As a person who loves contemporary art and craft, I must nonetheless confess that I have a secret thing for Renaissance and Classical work…like Georges de La Tour’s Magdalen with the Smoking Flame at LACMA. Or the Caravaggios and the Jan van Eycks at the National Gallery in London. Or the portraits and still-lifes by Rembrandt and Vermeer anywhere.
What is it about the work that compels? The detail. The clarity of the subject. The light–the glow–that seems to emanate directly from the painting. The tricks of perspective. The use of darkness. The colors–particularly the intense cobalts and scarlets. The pops of gold. The stories told in the foreground, the mysteries in the background, and the expressions on the faces of the subjects.
Sometimes, you just need complexity, detail, and richness.
And so it was when I wandered through the American Craft Council show in San Francisco earlier this year. Lots of great work, but after a couple of hours of wandering…well let’s just say that a good many things started to look the same.
And then I saw Christina Goodman’s booth, and really did stop dead in my tracks.
The work–hand-painted wearable art (jewelry), and miniatures (triptychs, diptychs, single panels, and mixed media objects such as boxes), done in a Renaissance style–was just so different, so stunning. The subject is generally nature (gardens, animals) and the jewelry is accented with gems and pearls.
The detail really does take your breath away (it’s accomplished with some of the smallest brushes you’ve ever seen, with the help of a magnifier and lots of light). Her color choices are classical, yet somehow fresh and unstilted. The work is delicate, of course, but doesn’t feel fussy or finicky: there’s a robust, solid, and dare I say, modern air to it. And there was Christina herself, a little like her work (delicate, but not fussy or finicky). She’s still, gracious, luminous, and has a face that easily could have appeared in any of the works mentioned above.
The work would fit in all kinds of environments. It’s obviously perfect for more traditional and eclectic spaces, but then again, I could just as easily see the work adorning the perfect nook in a minimalist loft.
Fast forward several weeks. Deep in the heart of the suburbs, we’re in her garage, which serves as her studio. Let’s be clear: it’s a garage. It’s not one of these lovely renovated spaces that are unrecognizable for what they are. This is exactly what it is: all exposed rafters, cords, and dark corners. But then your eye tracks to her work space (meticulously organized, carefully lit–not a surprise), and to the serene, still life altars of inspiration popping up here and there, and you start to get a sense of the artist in the garage.
You’ve been at this for 18 years, but how did you start? And why miniatures? I have a Fine Arts background (a degree from UC Santa Cruz) and after that I did a lot of faux finishing and gilding. I started doing wearable versions of paintings and moved from there.
There weren’t classes on miniatures at college, were there? No, no. My training really came after school in the form of workshops and working on my own. But in terms of the why: I’ve always loved details, I’ve always looked to the small parts for inspiration.
Why? I don’t know. But I’ve always been drawn to small objects…..I’m drawn to detail more than form. I just can’t say why. I’m just naturally inclined to the small scale. Plus I’ve moved around a lot and you can’t move a lot and have lots of big things. Maybe that’s it!
And why this Renaissance, Classical style when the world is doing impressionistic or abstract work? Again, I’m not sure, but I’ve always been incredibly inspired by Renaissance art. It’s the detail, the peace, the rendering. It’s just lovely.
And where do you think that came from? I think that it came from spending a lot of time traveling and in museums while I was growing up. (Christina was born in Italy and spent a few childhood summers in Europe.) In college I went to Italy and took art classes. And my father lived on the Ligurian coast, so I got to spend time in Florence. (My heart bleeds…)
Where’s the first place you remember feeling inspired? Between the ages of 5 and 13, we lived in the DC suburbs and went to the National Gallery on weekends. The museum was just the most awesome place.
So…what came after college? Well, as I said, I moved around a fair amount and learned lots of things. I lived in New Orleans (long chat about our favorite US city with all its delicious decay), then on to Brooklyn where I learned faux finishing and then moved to Seattle, where I took classical art classes at the Gage Academy. Then I came back down here, and kept refining my work.
Then what? If there’s a piece you haven’t done before and it’s not custom, how do you decide what to paint? I’ll take the parts and prep them, and then peruse art books and photos for something that catches my eye. Sometimes I’ll keep a piece unpainted until I find the right inspiration.
You do a lot of custom work. What’s the strangest commission you’ve had? (Long silence, followed by a broad smile.) Let’s just say that I’ve had requests I haven’t taken people up on. (Damn. I was hoping for a little dishing here.) But I’ve done gardens, pets, houses…that kind of thing
Do you do portraiture? I’ve had requests to do it and am just building up to that. But you know, portraits are much more sensitive than painting a garden, or someone’s cat or dog. (Hmm. Not so sure about that.)
What about larger pieces? Sometimes I think that would be fun to do a larger piece (e.g. a mural.) I could see larger pieces, like screens. But I don’t know…
Who are your customers? They generally tend to be a little older, and they do tend to collect. But I’ve noticed a lot of younger people being drawn to the work at craft shows. They all tend to be appreciators of art and art history. One collector is in the computer business but has a degree in Renaissance Literature. How do they find you? At art and craft shows and at stores and galleries.
Oh those shows are tough: are there any secrets to getting through? I just remind myself that I could be working in a store or office or cafeteria. I look at the big picture. (Amen.)
Do you have a go-to-book for inspiration? Oh yes. (She cocks her head toward stacks and shelves of fat, drool-worthy art books.) I have a collection…but I’m trying to slow down!
Is there a place that inspires you the most? The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. They have an amazing collection of Renaissance materials, and I’ve gotten to know a conservator there. The fact that they’re interested in my work is one of the highest compliments.
What do you collect? Small objects and artwork. (No surprise there!) I pick up work from other people at shows and trade work too. I just met Nicki Ulehla, whose work is really eclectic. And there’s a Swiss woman named Lucrezia Beiler who does paper cutting. It’s incredible what she can do: her work is so intricate and beautiful.
Tell me about a transcendent moment. Oh there have been lots of them. Is there a theme? They usually occur in nature–when hiking. But in terms of one moment….there was one in Russia. We were on a riverboat, slowly moving. It was soulful, beautiful, quiet. That was wonderful…the landscape wasn’t so magical, but the moment was!
Also going to the conservation lab at the Walters and looking through the microscope at a quadriptych at a painting of Jesus. The artist, Simon Bening (Flemish), even painted the cuticles on Mary’s fingertips. He did that even though most people–maybe no one–would never see it.
Oh, and looking at a painting by Jan Van Eyck in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Its called St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata. In it (all 5 x 5 3/4 inches of it), he captures a whole world. Everything is incredibly rendered.
What drives people to paint in miniature with that kind of detail? It’s a challenge. It’s meditative. You have to concentrate…it’s all-consuming.
Do you listen to anything when you’re working? When I’m doing a tedious task, music keeps me going. Some classical, some newer pieces. My husband, Eric, makes mixes for me. Or I listen to NPR.
What places do you love? What places are magical? I love the Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco…I love both the space and the collection. There’s an art store that sells pigments and traditional art materials: Sinopia. And I love the Home Plate on Lombard St. for breakfast.
If you could have dinner with anyone, who would it be? Two come to mind: the Dalai Lama or the painter Jan Van Eyck.
Who would play you in the movie of your life? (A look of genuine horror crosses her face.) Oh that’s so uncomfortable for me! (Yes that’s why we ask.) I just don’t know. I’m stumped. (You know, this applies to others we’ve spoken with, but I’m thinking Julianne Moore, for her luminous quality. Not so bad!)
What are you reading? The Forger’s Spell by Edward Dolnick . It’s about a forger of Vermeers during WWII. Also Oh the Glory of it All by Sean Wilsey. Do you like those Tracy Chevalier (Girl with the Pearl Earring) books? No, not really. I’m not keen on historical fiction. I like to know if something was true.
And what five things define you? I don’t have a lot of stuff after all my moves, but…
I have a fold-down desk that my great grand father made for my grandmother when she was a little girl
A footstool that my great great grandfather made
My art book collection
My easel where I paint all my pieces. It’s about 15 years of accumulated paint dabs and doodles.
My back yard – it’s the view I have every day while I’m working. Lots of fruit trees, birds, squirrels, and the sound of the neighbors’ hens! (Loud. Persistent. Oddly comical.)
It’s rare to get this much consistency between a person’s 5, their inspirations, and their work; it gives you a sense of how true Christina’s being to herself in her work. Go see some of her work and be prepared to be impressed. Actually, that’s not right. Go see her work and be prepared to be blown away.