INTERVIEW with Charlie Goering: carving out a personal history

“To transcend and imbue the figure with those illusive qualities of what it means to be human, is what every great painter has done.”


February 9th, 2017  by M. Elise Hillestad

Cerebral interiors and the landscape of dreams seem to provide the backdrop for emerging painter and sculptor Charlie Goering’s large scale figurative works. Dark, sculptural narratives from the Kentucky native give glimpse into a mind grappling with the complexities of life’s brevity and conflict, as in his work titled Reification.  His six ft. allegorical painting Conditioning depicts some 25 bodies in various moments of physical and metaphorical struggle. The monochromatic bodies feel chiseled out of stone and the composition is epic- an impressive undertaking for a young painter. Goering, the son of a classical guitarist and raised among creators, is a student of the Laguna College of Art and Design, and attended the Florence Academy in Italy. The future looks fascinating for Goering, who already displays an admirable array of skill.


M: What themes or archetypes are most important for your work?

Goering: My work, at the moment, consists of probing my mind, tapping into its recesses and expressing the ineffable anxieties and desires I feel in paint,. bringing to the task all the skills and experiences I have so far amassed. I like to think my work is deeply introspective. I spend a lot of time thinking about the formulation of each new piece. For example, my current work in progress, Reification, is about a horrible accident I witnessed and my own anxieties about death. On the other hand, this work is also a lamentation for the futile nature of painting as a medium of expression. Painting can only ever be an approximation of what we feel and think. However this does not mean one should not attempt to transform the painted surface, but to understand this and work within the medium’s limitations.


Reification, 2016 by Charlie Goering

M: What drew you to painting figuratively?

Goering:  Well, from a young age, when I first started studying painting, a choice between figuration and non-figuration didn’t exist in my mind, only wonder and awe for those able to create freely. It wasn’t until part of the way into my college studies I latched onto this idea of figuration in art. I then decided that figuration was a way in which I wanted to express my ideas. However, I found that keeping an open mind toward art kept that childhood wonder in all forms of creating alive. I still have my own personal aesthetic preferences, but I try my best to keep an open mind. There is a lot to learn from understanding art history and its many forms of expression over time. I find I learn a lot from looking in the places no ones else is. This is partially what my painting Conditioning is about. Inspired by both Michelangelo’s Battle of the Centaurs and Jackson Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm. This painting is about taking a critical look at an artistic conditioning my academic training had instilled in me.


Male Torso, 2016  by Charlie Goering

sculpture by Charlie Goering

M: Describe what an ideal day in the studio might look like for you.

Goering: An ideal day in the studio would begin with an early rise and some tea while I draw. This helps me digest my dreams and get my mind active for the day’s work. After that I would get right into any number of paintings I am working on. I paint best when there are fewer hurdles between me and starting work, so having a clear idea of what needs to be done for the day is important. I usually work until lunch, relax and eat, then get back into painting until the sun goes down. I like to paint by natural light. I then make dinner and wind down with a book, a good movie, or mindless television. If any ideas come to me in this period of rest I try to record and develop them as best I can. Some of my best ideas come to me right before I fall asleep or wake up. So I keep my phone or sketchbook close in the mornings and evenings.


Charlie Goering in his studio
M: Which painters, sculptors, or other creators are you enjoying looking at right now?

Goering: Oh man, I could go on and on about different artists and why I enjoy what they do but right now Desiderio, Degas, Velazquez, Max Beckman, and Stanley Kubrick are who I look at the most right now. Degas is fearless with paint and composition. He applies paint in so many counter intuitive ways. It’s as if everything he does is steeped in his training but he never wants to be pinned down. Velazquez I admire because his economy of paint and form are impeccable. Max Beckmann is a towering figure of enigmatic and anxiety inducing compositions. His paintings hold mystery and elevate the figure to metaphor. Stanley Kubrick, to me, is the greatest artist of our time. His attention to detail and singular scope of his vision are undeniable. He is a true master of his medium. Finally, Desiderio is one of the greatest living artists today. Enigmatic, mysterious and. intellectual, he is a monolithic painter who approaches paint reverently. His paintings imprint themselves on your retina, commanding your attention, making you think about them long after you leave.


Night, 1918 by Max Beckmann
photograph taken by a teenaged Stanley Kubrick

M: You sculpt as well. How do you express yourself differently in that medium? What special challenges and benefits do find with sculpting in comparison to painting?

Goering: This question gets at a very fundamental dilemma between the two mediums that, as you know, has been going on since the inception of art. Sculptures obviously occupy real physical space. A physicality that only impasto or trompe` l’oeil can convey in paint. Since my knowledge of the medium is limited (having only sculpted for about two years) I tend to see sculptures as precious objects, relics. This is simply because the sculptures I love most are those fragmentary objects worn over time. Though someone like Carpeaux is impressive because of his complete understanding of form, the broken head of a greek bust tells a different story then Napoleons finely groomed mustache.  The broken limbs of a god, or the head of a past dignitary, have become deformed by time. There is something beautiful about that.


sculptures by Charlie Goering

Painting allows me to compose a complex scene and tell a story. Unlike sculpture, in painting, I can hang a person upside down or, incorporate landscape etc. Though artists have composed scenes with the molded figure (George Segal for example) I am not convinced of its effectiveness. (My one disclaimer is relief sculpture. Unlike sculpture in the round it is viewed from a fixed location. So, I generally avoid adding it to my discussion of sculpture because of its affinity with painting. However it is one form of sculpting that can, and does quite effectively, depict complex figure arrangements.) Paintings place the viewer at a fixed point and operates in an illusionary space. Because of this, painting’s movement occurs in our mind while viewing the painted figure in motion or gestural mark. Sculpture invites the spectators participation in the work. Physical movement, the act of revealing, and time to come into play. The viewer moves in real space and time. So for me, I try and work within the limitations of what sculpture is to express the physical qualities of the human body, and within the flatness of the picture plane, frozen in time, to tell a story and express that which cannot be engineered in sculpture.

I would like for the two medium to begin to speak the same language in my work. I think that as a skill, sculpture informs my painting plenty through a stronger understanding of anatomy and form. However, trying to get the two to work together in a complete aesthetic is difficult. I am not sure of the solution to this problem yet but the potential excites me.


a 2017 work in progress by Charlie Goering

M: Can you tell us about a project you’re in the midst of that excites you?

Goering: Right now, since I am still fresh out of my undergraduate studies, I am taking some time to internalize all I have learned and establish a strong studio practice. I find this part of my career very exciting and full of potential. That being said I am constantly working on new ideas. I am continuing to pursue large-scale narrative paintings, a personal history painting of sorts. I am trying to define what painting is and its limitations for myself. I want to be in a place where my paintings transcend mere figuration as a practice and move into figuration as an art, a form of expression. To transcend and imbue the figure with those illusive qualities of what it means to be human is what every great painter has done.


Conditioning, 2016 by Charlie Goering
M: If you could share a drink and conversation with any 3 painters, dead or living, who would you choose and what would be your libation?

Goering:  I’m going to cheat a bit here and say the first person I would invite would be Stanley Kubrick, then Max Beckmann, and finally Michelangelo. I would open a nice bottle of some Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon (that’s the Kentucky boy in me) and speak to each one about their careers. Just listening to Kubrick would be enough. His intellect was far too vast for me to feel worthy of speaking to any preconceived ideas I have about his work. Beckmann, I believe, was deeply troubled by what he saw in the war and I would love to understand how this informed his work. Lastly, Michelangelo, I would love to hear from Michelangelo about his troubles as a painter, what he toiled over, and what it took to create the most towering works of the western art. I think some shop-talk would be in order as well. Even just being a fly on the wall as these artists conversed would be a true pleasure.


for more from Charlie Goering


detail, Aporia by Charlie Goering

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