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RalphGoings | Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio

ARTnews Review by Harry Schwalb


In his catalogue essay for this exhibition, “Ralph Goings: Four Decades of Realism,”art historian Edward Lucie-Smith calls the 76-year-old California painter “America’s Vermeer,” This retrospective comes surprisingly close to confirming that extraordinary attribution.

Goings’s paintings and watercolors remind viewers that another name for the photorealist movement, of which Goings is the oldest living member, was “Sharp Focus Realism.” For Goings, the camera and photorealism are merely means to immobilize light and crystalize moments of reality, as is evident early on in such paintings as MCDONALD’S PICK UP (1970) and GOLDEN DODGE (1971). The artist enters a kind of Vermeer-land when he leaves behind the trucks and trailers and roadside stands to paint the interiors of American diners. Here, in paintings such as COFFEE SHOP (1976) and RALPH’S DINER (1979), he meticulously captures the nuanced play of light on chrome, glass bottles, stainless steel and Formica, and on the faces of waitresses and blue-collar patrons.

Goings’s virtuosity with paint is especially striking in his more recent works, which are largely still lifes painted in his studio. His brushwork is seamless, and his subjects are sparely and elegantly staged and dramatically cropped. Even the fragments of objects he captures, such as a pepper shaker and a napkin holder in TUX (2002-3), have the presence of fully modeled objects. The technical problems goings encounters seem formidable, and, not surprisingly, he may spend eight to ten hours painting three or four square inches of canvas. MARBLE COUNTER, begun in 1985, took four years to complete.

Goings subverts the long held assumption that photorealism, which was founded on the mechanical or semi-mechanical transfer of visual information to canvas, aspires to strict neutrality. His works convey an emotional attachment to the American scenes he paints and a delight in the objects, places, and people he encounters.

––Harry Schwalb

ARTnews, February 2005, page 144



All works shown on this site are in private collections or collection of the artist.