Interview with Ken Goldman: Finding Beauty by Joe Nalven
Ken Goldman and I agreed to continue our discussion about art. I wanted to know more about how he thought about and pursued beauty.
What is beautiful to you? How do you find it?
Ken Goldman: Interesting that you would mention the topic of beauty. This painting I just finished says - in Kanji Japanese, "Beauty can be found any where, any time, any place." On the right, it simply says "Morning Glow." I use the Kanji not so much for what it says but because of the aesthetics and compositional possibilities it provides. I love the flat Japanese aesthetic and attempt to blend it into my own western dimensional aesthetic.
Ken Goldman / Morning Glow
But as regards the rest of my work, one of the reasons I love to paint alleys, autos, fat figures, old men and many man-made ugly objects is to prove that beauty is not about the thing we paint but the colors, values, gestures and design possibilities that any person, thing, scene or situation can provide.
Artists make things, situations or places look beautiful or ugly depending on the way they compose, paint and color or shade. As with music, an artist can deliberately play beautifully and inspirationally, atonally with dissonance, or use a combination of both for pure drama.
If I were to take out the intense contrast of light and dark, bright color versus neutrals, straight versus curve, all being elements and principles of good eye-pleasing design, Morning Glow would be a drab, ugly, unexciting picture of plates, glasses, cups and jams on a breakfast table.
Can you give me several examples of ugly or drab to beautiful?
KG:" One example is this painting, East on Orchard* which was done as a demonstration for the San Diego Watercolor Society. Apparently we were scheduled to meet at the end of Orchard street to paint the ocean. But I liked the opposite view both for its complexity and the editing challenge it provided.
*Ken Goldman / East on Orchard - Watercolor crayons on paper"
Some participants were shocked that I chose to paint the street because they thought cars and jumbled homes were un-appealing. I explained that cars and homes were not ugly at all rather, minus their connotations asman-made things, were interesting, beautiful shapes, especially with the morning light causing cool horizontal shadows on a warm vertical street sandwiched between a cool busy left side and a simpler cool dark mass on the right. It is the beauty of proper design principles such as these that a viewer's eye appreciates above and beyond drab or ugly subject matter.
What other examples might you give in other media?
KG: Here are some charcoal and pastel examples.
Ken Goldman / Up Narragansett - Charcoal on Paper
Ken Goldman / Wash Basin - Pastel on paper
KG: Here is an acrylic example of ordinary objects becoming beautiful for the shapes they provide.
Ken Goldman / Fire extinguisher I - Acrylic on canvas
This an example of figure drawing from my life-drawing class:
KG: Van Relaxed - Pencil and watercolor
Did you develop your sense on what is beautiful over time or did you have a revelation that defined your current thoughts on what is beautiful?
KG: I started my career in art as a bird artist back in 1972. I was a naturalist and I thought at the time that only nature was worth painting. I was only 22 so I guess I can be excused for holding uneducated idealistic views.
Ken Goldman / Two Birds - Watercolor on paper
KG: My transformation began in 1980 when I started painting landscapes and I saw works by Wayne Theibaud. He made cityscapes look as lovely as his landscapes. I also started drawing in life figure groups then and began to see that people of all sizes, shapes and colors could make successful drawings.
Here is another example of an early bird painting.
Do you want to add anything? Perhaps, how your comments match up with what collectors, galleries or museums want?
KG: Galleries shy away from figures and portraits unless collectors specifically commission paintings of themselves or family. Figures, composed nicely with good colors showing the backs or side views are sometimes OK. Some galleries in San Francisco, Los Angeles or New York do sell figures by well known artists but here in San Diego it is tougher to break into that market.