Nature Is His Silent Partner

Exhibition at the Sculpture Society of Canada Gallery, King and York Streets, Toronto, September 1996

Ten years ago, Ben Goodman left his 30-year career in the corporate world and entered a new venture with a silent partner - nature. Inspired by the contrasting forms, textures, and compositions he found in the countryside and woods, Goodman sought a way to respond to nature's beauties and safeguard its fragile future. Characteristically methodical, he researched his options and drew up a five-year plan. But then he did something dramatic, Goodman became a sculptor - studying at the Ontario College of Art and learning how to work with hot glass.

Maturity has allowed Goodman to fast track his career as a sculptor. In the six years since graduating, Ben has participated in important group shows in Toronto, Montréal, Ottawa, Edmonton, and Seville, Spain; and served on the executive of the Glass Art Association of Canada and the Sculptors' Society of Canada. He has established contacts with commercial galleries and art consultants, who represent his glass vessels, tables, and private commissions for awards. At the same time, group shows and solo exhibitions have provided him with the opportunity to develop strong, consistent bodies of work.

A deep concern for the relationship between civilization and nature pervades Goodman's sculpture. He passionately believes that we should be nature's caretakers and points approvingly to Aboriginal peoples' acknowledgment of their interdependent relationship with nature. Whether it is the "Watchers," the "Collaboration," and even the "Connection" series, which is inspired by bridges, the theme of partnership is a given. He points out that, for him, bridges are a metaphor for the relationship between humans and the landscape. We should be like the graceful but resilient arches of bridges, which fulfill their function while blending in with the landscape.

"Watcher #4" combines a dense burl of ironwood - so named because it is hard enough that when struck with an ax sparks fly - and an ethereal twist of translucent aquatint threaded with opaque blue glass.

Ben describes an ideal partnership as being "close enough to provide comfort but not so close as to stifle." Therefore, an insightful gap of breathing space is left between the glass and wood to highlight their contrasting characteristics. Yet there is a startling reciprocity between the forms. It is as if the glass echoes the wood, a repetition but slightly distorted. The two forms balance each other, making a satisfying and memorable whole.

Watcher Number Four - Ben Goodman
"Watcher #4"
formed cast glass, found wood
6" L x 9" H x 5" W

Not surprisingly, when Ben finds an intriguing piece of wood - a twisted burl, or maybe a chunk gnawed by beavers or rabbits - he will take it back to the studio for use in a sculpture only if it's dead. He says it would make no sense to cut wood, to sacrifice a tree. It would be contradictory to his aims. Similarly, Goodman would rarely colour, carve, or significantly alter a piece of wood from its natural state in the course of turning it into sculpture. His goal is to be true to the materials provided by nature. Goodman is much more an orchestrater than a processor. The changes he makes to wood are to preserve its characteristics so that his sculpture can stand up to "frequent fondling."

Collaboration Number Eight - Ben Goodman

"Collaboration #8"
found wood, cast glass
18"L x 13"H x 7"W

Goodman says that in using nature's - and occasionally urban - castoffs he is giving them a second chance. This explains why he inverts the usual formula in "Collaboration #8," which features wood above, rather than below, glass. Although it is visually heavier than the transparent glass, Goodman chooses to elevate the wood on a glass base. It is an act of homage. The spalling and rings - the records of the tree's good and bad years - are held up to our notice and the life of the tree is celebrated. A related strategy is used in "Tribute," which reveals a "treasure," Ben says, normally hidden under bark. Its bare wood offers the secret "inscriptions" of mites –- a complex pattern chewed into the wood.

Of all Goodman's work, the "Connection" series uses the least amount of wood. These sculptures are graceful pairs or threesomes of overlapping glass arches. Differing textures are treated subtly. Goodman places the textured side down, creating a glass effect that is less gregarious but has greater optical depth. The "Connection" series are pared down and harmonious. With their strong gestural presence, they are a good example of Goodman’s minimalist aesthetic.

Goodman stands out from many glass artists in Canada because he has not gotten caught up in technique. With hundreds of years of history and a veritable encyclopedia of shaping and surface treatments available, many glass artists concentrate on virtuoso displays. Goodman’s approach is humble and rather quiet. Perhaps this is required in letting nature - his silent partner - take the lead.

Connections number six, bent glass and steel
"Connections #6"
bent glass, steel
32" L x 11" H x 6" W

Gloria Hickey, Art Journalist and Curator


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