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Ralph Goings Photo

Ralph Goings

American Painter

Born: May 9, 1928 - Corning, CA
Movements and Styles: Photorealism
Ralph Goings Timeline
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

Summary of Ralph Goings

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.


  • 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.

Biography of Ralph Goings

Ralph Goings Photo

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.

Important Art by Ralph Goings

American Salad (1966)

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 (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."

Airstream (1970)

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.

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Ralph Goings
Influenced by Artist
  • Don Eddy
    Don Eddy
  • John Baeder
    John Baeder
Friends & Personal Connections
Movements & Ideas
Open Influences
Close Influences

Useful Resources on Ralph Goings

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Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Ralph Goings Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 07 Jan 2017. Updated and modified regularly
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