kandinsky, in the wall drawings of Sol Lewitt and in the patterned paintings of Yayoi Kusama. Are these paintings of Carol Brown Goldberg’s obsessive or pensive, tightly careful or spontaneous, abstract or pictorial? The fact that they can straddle these conceptual realms is part of their immense appeal. The suggestion of the infinite variety of nature gives them an implied as well as an illusionistic depth.
Sir Kenneth Clark seemed to be speaking directly to the roots of Goldberg’s inspiration when he wrote: “The difference between what we see and a sheet of white paper with a few thin lines on it is very great. Yet this abstraction is one which we seem to have adopted almost instinctively at an early stage in our development, not only in Neolithic graffiti but in early Egyptian drawings. And in spite of its abstract character, the outline is responsive to the least tremor of sensibility.” For an artist who is constantly in motion, a brush or a pen in her hand much of the time, this one has found a conduit, a hand, eye, mind linkage that knits together several decades of patient and constant exploration, from her highly stylized, figurative painting of the 1970s and 1980s, through her later, muscular three dimensional abstractions, to the heavily layered patterned, pure abstractions of just several years ago, to cull and distill elements of each into the Edens of this body of work.
While splendid, even playful, fantasies on one level, Carol Brown Goldberg’s compositions register as serious, finely crafted and deliberate explorations that are at their most risky and, therefore, most satisfying when rendered solely in black and white. It takes incredible courage for an artist as creative as Goldberg to limit her palette in this way. It takes discipline and tireless application to present these monochromatic compositions as whole and complete. And when, having mastered that minimal, precise rendering, she reintroduces color in washes and saturated outlines and shapes, then she has used all of the tools of her craft to lift a veil from occluded eyes.
Carol Brown Goldberg joins the rare circle of artists who demonstrate the ability to inspire her audience to forever see their world differently. Here, in these paintings and drawings, it begins in black and white, with a line and proceeds through a full panoply of color, in works modest and grand. Sarah Thornton reminded us of that powerful, worldview changing gift in her recent assessment of contemporary artists and their contributions in “33 Artists in 3 Acts” very recently: “Artists don’t just make art. They create and preserve myths… In a sphere where anything can be art, there is no objective measurement of quality, so ambitious artists must establish their own standards of excellence.” Goldberg has established hers, here in these Edens.