NATURE IS HIS SILENT PARTNER

By Gloria Hickey, Art Journalist and curator, 1996.

Ten years ago, Ben Goodman left his thirty-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 sculptor. In the six years since graduating, Ben has participated in important group shows in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria and Seville-Spain; and served on the executive of the Glass Art Association of Canada and the Sculptor's 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 our aboriginal people's acknowledgement 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 fulfil their function while blending in with the landscape.

Ben describes an ideal partnership as being "close enough to provide comfort but not so close as to stifle." This philosophy carries through to the "partnership" he feels with the material used in his sculptures. 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 its 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 never 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 rather than a processor. The changes he makes to wood are to preserve its characteristics so that his sculpture can stand up to "frequent fondling." He says that in using nature's - and occasionally urban - cast offs he is giving them a second chance.

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.

Gloria Hickey, Art Journalist and curator

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