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Artists Ralph Goings
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Ralph Goings

American Painter

Movement: Photorealism

Born: May 9, 1928 - Corning, CA

Ralph Goings Timeline

Quotes

"In 1963 I wanted to start painting again but I decided I wasn't going to do abstract pictures. It occurred to me that I should go as far to the opposite as I could. ... It occurred to me that projecting and tracing the photograph instead of copying it freehand would be even more shocking."
Ralph Goings
"I just want to keep doing what I'm able to do, health permitting, as long as I can. I don't plan any specific changes but as I've gotten older I'm taking more and more chances. That could lead to some change. My biggest plan is just to keep going."
Ralph Goings
"To copy a photograph literally was considered a bad thing to do. It went against all of my art school training... some people were upset by what I was doing and said 'it's not art, it can't possibly be art'. That gave me encouragement in a perverse way, because I was delighted to be doing something that was really upsetting people... I was having a hell of a lot of fun..."
Ralph Goings
"I am interested in the light and the effect it has on surfaces, and the spaces where these objects exist. Also, the objects themselves, and how their form is defined by their surface and the light...and that ultimately creates the illusion of the three-dimensional object even though it is on a flat surface. That whole package of mechanical art is a concern and part of my interest. The surfaces of objects really fascinate me. I think what drew me to the diners in the first place was all the metal and glass, the vinyl and so forth."
Ralph Goings
"Looking at the slides I take is where the selective process begins. I look at the pictures over and over again and finally one seems to say, 'Do me.'"
Ralph Goings

"My paintings are about light, about the way things look in their environment and especially about how things look painted. Form, color and space are at the whim of reality, their discovery and organization is the assignment of the realist painter."

Ralph Goings Signature

Synopsis

Ralph Goings's photorealist paintings of everyday American life say a lot about the artist himself and his family history, one marked by the poverty of the Great Depression. He painted matter-of-fact, precisely rendered snapshots of the American working class lifestyle in a dignified and poetic manner. While he began his career by experimenting with the emotionally unrestrained, painterly style of Abstract Expressionism, he quickly rejected it and moved onto his trademark style and subject matter grounded in emphatic realism. His precise, detailed approach to painting was in part inspired by the renewed emphasis on Realism in the late 1960s - except that Goings was never particularly interested in critiquing consumer culture. His polished, smoothly painted, hyper-realistic still lifes and genre paintings speak less to edgy, postmodern experimentation and more to the longstanding tradition of virtuoso illusionistic painting. This may explain in part the broad and enduring popularity of Goings's work: viewers have always enjoyed paintings that fool their eyes, that trick them into believing that what they are seeing in a painted image is the real thing rather than just a representation of it.

Key Ideas

Goings created a niche for himself in the Photorealist movement by creating paintings that didn't just fool the eye or ponder the effects of light on various surfaces, but also explored the visual culture of working-class America. His diner, truck, and condiment still-life paintings don't dwell on the great philosophical questions as much as they subtly encourage the viewer to consider the small ones. The daily routine and the person punching the clock are, on the other hand, quietly elevated, dignified. Repeated often as they are, such works suggest that Goings has arrived at some basic understanding of how subject matter and technique can fuse and produce the sort of effect that makes a stack of donuts or a ketchup bottle, beautifully rendered, seem somehow monumental.
Unlike his Photorealist colleague, Richard Estes, who created his illusionistic paintings by cobbling together multiple photographs to produce a convincingly holistic finished image, Goings typically took single photos of subjects, projected them directly onto his canvas or paper, and proceeded from there. He relished defying prohibitions against using photographs to create compositions of paintings, saying, "That it was a bad thing to do...sort of added to the sweetness of it." In some ways, his work is an homage to the photograph and the illusion it provides of authorial remove and neutrality.
Born and having begun his artistic career in California, Goings is possibly best known for the sun-drenched images of trucks, trailers, diners and the like from his native state. Whether reflecting the intense light of the hot afternoon sun or shimmering coolly in low winter light, a Goings painting of an Airstream trailer speaks of the terrain and environmental conditions of the California desert, providing the viewer with a very palpable sense of place.

Most Important Art

Ralph Goings Famous Art

McDonald's Pickup (1970)

McDonald's Pickup of 1970 is a visually bottom-heavy composition. A hazy blue skyline surmounts a McDonald's restaurant that seems to be closed for business. The restaurant is surrounded by a small, paved parking lot and a single palm tree establishes the building's locale, which is likely someplace in California. The iconic yellow arches of the quintessentially American fast food restaurant are punctuated by the palm tree, beside which, rising to a towering height, is first the utility pole and next the American flag. On the dirt-and-gravel-covered lot to one side of the McDonald's sits an off-white pick-up truck. A white car parked in the lot behind the restaurant stands as a visual counterpoint to the truck. If these are the vehicles of customers, those patrons are nowhere visible in this picture.

This work, an image that resonates Americana, owes much to the Pop movement, which both paid homage to and critiqued American pop culture. However, unlike Pop, Goings' approach was to lend everyday objects importance without commenting on their significance to consumer culture, particularly not in a negative way. Rather, he tried to elevate the common, which looked a lot like his own life.

Art critic and journalist Edward Lucie Smith remarked on Goings' works, that they reflect "aspects of America that are familiar to most Americans but not usually celebrated in art." His pickup trucks and diners reflect the mobile, freewheeling quality of the American lifestyle. In the United States, if you don't like the place you are in, then there's always a highway that beckons you to go somewhere else."
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Ralph Goings Artworks in Focus:

Biography

Childhood and Education

From an early age, Goings has memories of his father being "a classic victim of the Great Depression." For the working-class at that time, it was extremely difficult to find work; often, temporary or "odd" jobs comprised the only available opportunities for earning even scant wages at the time.

As a favorite pastime, the Goings family - mother, father, Ralph, and his younger brother, would pile into their car and take long drives. On one unfortunate ride, Goings' younger brother, James - just six years old at the time - was thrown from the vehicle and suffered a severe head injury that he later died from. This tragic event caused his parents much grief and was a turning point, which prompted the family to relocate to a neighboring town for a fresh start.

Throughout his formative years, Goings was involved in a number of extra-curricular activities including learning to play several instruments. While art was not a part of formal education at that time, he had a strong tendency to draw in class, against the wishes of his teachers. Goings' understanding of art was rooted in replication. Having spent a good deal of his idle time drawing, he developed what was to be his own, lifelong aesthetic ethos: that drawing was "just a way to figure out how things were - sometimes, how they worked."

By the time he graduated from high school, World War II had just ended and, finally old enough to enlist, Goings joined the army. At the same time, he set his sights on becoming a musician at the end of his military service; an ambition that was short lived when the opportunity to attend college presented itself. Goings enrolled in Hartnell College in Salinas, CA for just two semesters before pursuing an art degree more intently at the California College of Arts in Oakland, CA.

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Ralph Goings Biography Continues

Early Period

After graduating from art school, Goings accepted a job as a high school teacher, teaching both art and music. While his intentions were to pursue a career as a full-time artist, by that time he had a wife and four children to support, so he chose pragmatism over artistic ambition.

During the late 1940s and early 1950s, Abstract Expressionism was the most influential, avant garde artistic movement. Artists such as Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock were at the forefront of the art scene and, during his art school training in the late 1950s, the only acceptable route to take was that of abstraction. The style never really suited him. He recalled, "Abstract painting just didn't offer me the kind of satisfaction I wanted, so I tried representation."

Around the same time that he moved on from abstract painting, Goings relocated to Sacramento, CA in order to connect with the thriving art scene there, transferring to a new high school to continue teaching while engaging more directly with other artists and an overall environment more conducive to his artistic growth. The move was the first of many that were prompted by pragmatism - finding decent-paying teaching jobs - but it opened up new artistic opportunities, as he was able to join the Artist Collaborative Gallery, which provided him with an opportunity to show his work and engage with other experimental artists.

The move inspired a period of extensive experimentation; his work from that period ranged from thickly coated canvases to Joseph Cornell-style boxes. The range of his experimentation, however, spoke more to his own frustration with his own inability to connect in a meaningful way to the popular styles of the period.

Mature Period

In 1963, Goings had a personal breakthrough in his studio: he was fond of a particular magazine cover and decided to paint it to look as "real" as possible. The exercise was anything but taxing; rather, he found it both challenging and fulfilling and was inspired to find new images, which he could replicate based on his impulse toward precision or, at least, the illusion of precisions.

In 1969, while still working as a teacher, Goings received a surprising and ultimately life-changing proposition from his friend, the successful gallery owner, Ivan Karp. Confident in the artist's potential for achieving critical and commercial success, Karp urged him to quit his teaching job so that he could begin painting full-time and assured the reluctant Goings that, should he take the risk, his work would definitely sell. Goings's first solo exhibition took place in 1969 at Karp's OK Harris Gallery in SOHO in New York City.

By the mid-1970s, Goings and his wife, Shanna moved their family to upstate New York so he could be closer to the New York City art scene, although neither husband nor wife wished to live in the city itself. The terrain of upstate New York suited them and they bought an old farmhouse. Goings converted a barn on the property into an art studio, where he produced the majority of the paintings he made throughout his career.

After having experimented with collages, using images he found in magazines and then producing paintings of single human figures - usually his own students - he arrived at one of his most familiar subjects: pickup trucks. Such things, he said, "that were so common in the environment that people didn't even look at them." These were the paintings that launched his career.

Goings established a method for creating such works: he would take photographs of whatever object or objects he planned to paint and would project the imagery from slides directly onto his canvases (or paper). It was almost a mechanical process, just like the manual technique that he developed in which his brushwork was smoothed over. The goal, explained Goings, "was always to remove myself from my work so that there was nothing, no intermediary between the viewer and the subject of the picture."

As Goings began narrowing the focus of his work in the early 1970s, paintings that most often featured diner culture, (including genre images and still lifes) he found that the guiding force in his work was light and the subtle changes that could affect an entire composition. While he is known for his emphasis on creating complex surfaces, allowing reflections to exist as the abstract aspects of a given work, the artist insists that it isn't surfaces alone that interest him. "I'm fond of the objects, the places and the people I paint," he said in an interview. "They are the ordinary inhabitants of my world and they're loaded with visual excitement for me."

Starting in the mid-1980s onward, Goings and his wife lived both in upstate New York and a second house in Santa Cruz, California. Finally, in 2006 they decided to sell the New York farm and Goings currently resides in California.

In interviews in the early 2000s, Goings spoke about how his works have evolved over the decades of his painting career and the aesthetic refinement that took place as his personal interest and style evolved.


Legacy

Goings was one of a handful of Photorealists who lent the banal, consumer object and the everyday experience a sense of importance that the unbelievable (and deceptive) realism of his paintings seems to demand. By nature of his almost reverential attention to detail, Goings' representations of diner interiors and exteriors, trucks and camping trailers that evoke thoughts of working and middle class mobility and leisure, and mundane objects like donuts and coffee cups, encourage viewers to consider even the most ordinary things and people "worth looking at," as interpreted by art critic Edward Lucie Smith. This echoes Pop art's obsession with the ordinary but without the persistent critique of consumption. Goings' technique, compared by critics to that of Dutch Masters like Vermeer, emphasizes smoothness over the painterly style of the Abstract Expressionists who preceded him. While the Photorealist movement was relatively short-lived, in part because of "art world politics and taste," argues a New York Times critic, and also due to "the post-60s 'death of painting' and the embrace of different kinds of conceptualism," the importance and reach of the movement can be seen in the works of successors like Richard Prince and Jeff Koons, who enlarged (to extremes) photographs instead of painting them or, conversely, in the work of Thomas Struth and Andreas Gursky, whom Louis K. Meisel referred to as "photographers who work like painters."

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Ralph Goings
Interactive chart with Ralph Goings's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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View Influences Chart

Artists

Giorgio MorandiGiorgio Morandi
Arshile GorkyArshile Gorky
Johannes VermeerJohannes Vermeer
Thomas EakinsThomas Eakins

Friends

Wayne ThiebaudWayne Thiebaud

Movements

Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Pop ArtPop Art
Ralph Goings
Ralph Goings
Years Worked: 1962 - Current

Artists

Don EddyDon Eddy
John BaederJohn Baeder

Friends

Wayne ThiebaudWayne Thiebaud

Movements

PhotorealismPhotorealism

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Useful Resources on Ralph Goings

Books

Websites

Articles

More

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

Ralph Goings: Essay/Interview

By Linda Chase

Photorealism: Beginnings to Today

By Miranda Lash, Louis K. Meisel, and Russell Lord

Really Real Photorealism Recomended resource

NPR
October 15, 2009

The Watercolors of Ralph Goings

By John A. Parks
Watercolor Magazine
1996

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