Tom Goldenberg, Italian Rhapsody (2012), oil and charcoal on linen, 78″ x 96″; courtesy the artist
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“A painting, not a picture”—that distinction was made by a visitor to Tom Goldenberg’s studio after having viewed the artist’s recent canvases. It’s a distinction worth mulling, particularly in an age inundated by virtual images–images with no tangible heft or intrinsic scale, images without body or presence. A painting? That’s a different animal altogether. A painting is a singular entity whose character is inextricable from its material means. A picture describes and describes only. A painting describes and—how does one put it, exactly? A painting is.
Goldenberg, a veteran New York painter and one-time abstractionist, is wise to this vital distinction. It’s there to see in the scrabbled surfaces of his landscapes, in their turbulent rhythms and unfettered accumulations of oil, ink and charcoal. Goldenberg brings a sure sense of space and structure to his depictions of shimmering pools of water, gnarled vegetation and intricately woven vistas. You don’t have to tap too deeply into Yellow Stream (2012), with its bracing run of yellow-green, or Gallatin (2010) to glean commonalities shared with The New York School, not least in the ferocious momentum and all-or-nothing ambition. Tree and Ground (2012) gestates in front of our eyes, its tangled brushwork coalescing into a craggy verisimilitude. It’s as if Goldenberg found his way back to the land through the examples set by Jackson Pollock and Clyfford Still. Goldenberg knows that influence is contrary and fluid. As a painter, he thrives on its surprising pliability.
Tom Goldenberg, John’s Hallow (2012), charcoal and walnut ink on paper, 10″ x 14″; courtesy the artist
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You’d best look elsewhere for the Arcadian. The natural world, as seen in a Goldenberg, is dense with bone, grit and muscle. The artist jokes about the immaculately ordered panoramas seen in Poussin’s no-blade-of-grass-out-of-place landscapes: Did gardeners really come that cheaply in 17th century France? Goldenberg isn’t inclined to tidy or systematize nature. He’d rather revel in its unruly, almost Byzantine complexity and independence.
Goldenberg embraces technologies old and new. Abjuring ready-made tubes of paint, he grinds his own pigments in order to insure desired levels of viscosity and color saturation. (If you’re skeptical about how much of a difference that makes, take a look at his blacks and yellows, then think again.) Like many contemporary painters, Goldenberg works from photographs. Unlike many contemporary painters, he employs the photograph not as a crutch, but as reminder and impetus. Ultimately, the logic of the studio—that is to say, of painting—takes precedence.
It is, in fact, a testament to Goldenberg’s pictorial abilities that he brings first-hand sensation to images created at a distance. Whether he’s applied liberal doses of oil paint to canvas or staccato traceries of walnut ink to paper, you’re never in doubt as to aesthetic rationale. Art and nature achieve a synthesis that is simultaneously hard-won and effortless, long sought after and utterly organic. Such ease and inevitability are usually the marks of an artist at the height of his powers—and so it is with Goldenberg’s remarkable landscape paintings.
© 2012 Mario Naves