Connecting the dots in Goldberg's variations

Howard County Times

When an artist makes a mark and then makes an identical mark next to it, it’s not long before a pattern emerges. This kind of mark making ultimately results in something like the exhibit of mixed media drawings by Glenn Goldberg that are on view in Howard Community College’s Richard B. Talkin Family Art Gallery.

The New York-based artist, who has exhibited his work nationally in galleries and museums, often uses small black dots that are set against variously colored blocks of color. Although one naturally responds to such an approach in terms of decorative patterning, these drawings do not go out of their way to look pretty.

If anything, the dots are deployed to help accentuate and, indeed, define the abstract zones and the representational figures that are set against them. In other words, the dots and other repeating marks are a structural device and not just a decorative effect.

Making so many dots obviously is a labor-intensive process that speaks to the deliberation with which these works on paper are made. It’s a mark-making method that encourages the viewer to slow down, too, and think about the many variations that Goldberg achieves working with a deliberately limited range of figurative references and generally subdued colors.

If you are prompted to mull over Goldberg’s overall visual strategy rather than to fixate on particular pieces, it’s at least partly because the exhibited works are small-scale and individually untitled; moreover, they’re simply pinned to the wall. Truth be told, on first encounter the initial impression might be rather underwhelming, but spend a bit of time with these drawings and you may find yourself calmly tracking the artist’s visual strategy.

The figurative references never exactly add up to a narrative, but the numerous schematic representations of birds, humans and other animals amount to reminders that the artist is exploring the natural kingdom of which we are a part. Sometimes these figures are solidly embodied thanks to plenty of dots filling in the space within the crisply outlined forms; and, of course, it’s pleasingly convenient that black dots are perfect for representing eyeballs. At other times the figures are nearly obscured by black painterly washes.

Although it would be stretching things to state that the figures are placed within abstracted landscapes, the patterned zones around them do seem to allude to landscapes.

Perhaps it would be just as useful, however, to approach these drawings as being somewhat analogous to quilts and other textile art in which simplified figurative shapes are placed against patterned bands. Goldberg’s representational repertory includes the birds, stars and other designs that one would expect to find on a quilt made within the folk art tradition.

As for what the artist himself thinks about the natural references found in his work, Goldberg had this to say in a George Washington University publication that accompanied a 2017 exhibit he had there: “I actually don’t explore nature directly, but I work out of an interest in structure, related hierarchies and moods that exist in nature. My works are invented without viewing either nature or images of nature, but I feel that they are driven by what exists in nature. I can’t prove this, but that is the way that I feel. I am interested in art as a re-ordering of ‘what goes on.’”

The artist definitely tends to keep the drawings in the current HCC exhibit at the level of allusive representation and pattern-as-structure. There are, however, some drawings in which he moves closer to what might be described as borderline-outright representation.

There is one drawing in which the bottom of the composition is visually anchored by two birds and one human being, and the top of the composition is dominated by a black cloud. Also, the word “sky” is spelled out in that sky. Even with such a direct landscape orientation, though, this minimalist rendering of a populated landscape remains closer to conceptual art than to conventional realism.

The exhibit also includes 10 drawings that each feature facial close-ups. These are suggested faces that are not, er, fully fleshed out. A few dots here and a few lines there are all it takes to suggest faces that at least hint at a sense of individuality from one quasi-portrait to the next. And, yes, dots are placed at the center of wide-open eyes.

Glenn Goldberg exhibits through July 31 in Howard Community College’s Richard B. Talkin Family Art Gallery, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. Go to howardcc.edu/galleries

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