Editor's note: The following essay was published in connection with the exhibition tug: The Art and Collaborations of Dane Goodman and Keith Puccinelli, on view September 2 through October 17, 2015. The essay was published August 22, 2015 in Resource Library with permission of the Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, please contact Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art directly through either this phone number or web address:
a tug is between: The Art and Collaborations of Dane Goodman and Keith Puccinelli
by Christopher Miles
For a 2013 exhibition of their collaborative Trace Prints Project at Jane Deering Gallery in Santa Barbara, Keith Puccinelli and Dane Goodman produced a catalog titled eating fresh peaches and tomatoes talking about death drawing together. Titles are matters that artists often either anguish over or avoid, and so for a title that had to be decided upon by a pair of artists in negotiation to reflect such a combination of clarity, ease, and humor is telling of the working relationship between these two. And the casualness of the phrase reveals less an offhandedness or arbitrariness than the effortless eloquence of two individuals who, for all their goofball and clownish imagery, are deft semioticians dealing constantly in the fun and bite of crunching cultural code. The title eating fresh peaches and tomatoes talking about death drawing together, which has about it the air and essence if not quite the syllabic standard of a haiku, is a concise statement regarding a specific project (a series of collaborative, drawing-based prints) and a working dynamic of two artists getting on in their years and conscious of their own mortality while enjoying acting like kids and making art in a way that is integrated in their domestic lives while the seasons pass. And so it goes with Goodman and Puccinelli, who have chosen to title their latest exhibition, in full minimalist deadpan, tug.
What is a tug?
Colloquially, we speak of a tug on the sleeve or collar, of tugging on coattails, or of tugging on heartstrings. Tug boats, with their scrappy persistence in cajoling vessels multiple times their size, hold a special place in the wonder and magination of children and grown-up children alike, and the "tug of war" has remained ubiquitous as competition, as ritual, and as metaphor since its ancient origins in cultures around the globe.
To tug is to compel. To tug is to move. To tug is to alter the course of another. To tug is to make one's presence felt. To tug is to intervene. To tug is to balance. To tug is to knock off balance. To tug is to align. To tug is to throw out of whack.
To tug is to say, "Check this out." To tug is to say, "Come my way." To tug is to say, "Get over here!" To tug is to say, "Wake up!" To tug is to say "Not so fast." To tug is to say, "I'm with you."
A tug is both an act and an action, a noun and a verb, and expanding these conceptually, one can begin to understand the tug as the basis of a way of being or a way of operating. Whether gentle or brutish, whether spontaneous or calculated, whether acted out between people or between people and things, and regardless of where it might fall into categories ranging between the tug on the sleeve or the tug of war, the tug almost always has about it the implications and underpinnings of some combination of understanding, intimacy, familiarity, rapport, and accord.
A tug is between. A tug is relational. A tug, even when quiet or gentle, is emphatic. A tug is purposeful.
Where eating fresh peaches connoted the ease with which Puccinelli and Goodman work together, tug in its three-letter simplicity, implies the full complexity, intensity, directness, and closeness of their engagement. It's the word the
two of them arrived at for an exhibition that surveys the varying and shifting modes of their pairing -- collaboration, coaction, consultation, camaraderie, competition (friendly), consolation, and what might best be understood as something of grown-up versions of the concepts of parallel play, associative play, and cooperative play theorized by sociologist Mildred Parten as stages in child development. Such is not to infantilize Goodman and Puccinelli. Rather, it is to assert play and playfulness as central to the enduring and evolving friendship and working relationship they have shared for so long (in excess of two decades) that neither of them can readily put a date to its beginning. Put simply, it's a relationship that has succeeded and sustained because the two know how to share a sandbox.
An examination of the solo work of either artist quickly reveals how caught up each is in a unique and profoundly personal, idiosyncratic creative vision. Artists of such inclination don't always make great collaborators. But Puccinelli, whose creative life as a studio artist ran for years alongside a career as a graphic designer and illustrator, and Goodman, an artist who worked for decades as a curator and had a transformative effect on the Santa Barbara City College Atkinson Gallery during an eight-year stint as its Director, each come with the experience of maintaining individual and individualistic creative practices while also engaging in day-to-day professional practices that necessitated and were founded upon working with the creative and communicative intentions and inclinations of other artists and clients. Both have had bread-and-butter engagements with numerous collaborators, so collaborating with one another comes easily.
The artists' senses of aesthetics and humor, and their inclinations toward imagery and content -- shaped by Goodman's exposure to the Monster Roster, Hairy Who, and Chicago Imagist artists while growing up in Illinois and studying at Western Illinois University, and subsequent exposure to Bay Area Figuration and the Funk and Assemblage scenes while attending graduate school at Sacramento State University, and by Puccinelli's exposure to similar influences while attending San Jose State University, as well as his ongoing preoccupation with Italian Pulcinella and comedia dell'arte imagery -- lend to a surprising amount of common ground. Indeed, while viewers familiar with the recurring iconographic tendencies of the two artists might lay odds as to the likelihood of a clown image coming from Puccinelli and a snowman character coming from Goodman in one of their shared drawings, its uncanny how their characters and worlds collide and combine.
While the Surrealist tradition of the exquisite corpse involving multiple authors or artists contributing separately or in isolation to a single composition finds its charge in discontinuity and disparity, the collaborative projects of Goodman and Puccinelli, which at times seem like variations on the exquisite corpse mentality and methodology, draw much of their charge from one's sense of the dynamic of exchange that occurs when two people fluent in the same language and versed in the same vocabulary converse in slightly different accents and inflections, and with different word choices and preferences. The works become like transcripts of exchanges. Indeed, Puccinelli and Goodman's image slams rarely have the sense of babble so much as that of banter, debate, tête-à-tête, tit for tat, one- upmanship, sparring, call and response, two-part harmony, or the sometimes endearing, sometimes irritating quality of two people finishing one another's sentences. Their shared works also have about them the quality of compositions derived from a dancer or a musician sharing a riff or a move with another, and the two of them then jamming --playing in sync with one another, playing off one another, playing against one another -- toward a new end.
It is worth noting as well that the artists find common ground in a basic attitude regarding communication. For all their loopy qualities, the fact is that both are fairly frank. They are inclined to communicate. They want to have some fun along the way with words and images and objects, and they don't necessarily deal in bumper-sticker-ready messages or slogans, but neither is inclined to be cryptic or esoteric. "It's all common stuff," Goodman has commented of the base imagery and materials that have preoccupied him and defined his practice, and Puccinelli's 2008 exhibition in the Ben Maltz Gallery at Otis College of Art and Design was aptly titled The Wondercommon emphasizing the artist's knack for delivering wonderous visions with relatively ordinary working material. The core impulse of working strangely and playfully while also communicating accessibly allows for successful exchange between the artists and for successful shared endeavors.
Among the pleasures of examining Puccinelli and Goodman's works, beyond their endlessly playful and sometimes profound rearrangements of a familiar world, is the consideration of how they are working together -- of the kind of conversation they are having -- in any given endeavor. In collaborations such as the Trace Prints Project, in which the artists took turns drawing on sheets of paper atop inked plates, resulting in odd combinations of lifted ink-line images and ghost images on the reverse side, one sees a drifting or rambling back-and-forth not unlike an actual extended conversation. One topic leads to the next; subjects are dropped or changed, and picked up later; trails grow cold; ice gets broken; things heat up; moods shift. In situations where they have exchanged works for one another to complete, there is an air of anything goes tempered with respect. It's clear that neither artist consciously acts to diminish or undermine what the other had set in motion, but one also senses that in the act of giving over one's work to the other there is an understanding of permission and liberty. The abandonment by one affords abandon on the part of the other. The concept of exchange becomes literal and palpable. And in the case of what one might call their categorical projects, wherein the artists both create and co-create objects or images of a certain type to be displayed together as a group, such as their recent foray into variations on the image/object of pajamas in which the basic form remains constant while variables of material, scale, pattern, and applied imagery truly tug the artists and their viewers in every imaginable direction, one gets the sense of two enthusiasts -- crafters, collectors, and connoisseurs all at once -- exchanging and comparing notes. At a basic, playful level, they are like kids saying, "look what I got," or "look what I did," and at the most advanced level they're like a pair of scholars surveying the variations of a species or a pair of poets exhausting variations on a theme.
In their latest undertaking, the centerpiece of this exhibition, simply titled The Boat, Goodman and Puccinelli take their working dynamic to a different place. Arguably, all of their collaborations to date have dealt in entries and installments. In each of their outings, one might say that the conversation has been the statement. In other words, their output is actually transcriptive of an exchange, presented as a single product of the two artists, but offering a nearly full accounting of each artist's contributions and leaving room for divergence, dissent, and drift. The collective vision has been the visible intertwining, layering, and colliding of two visions -- a shared practice of combining, compiling, comingling, proposing, and countering -- but it hasn't been about blending or becoming seamless. This approach has allowed for the preservation of some autonomy for each of the artists within the collaboration -- at times quite obviously as in the case of Puccinelli and Goodman's repeated use of the respective clowns and snowmen as surrogates or alter egos. The alter egos preserve the egos. The Boat takes the artists on a new journey. The Boat leaves the egos behind.
While their previous ventures allowed each artist great latitude as individuals within a conversation, and allowed the conversation itself to take as many topical, attitudinal, intellectual, and ideological turns as either or both of the artists wished, The Boat is something different. The Boat is monumental, monolithic, and iconic. It is not the record of a conversation, but the product of one (or many), and while many ideas and points of view might have been (and likely were) expressed along the way to its realization, it is delivered as a single statement, jointly authored.
Suggestive of the combination of wonder and determination underlying the backyard undertakings of industrious and imaginative kids (the classic Our Gang comes to mind), The Boat emerged from the artists' shared impulse to co-create something big and wondrous. By its very nature, the project didn't afford the outwardly visible start-to-finish visual banter to which Goodman and Puccinelli are accustomed, with their prerogative to shift gears, even contradict, when they pleased. Though it began with some basic tinkering, The Boat, to reach completion required sticking to a plan, which also meant sticking to a stance.
Humor, from subtle to slapstick, is prevalent throughout Puccinelli and Goodman's collaborative work, but it's hard to know at times when dealing in funny-happy or funny-sad, as their vocabulary of imagery, dealt out in varying syntax, can flip between suggestions of innocence and corruption, sweetness and perversity, security and vulnerability, triumph and boondoggle, daydream and despair. One might stand a chance at making a determination as to whether the artists' proverbial glass is half empty or half full if only the glass would sit still. Indeed, one of the luxuries their back and forth has allowed Goodman and Puccinelli is the opportunity to play openly and offer views of the world without having to commit to a worldview. For two old friends who aren't always in agreement, who are themselves variously conflicted and contradictory, who are equally given to straight talk and irony, who are at times most specific about their ambivalence, and who love to play, such avoidance can be advantageous.
But with their monumental work, Puccinelli and Goodman have committed themselves. The Boat is a declaration albeit a goofy one. Made of a simple, scrapped-together wood framework, designed and engineered on the fly, and covered in translucent panes comprising sheet plastic, layered-up colored cellophane, and black tape, all illuminated from within, The Boat is a ship that one cannot pass unknowingly in the dark. Its endlessly hued skin -- a Pantone burlesque of camouflage looking like some kind of surface design collaboration between Piet Mondrian, Franz Kline, Roy Lichtenstein, and a comic book inker -- suggests a structure of nothing but graphic stained-glass windows, while its "windows" are cartoonish glowing blanks. It is luminous. It is an illumination. The work turns the conventional experience of stained-glass luminosity inside out, with the light normally perceived from the interior of a church or cathedral now emanating from an architectural object like a lantern. The church becomes boat. The boat becomes lighthouse. The lighthouse casts off from its perch. The sculpture becomes stand-in for vehicle, beacon, and sanctuary all in one. It might be a ship of fools, and might even be kin to Diogenes' roving lantern, but all foolery and cynicism aside, the tugging optimism of Goodman and Puccinelli's monument is an irresistible force.
About the author
Christopher Miles is a noted Los Angeles based artist, curator, educator, and writer. He is a professor on the faculty of the School of Art at California State University, Long Beach.
About the exhibition
The Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art features well-known local artists Dane Goodman and Keith Puccinelli in its season-opening exhibition September 2 through October 17, 2015. The exhibition continues the ArtWatch series the museum launched last year to focus on different issues and themes that engage contemporary artists living on the West Coast.
Goodman has exhibited widely across the United States, and his artwork is housed in museum, corporate, and private collections, including the Santa Barbara Museum of Art; the Art, Design, and Architecture Museum at University of California, Santa Barbara; The Berkus Collection; the Santa Barbara County Arts Commission; and the Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art. Goodman is the former director of the Atkinson Gallery at Santa Barbara City College.
Puccinelli founded the critically acclaimed design firm, Puccinelli Design, which he directed for over twenty years. In 1995, Puccinelli began to focus his full attention on his own visual art. His work has been exhibited in solo and group shows throughout Southern California and is housed in the Santa Barbara Museum of Art; Santa Barbara County Arts Commission; Diane and Sandy Besser Collection; The Berkus Collection; and the Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art.
"Goodman and Puccinelli's art is often tough," says Judy Larson, R. Anthony Askew professor of art history and museum director. "Their humor can be uncomfortable, but they use it as a tool for social commentary. The prints, drawings, sculptures and installation pieces in this exhibition address racial and gender stereotypes; war and violence; the environment; the consequences of poverty, and other issues from our times. The works are charged with the artistic duo's signature stinging punches. They ask us to ponder harsh realities, which we often prefer to ignore. Both men are gifted artists and leaders in the Santa Barbara art scene."
Goodman and Puccinelli have been making art together for about six years now, first working on trace monotypes together, which the museum will also display.
The highlight of the exhibition will be the installation of a large, colorful boat. "They are transforming the gallery," says Chris Rupp, museum collection manager. "We have featured Goodman's work before, which has been part of our permanent collection for a while now, and we recently acquired a piece by Puccinelli for our permanent collection that we haven't shown before."
The museum will host a reception for "tug: Dane Goodman and Keith Puccinelli," featuring the artists, Wednesday, Sept. 2, from 4:30-7 p.m. The artists will give a lecture about their work on Wednesday, Sept. 23, at 6:30 p.m. in Adams Center, room 216. All events are free and open to the public.
Images from the exhibition
(above: Keith Puccinelli and Dane Goodman The Boat, 2014-2015, Duct tape, cellophane, plastic, wood, wire, lighting, 27 x 25 x 6 feet)
(above: Keith Puccinelli and Dane Goodman Trace Monotype Print Suite: each fresh peaches and tomatoes talking about death drawing together (110 total), 2009. Ink, paper, 14 x 11 inches)
(above: Keith Puccinelli and Dane Goodman Pajamas, Installation view, 2013-2015, Mixed media, Dimensions vary)
Excerpted from the exhibition catalogue's Foreword and
Acknowledgements by Judy L. Larson, Ph.D., R. Anthony Askew Professor of
Art History, Director, Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art:
About six years ago Dane Goodman and Keith Puccinelli, both Central Coast based artists and long-time friends, began a cooperative partnership in making art. At first blush their artistic styles may seem a mismatch, but at the core, both men are excellent draftsmen and both are interested in the ways that everyday objects and ordinary events reveal nuanced messages -- both good and bad -- about human relationships. Both artists have evolved a treasure trove of iconic images like the clown in Puccinelli's work and the snowman in Goodman's; warplanes and bombs for Puccinelli and Christmas trees for Goodman. Most importantly, each artist possesses a mischievous sense of the absurd using images that both jest and jab.
In their first collaboration, eating fresh peaches and tomatoes talking about death drawing together, Goodman and Puccinelli made 110 prints together. One artist drew an image responding to current events, a popular trend, or a personal experience. Then the other artist drew an image on the same paper responding to what the other had drawn. It was a little like playing the game of "Clue" as neither artist could be absolutely sure what the other was thinking or referencing in the first drawing. What happens is that the original drawing is altered and transformed by the new context of the other artist's "drawn riposte." At the end of a work session, several images were pinned to the walls of Goodman's studio until eventually the walls were completely covered. The artists contemplated each exchange and discussed each other's work. Conversations meandered toward new ideas, which stimulated new work. Goodman's wife, artist Marie Schoeff, joined in the interchange, often over lunch on the patio. These meals were complemented with philosophical discourse and peppered with humorous observations.
The drawings are not traditional pencil or charcoal works, rather the artists chose a form of printmaking called transfer drawing or trace monotype. Essentially, an artist transfers ink by touching a tool or the finger to the surface of a paper, which rests on a fully inked Plexiglas plate; the pressure of the artist's drawing implement or finger lifts the ink onto the back of the paper. What is special about this technique is that the mark-making is fluid and spontaneous and the quality of the lines conveys a defused softness. As no printing press is involved, the results are immediate and the print is a "one-off" work. Puccinelli and Goodman often made a second print by using the ghost images still remaining on the wet Plexiglas plate. A fresh paper is placed on the glass, which still holds the remaining wet ink plus the clean lines from the previous drawing; a swipe of the hand over the areas where an old image once existed produces a "white-line" drawing. Consider too that an image from the first print can easily be "deleted" by not wiping that place on the paper where the drawing existed on the original plate. Any patch of ink not utilized in the original drawing can be filled in with a new drawing for the second printing. Thus, when the artists desired it, two unique prints came from each plate -- the original and then the ghost print. Goodman and Puccinelli figured out a method whereby a plate could be judiciously re-inked and a third or even a fourth print pulled with changes or additions at each printing. The straightforward nature of this process meant that "mistakes" might need to be weeded out of the final series. Amazingly, the artists edited nothing from the 110 prints produced together. It reveals the amazing capability of an utterly simple technique coupled with the quiet power of mundane subjects to speak so brazenly.
Neither Goodman nor Puccinelli ever intended these works for exhibition or even for public showing, but the pathos and expressiveness of their hybrid imagery emboldened the artists to invite friends and colleagues into the studio to gauge responses. A few years back, I was invited to the studio for a late morning coffee, and Goodman ushered me into his workspace saying: take a look. The images drew me in -- my first response was with giggles and then questions, and soon Goodman and I were bantering back and forth about current events, societal expectations, and the value of art in our culture. I think Goodman and Puccinelli had several such encounters with friends and recognized that these works had the power to strike a nerve.
Goodman and Puccinelli's art work is often tough, even a little bad-mannered at times. The artists use words like "rude" "pestering" and "unhip" to describe their imagery. Their humor can be uncomfortable -- as humor often is -- but the artists use humor as a tool for social commentary, addressing important issues like the negative power of racial and gender stereotypes, the abuse of authority, the impotence of poverty, the fragility of planet earth, and so much more. Viewers who are willing to spend some time as "seers" of their art will understand Goodman and Puccinelli's art as a compassionate force, pushing social boundaries.
Jane Deering exhibited the full set of Goodman and Puccinelli's trace monotypes in her Santa Barbara gallery in 2013 to a very responsive audience. She and I discussed the works as a series, which needed to be kept together rather than be sold piece by piece. To that end, Deering and I put our heads together and came up with a fundraising idea that involved a matching gift. The Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art purchased the entire set of 110 prints. Goodman and Puccinelli's first collaboration turned out to be a springboard for a full dive into collaborative art making. And their Westmont exhibition, tug, is the newest endeavor!
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(above: Artists Keith Puccinelli and Dane Goodman in front of "Pajamas." Photo by Brad Elliott courtesy of Westmont College)
(above: Artist Keith Puccinelli meets with visitors at the opening of "tug" on Sept. 2, 2015. Photo by Brad Elliott courtesy of Westmont College)
(above: Artist Dane Goodman with Professsor John Blondell at the opening of the exhibition Sept. 2, 2015. Photo by Brad Elliott courtesy of Westmont College)
Resource Library editor's note
The above essay was published in connection with the exhibition tug: The Art and Collaborations of Dane Goodman and Keith Puccinelli, on view September 2 through October 17, 2015. The essay was published August 22, 2015 in Resource Library with permission of the Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art, granted August 21, 2015. Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Scott Craig, Manager of Media Relations at Westmont College, and Rachel Urbano, Outreach and Education Coordinator, Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art, for their help concerning publishing the essay.
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