Contemporary artist and architect Richard Goodwin's work ranges from performance, sculpture, public sculptures, architecture and urban design. Since the late 1970s, Goodwin's art has been provoked by problems in his home city, Sydney.
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Richard Goodwin is a contemporary artist whose career borders on architecture, urban design, performance, installation and public art. Born in 1953 in Sydney, Goodwin grew up in Beecroft, at that time a suburban bushland, from where he attended Epping Boys High School. He recalls drawing constantly. His family included his mother’s brother, Neil Stocker (1925-1969), a sculptor living in England, and his grandfather, Edgar Oswald Stocker, a businessman and amateur filmmaker who worked with University of Sydney anthropologist Professor Elkin documenting Aboriginal life in Central Australia. Goodwin recalls playing in his grandfather’s shed and discovering stacks of film canisters and Aboriginal artefacts.
Motives for pursuing architectural studies were established when Goodwin attended a career seminar by Harry Seidler, who inspired the young school leaver to begin his bachelor’s degree in architecture at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in 1972. He maintained his art interests by taking fine art electives, spending one year casting at the National Art School and attending sculpture classes at Meadowbank Art School under Alan Ingham. During this time he worked for two of his university mentors, architect and landscape architect Bruce Rickard, and landscape architect Harry Howard, both of whom shared premises in North Sydney. Goodwin produced a set of drawings for Howard’s Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra.
Goodwin completed his Bachelor of Sciences (Architecture) in 1975 and travelled to London to work for Gershin Rothenburg & Associates. During his trip, he met students from the Architecture Association studying under Peter Cook of Archigram. They were merging performance and installation art into their architectural study, inspired by Arte Povera, Fluxus and Conceptualism. At Queens Park, Highgate, Goodwin completed his first performance work, Birth Ritual (1975), which led to his first clothing sculpture, Doll (1975).
Returning to Sydney in 1976 to complete his Bachelor of Architecture at the UNSW, Goodwin continued to pursue performance and sculpture. After finishing his degree he worked for Jackson, Teece, Chestermann and Willis as a full-time junior architect and was involved in the Birkenhead Point project in Sydney. He continued this for one year before setting up a studio with three other artists.
At the same time Goodwin held two exhibitions, “Dolls“ (1977) and “More Dolls” (1979) at the Hogarth Galleries in Paddington. As seen by critic Sandra McGrath, Goodwin used “the language of death to portray the living”; lifeless figures were left slung in deckchairs, tipped out of prams and discarded in waste baskets. Goodwin also collaborated with Peter Dallow and John Drews in the production of a short documentary film about an elderly man, Joseph Cindric, who constantly pushed his trolley through the streets of Sydney. The Inhabitant (1980) was a portrayal of the ways some are forced to live in the modern city.
Goodwin’s life and death references, using the bandaging of figures, was revisited in No More Dreaming (1980). In this piece, a central figure portrayed an Aborigine suspended by wires in a metal frame, cut off from the world and, in the words of Anthony Bond, “creating a claustrophobic sense of entrapment” (Allen et al, p.8). The Aboriginal theme was continued in his performance Exoskeleton Monument to Nomadism (1981) where Goodwin pushed a two metre high metal framed structure carrying Aboriginal dancer Michael Lesley through Hyde Park in Sydney. Evoking an Aboriginal burial platform, the work explored ideas of displacement and trauma of Aborigines in Australia’s contemporary society.
In 1983, the Visual Arts Board of the Australia Council for the Arts awarded Goodwin the Greene Street studio in New York. He extended his stay until 1984 to complete his massive sculpture, Soho Horse, its bandaged body being the antithesis of a heroic classical equine figure. Goodwin’s horses were fragmented and alienated from the architectural settings portrayed on accompanying drawings. Similarly Pyramid of Heads (1984) and Three-headed Imbroglio (1985) contained movement and life, qualities notably absent from Goodwin’s work of the late 1970s.
Throughout the 1980s Goodwin continued to examine the idea of 'exoskeletons’, how structures amplify the capacity of the human/artist to interact with a space. His Exoskeleton Pivot (1991), produced for Perspecta at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, consisted of a ball of cloth with silk flowers, three metres in diameter, connected to the wall by a steel structure. To Goodwin’s mind, the gallery was transformed into an 'exoskeleton’ or protective shell to the cloth. Developments to this theme, Third World Kline (1992) and Formula for Cold Fusion (1992), imaginatively explored the reliance of humans on technology in ways which hinder our immediate experience of the environment.
Goodwin’s first public art work was Mobius Sea (1986), a complex sculpture in its references to a baroque 'last judgement’, the fossilized clothing of Goodwin’s earlier works, and the turrets of the Conservatorium of Music nearby. Originally placed at the southeast corner of Macquarie and Bridge Street in Sydney’s CBD, where it was intended to be “a site around which cars would rotate,” in 1987 it was relocated to the grounds outside the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
Goodwin’s public art is best known through his numerous collaborations with the New South Wales Roads Traffic Authority, including the design and construction of sound attenuation walls along the Gore Hill Freeway (1992) and elsewhere, pylons underneath Sydney Fish Markets (1993-96), and his Charles Street Bridge (1999) over the City West Link in Leichhardt. These often symbolic designs give drivers along the freeways a way of connecting with the culture of their surroundings rather than closing themselves up in their cars.
Goodwin’s interest in site-specific public art allowed him to return to the built environment in his sculptural interpretations of structures called 'parasites’, which intruded on modern environments of pure space and functionalism. They acted as physical and social attachments to buildings, located in interstitial spaces and linking the autonomous building with its context. In his Parasite Roof at the Union Hotel in North Sydney (1998), the intention behind the structure was to create a 'dialogue’ from the street below towards the passive façade of architect Sid Ancher’s 1930s early modernist structure. Goodwin, in collaboration with Caroline Piddock Architects, also designed an award-winning addition to the Shellharbour Workers’ Club (2003). The sculptural veranda, a 'parasite,’ incorporates environmentally sustainable design principles as it mediates between the interior of the building and the broad landscape.
After receiving his Masters of Architecture from Royal Melbourne Institute of TAFE (1999) and continually giving guest lectures at Sydney universities, Goodwin was appointed Adjunct Professor at the College of Fine Arts (COFA), UNSW. In 2003, Goodwin was awarded a three year Australian Research Council grant to examine public space through the concept of 'porosity’. Through a studio at COFA, studies on the permeability of buildings were analysed and mapped on computer software as a means of devising new structures to facilitate more interactions between people. Experimental studios in Sydney, Beijing, Rotterdam and Milan worked with sculptors, architects, urban planners and designers to push the known boundaries of public space.
Goodwin continued to work as a solo and collaborative artist/architect from his Leichhardt studio in Sydney’s inner-west. His 2008 exhibition, “Poroplastic”, held at the Australian Galleries, Sydney, featured computer-generated images, scale models and sculptures of motorbikes exploded and reassembled into new forms. It emphasised his continual fascination with mechanics and transformed existing objects to give them new meaning. It differed from his previous works because it suggested that the composition was aided by automatic forces rather than being a purely intentional object like his previous sculptures.
In 2008 Goodwin was awarded a PhD in Fine Arts from COFA, UNSW, where he was appointed as a Professor.
De Lorenzo, Dr Catherine
Note: Belinda Wai-Yee Ho