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Hub artist Goodnight talks travel, teaching, exhibit

Tierney McAfee
Hub artist Goodnight talks travel, teaching, exhibit
“Trumpet to the 2nd Power,” a 23-inch-by-27-inch pastel on paper work, is one of the many pieces by revered Boston artist Paul Goodnight on display at his exhibit at Wheelock College’s Towne Art Gallery. The exhibit opened on St. Patrick’s Day and runs through April 17, 2009. An artist’s reception will be held on April 11. (Image courtesy of Wheelock College)

“Trumpet to the 2nd Power,” a 23-inch-by-27-inch pastel on paper work, is one of the many pieces by revered Boston artist Paul Goodnight on display at his exhibit at Wheelock College’s Towne Art Gallery. The exhibit opened on St. Patrick’s Day and runs through April 17, 2009. An artist’s reception will be held on April 11. (Image courtesy of Wheelock College)

“Trumpet to the 2nd Power,” a 23-inch-by-27-inch pastel on paper work, is one of the many pieces by revered Boston artist Paul Goodnight on display at his exhibit at Wheelock College’s Towne Art Gallery. The exhibit opened on St. Patrick’s Day and runs through April 17, 2009. An artist’s reception will be held on April 11. (Image courtesy of Wheelock College)

Paul Goodnight’s art has graced some pretty impressive real estate. His pieces have been shown in the Museum of Fine Arts and at the Smithsonian, on the sets of “Seinfeld” and “The Cosby Show,” in the 1996 Summer Olympics and on the poster for the 1998 FIFA World Cup soccer tournament. His work is also in the homes of Maya Angelou and Smokey Robinson, just to name a few personalities.

Now, through April 17, art lovers can find the Boston-based African American artist’s work on display at Wheelock College. Goodnight said it’s always “important to hang [your work] anywhere outside of your own domain because you have a whole different audience.”

“Wheelock was kind enough to think I was worthy enough to show my work there. The people were very, very gracious,” Goodnight added. “I thank everyone who comes to and enjoys my experience. I’m very pleased to be a part of it.”

Wheelock College and the Towne Art Gallery opened Goodnight’s exhibition of paintings, drawings and mixed media pieces on March 17, and will host an artist’s reception celebrating the exhibit on Saturday afternoon.

Working in acrylic, pastels and other media, Goodnight uses a distinctive style to document the lives of people around the world, often incorporating African themes and symbols. He has studied and traveled extensively to the Caribbean, Africa, South America, China and Russia.

Goodnight said his pieces in the Wheelock exhibit are unified by his experiences not only during those travels, but also from life in Boston.

“You’re looking at a tapped life of the black aesthetic, or the African American aesthetic, a snapshot of what I see, and I’m hoping to present it in a very interesting way,” he said.

For Goodnight, each “snapshot” tells a story, and each story begins with people. When traveling abroad, Goodnight said he usually stays in-country for four to six months, close to or in the community he wants to learn about. He stresses the importance of living “in and around and about” the people.

“It’s easier to get in touch with the people who live there because they can associate with you,” Goodnight said. “There’s a closer communication. It could be dangerous, but it’s also very interesting. If you stay there long enough, they realize that you’re not there as a tourist and they’re completely different people because they don’t have to put on a facade anymore. They give you a different response.”

This candid view of native life, coupled with a burst of “new visuals and new energy,” makes for an ideal landscape for Goodnight’s work.

“When you travel in a country, all of your senses are open — you’re like a child, everything is brand new to you,” he said. “As soon as you come back, you want to talk about it, and I draw and paint and do whatever else I do about it, and it becomes new and it becomes an experience.”

During his visits, Goodnight sketches and takes pictures of things that he thinks will help him tell his tale.

“There are so many stories in people’s faces and in their garb and in the way they live their life, and all you have to do is stand and observe,” Goodnight said.

Although he is eager to share his experiences with others, Goodnight said he is not interested in communicating anything through his work; rather, he wants to hear what his viewers have to say.

“I’m not very dominant,” Goodnight said. “I find people have a whole different experience of what they see, and through that experience, I learn a lot. Whatever they get out of it, that’s where the dialogue starts.”

But for the artist, the most interesting response is unspoken.

“When you’re silent and you continue to look at the work, then there’s something that work is communicating to you and you to it,” he said. “If you’re captivated and you stare and stare and stare, I like that.”

In 1991, Goodnight found a new way to captivate his audience. He established Color Circle Art Publishing, a fine art publishing and distribution business in Boston. The company showcases Goodnight’s work, along with the works of other established and emerging African Diaspora artists.

Goodnight’s dedication to the arts has not gone unnoticed. In 1999, he received an honorary master’s degree from his alma mater, the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

But some of Goodnight’s most important lessons were learned outside the classroom. He cites the late master African American artist John Biggers as one of his greatest teachers.

“What I’ve learned most from [him] is that the information that I’ve gotten doesn’t belong to me and it only works effectively when it’s passed on,” Goodnight said.

Goodnight shares his knowledge by teaching drawing lessons out of the Gallery at the Piano Factory, and occasionally teaching at local universities and high schools.

“There’s a lot of great talent in this city, and if I get a chance to pass whatever I’ve learned on, that’s a great place to be,” he said.

When he’s not teaching, Goodnight is constantly creating. He has been commissioned to create the poster for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and to paint a portrait of Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons.

While each piece in the Wheelock exhibit is special to Goodnight, he said his favorite piece is always the one he’s currently working on.

 “That’s where all my energy is channeled,” he said.

For Goodnight, the key to releasing that energy comes through “being captured by what I see.”

“A lot of times, artists think they are capturing what they see and they are teaching others, but the reality in my life is that I am captured … and art has been teaching me,” Goodnight said. “It is, for me, a place that I know I belong, and I can be very honest with myself when I am doing it.”

The artist reception for Paul Goodnight’s exhibit will be held Saturday, April 11, 2009, from 2-4 p.m. at Wheelock College’s Towne Art Gallery, 1800 The Riverway, Boston. For more information, visit http://www.wheelock.edu/art.