Important Art by Ralph Goings
American Salad has a peculiar, patchwork appearance; portions of the collage-like painting overlap with one another, suggesting a relationship that seems illogical or even absurd. Goings uses different approaches to visual representation to create the separate components: an airbrushed-looking, stylized face smiles radiantly in the lower right. Above it, a blurry picture of a young man with an arm outstretched is seemingly enlarged from a much smaller size and is possibly an image from a newspaper. On the upper left, the arm of the man on the right is fused to a basic, black-and-white rendering of a lower arm and hand holding and pointing a gun. Inexplicably, beneath the pointed gun is a realistically rendered, sliced tomato squeezed into the lower left quadrant of the picture with a kind of washed-out, lemon yellow and white smiling face.
The incongruous, collage-like nature of this work that combines elements of visual culture and objects from daily life is exemplary of Pop art, with which Goings experimented in the 1960s before arriving at his own photo-realistic style. In keeping with the Pop art critique of American visual culture and the oversaturation of images characteristic of the media age, the work combines aspects of the so-called American Dream - for instance, the gleaming smile and the healthy, juicy red tomato - with contrastingly dark aspects of American life such as war and gun violence. Conceptually, this piece functions in the same way as a salad does: several components that are generally unrelated to one another are intended to be consumed as a whole.
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."
Airstream features an angled view of a sleek Airstream luxury trailer, parked on a gravel lot. At least two or three more such high-end camping trailers are also parked in close proximity to the one in the foreground. The shiny metal surfaces of the trailer reflect its surroundings, although the reflections are soft and indistinct. These reflections, which change depending on the texture and terrain of a given surface, gave Goings the opportunity to create paintings that combined jaw-dropping, hyper-realistic representations of objects and to embed in them an enormous variety of abstract forms that resulted from the interplay of light, shadow, and colors on surfaces.
In the distance, snow-capped mountains line the horizon; in a somewhat nondescript middle ground, telephone poles create a dividing line between wilderness and the civilization of the comfortable trailer. The cool palette and snowy mountain range suggest the desert of the American Southwest in wintertime, rugged conditions contrasting with the protective, interior warmth of the roving home-away-from-home.
The Airstream trailer symbolizes a kind of escapism in which even the less well-to-do could indulge. Recreational camping had, by the time Goings painted this piece, become an American pastime. It provided even the working class with the possibility of leaving behind for a weekend or a summer family vacation the rigors of daily life.