The Genius Behind Damian Goidich

There is art that one can appreciate, and there is art that makes you stop. But there are few artists that do it as repeatedly as Damian Goidich. His beautifully loose and sometimes haunting works carry with them a relatable raw truth—one that brings the viewer back through time to simpler moments.

I first reached out to Goidich for advice several years ago as I started my own art journey and was surprised when he promptly wrote back with an incredibly thoughtful message pointing me in helpful directions. When you’re as talented as Goidich, it builds trust in people when the humility matches the talent. I certainly have tried to pass that openness along. And so, as a long time admirer, I’m honored to share an exclusive interview with the master himself.

KRASNER: 
First off, the basics, tell us a little bit about yourself!

GOIDICH:
Well, I’m originally from Detroit, Michigan, but currently reside on the west side of the state in Grand Rapids. I have a BFA in Illustration and an MFA with a concentration in drawing. I was a freelance Illustrator for a number of years; nothing exciting to write home about, but it was a good career. About eleven years ago I was invited to teach in the Illustration Department at Kendall College of Art & Design, a position I still hold in addition to my Fine Art practice.

I have a fondness for old cinema (especially silent movies), and 19th century photography. Both of these are an endless source of inspiration.

I have a fondness for old cinema (especially silent movies), and 19th century photography. Both of these are an endless source of inspiration.I enjoy early 20th century newspaper comics and illustration, and have a deep love of the comic book art of Jack Kirby. I’m an avid reader and bibliophile, and have far more books than a person should be allowed to have, though I believe you can never have too many of them. I would like to relocate to the Northeastern US as soon as I am able, with Maine, Vermont or New Hampshire as destinations, so HEY all you New Englanders! Help a guy out!

KRASNER: 
Walk us through your art journey. Were there any significant events that stand out to you that guided you in the artist direction? How did you get from “5-year old with a crayon” to showing your work on a larger stage?

GOIDICH:
That’s a long, circuitous route best left for an artist biography, if one is ever written. I would say my time in graduate school was an important event. It completely changed how I think about, react to, and create art. It was a time of intense focus and learning, of research and experimentation, and it was probably the most significant period of growth in my artistic career up to that point. It gave me the kick in the pants I needed and awakened me from a rather pedestrian view of art. In my youth I was obsessed with the formal application of materials that often led me towards art that displayed good technique; the virtuoso use of paint or the bravura of an expert drawing — the ‘wow’ factor, if you will. And today I still appreciate a well-crafted piece of art. But I discovered that technique could only go so far; my graduate studies instilled within me a desire for something more out of art, some meaning beyond surface application. I now gravitate towards art in which the materials supplement the concept, where theme and execution work in tandem to create a visual and emotional reaction.

But I discovered that technique could only go so far; my graduate studies instilled within me a desire for something more out of art, some meaning beyond surface application.

KRASNER:
Were there specific influential people or artists along this path? What good advice stuck with you?

GOIDICH:
My artistic influences are wide and deep, and have no boundaries as to style, movement, or even art itself. I draw inspiration from almost anything that piques my interest. But I can name some artists who have been influential to my artistic growth. The German Expressionist Kaethe Kollwitz is probably my biggest influence and favorite artist. Her ability to convey powerful emotional depth and feeling through the most economical application of drawing is always a punch in the gut. Edvard Munch is another favorite. His wholly unique depiction of the internal strife within the human soul really informs the conceptual aspects of my work. The Abstract Expressionist Franz Kline speaks volumes to me. His works are so vivid and monumental — they are both arresting and exciting if you see one in person. They demand attention. I could stare at his work all day. Andrew Wyeth really connects with me, in that his work has such a mysterious, emotive quality that creates a strange longing within me. It’s hard to describe, but his work arouses the desire to occupy the space he is depicting. I want to BE there, especially in the landscapes of the Kuerners farm. And looming over them all is Rembrandt. Always Rembrandt.

Early on in my graduate studies I hit a roadblock. I was struggling with my art, with my subjects and ideas. I was lost and almost paralyzed by creative doubt.

The most profound advice I keep with me I received from one of my graduate studies professors, Deborah Rockman. She’s a strong mentor, has a powerful mind, and is a fierce friend as well as a deeply moving artist. Early on in my graduate studies I hit a roadblock. I was struggling with my art, with my subjects and ideas. I was lost and almost paralyzed by creative doubt. She advised me quite simply to ‘Draw what you know’. That was a stunning revelation, and it was like a fog had dissipated. I repeat it to myself every day like a mantra before I begin the day’s work.

KRASNER:
From charcoal to painting to digital, your pieces have a consistent beautiful “ghostly” quality to them. How do you achieve that quality that cannot be put fully into words, and would you consider this a unique fingerprint to your work?

GOIDICH:
Thank you for pointing out the ghostly quality — that aspect is key to understanding the thematic undercurrent in my work. Much of my art focuses on memory and the act of remembering; of the visual state-of-mind we enter when our memory banks are prompted into consciousness. The spark can be anything related to our senses: a certain aroma or smell connecting us to a singular event, a song or piece of music we associate with a person in our past, or the visual sense of déjà vu we may experience in a specific environmental setting.

This creates a conundrum: attempts to remember specific events in their entirety are colored by a hind-sighted reaction to the memory, causing a distortion.

This creates a conundrum: attempts to remember specific events in their entirety are colored by a hind-sighted reaction to the memory, causing a distortion. Our reactions are emotionally based, immediately altering the truth of the occasion, person or setting. The mind splinters these events and pieces together only bits of fragmented truths coupled with emotional distortions. The images I create in paint and charcoal manifest this idea of splintering and fragmentation; I’m attempting to visualize my own memory perceptions.

How I approach this with physical materials is another matter, and involves a rhythmic flow of action and reaction, of putting down descriptive marks and reacting to them by either leaving them in place or manipulating them in some purposeful manner. I will smudge, blur, or erase them altogether, usually leaving faint traces of their existence behind on the surface, a kind of palimpsest. I’m striving for the optical experience you have in the brief micro-moments before your eyes fully adjust and focus after you wake up from a night’s rest.

I’m striving for the optical experience you have in the brief micro-moments before your eyes fully adjust and focus after you wake up from a night’s rest.

KRASNER:
Do you have many habits you believe contribute to your success?

GOIDICH:
Well, I’m certainly compelled to create, and that works in my benefit. I’m pretty hard on myself when it comes to creating art, in that I’m driven to build on what came before, to one-up myself as much as possible. A hard work ethic is invaluable. You’ve got to put in the time and pay your dues if you want things to happen for you.

You’ve got to put in the time and pay your dues if you want things to happen for you.

KRASNER:
Which is your favorite of your own works? Why is that your favorite?

GOIDICH:
That’s a very fluid thing, and often shifts back and forth depending on my state-of-mind at any given moment. I think ‘They Said They Were My Friends’ is my current favorite. It’s a small mixed media piece I created in late 2014 during a single session. It’s a self-portrait of sorts, depicting an interpretation of a memory of a traumatic event from my childhood. The image came to me fully formed and was executed very quickly, with no further modifications after the fact. I had never undergone that kind of spontaneous creativity before, and successive attempts to duplicate the moment have been uneven at best. It really was lightning in a bottle; for a brief instant I experienced the complete fusion of idea and execution, of mind and body working in a focused and purposeful manner.

Damian Goidich. “They Said They Were My Friends”.

KRASNER:
What’s your favorite failure? Something that may have taken you down a path you originally didn’t intend on but ended up being beneficial.

GOIDICH:
My open-ended series ‘Create and ‘Destroy’ is built on failure! Well, failure is a pretty strong word. I guess ‘failed attempts’ or ‘unsatisfactory results’ would be better descriptors. Sometimes a drawing or painting will get away from me and no amount of reworking will save it, and I toss it on what I lovingly refer to as my ‘pile of shame’. These are pieces that started as something very specific — a portrait for example — that just didn’t manifest themselves. I let these works sit for a while — anywhere from a week to a few years. On occasion I will revisit the pile and sift through the images until I find one that has the potential to become something else. I use these discards for free-form drawing and painting, and approach them with no preconceived ideas attached to them. I just start painting or drawing over what’s already there, not using any references, reacting to the strokes and marks and letting the image create itself. Sometimes they turn out better than the original. Often they don’t end up as anything at all and either return to the pile of shame or are discarded altogether. The benefit of this exercise is to flex my imagination and work in a non-linear way; not moving from point-A to point-B, but from point-A to point-L to point-E then back to point-B and so on. It’s starting to work its way into my more structured creative process, and it helps break up the routine a bit.

“Create and Destroy” series

KRASNER:
Tell me about a project or accomplishment that you consider being the most significant in your career.

GOIDICH:
I would consider the ‘Boxed In’ series of drawings and paintings to represent a significant turning point in my art. The series marked a new direction after an extended period of self-reflection and hard critical examination of my work and finding it lacking and empty of meaning for me. I had reached a point of stagnation. I was determined to break away from my past — in a way from myself and from my comfort zone — and strike out into uncharted territory. I wanted to create a series that examined the inner world of emotions that would connect with the viewer, to allow them the freedom to identify in an intimate way with the ideas I was presenting — loneliness, isolation, disconnection — emotions we keep within us and do not reveal to the world.

There’s a distinct level of uncomfortableness in these works, a rawness I hadn’t anticipated but contributes significantly to their reception and understanding.

There’s a distinct level of uncomfortableness in these works, a rawness I hadn’t anticipated but contributes significantly to their reception and understanding. This was in 2010–2011, and if you compare the series to my output before those years, it’s a pretty obvious shift in content and visual presentation.

“Boxed In” series.

KRASNER:
How do you balance the creative, business and teaching sides of being an artist?

GOIDICH:
Not very well, I must admit! Seriously I don’t know how I’m doing it, but I think being able to schedule and compartmentalize my time is a benefit. Do what needs to be done at the right time and in the right way. If it’s time to teach, I teach. If it’s time to draw or paint, I draw and paint. If it’s time to hang a show, I go hang the show. There’s not much more to it than that, I guess.

KRASNER:
In what direction do you see yourself and your work heading?

GOIDICH:
I’m consciously moving away from strictly representational images towards a more free form, semi-abstract approach. I believe this is happening for specific reasons: As I grow older, my concepts are becoming more complex, more emotionally driven, and working in a representational style does not always effectively communicate my ideas.

As I grow older, my concepts are becoming more complex, more emotionally driven, and working in a representational style does not always effectively communicate my ideas.

It also has to do with a maturity of artistic appreciation, of looking to alternative forms of art I have not explored before. Lately I have become very intrigued by outsider/lowbrow/pop surrealistic art; it’s a form of direct, uninhibited expression, and the aggressive use of materials and unconventional ideas fascinates me. I can see aspects of this working its way into my art down the road.

KRASNER:
How do you push through creative blocks or doubt?

GOIDICH:
Both of these things go hand-in-hand with each other and I believe every artist goes through an occasional dry spell or period of uncertainty. It’s natural; we are not machines that spit out a drawing or painting on command. Well, some artists can and good for them.

I believe every artist goes through an occasional dry spell or period of uncertainty. It’s natural; we are not machines that spit out a drawing or painting on command.

While I think it’s a universal experience among artists, how you overcome these obstacles is entirely personal. There are some artists who advocate pushing through by continuing to draw or paint with no clear goal in mind, that the act of creative exploration will spark a new idea or lay the foundation for a new direction. Others take this down time to enter a fallow period, a time of introspection and perhaps a time to focus on other aspects of their lives. When I hit a creative roadblock I tend to use my time reading books or papers on art history or art criticism. I find these subjects often help me measure my own art within the context of Art’s expansive history and lead to a deeper understanding of its place and perhaps a new direction. I will also delve into fiction — mostly period piece novels or Victorian Gothic horror short stories — as sources for inspiration.

KRASNER:
Are you satisfied? What do you wish your legacy to be?

GOIDICH:
That’s a loaded question! If you’re referring to my art, the aesthetics of how my drawing and painting look and the success with which I present my concepts, then no, I’m not entirely satisfied. One of the key components of my personality is that I am driven to perform at my personal best. I am my own worst critic, and once I finish a piece I will start tearing it apart, searching for ways to improve upon it in anticipation of the next one. I don’t think I will ever reach a point where I can look at my art and say ‘This is it. This is what I’ve been striving for.’ In one sense that’s good, in that I will continue to explore new ways of communicating my ideas and avoid complacency and formulae. In another sense I’m very aware that being too critical can cause hesitation and doubt that may stymie my growth. It’s a fine line to walk.

If you are referring to a satisfaction with the current state of my career, I do derive a great amount of satisfaction that I have an audience for my work. I would like to keep that audience growing, and obviously sell more of my work and show more of my work in new venues and with greater frequency. I think every artist strives for that kind of satisfaction.

KRASNER:
What advice would you give to emerging artists?

GOIDICH:
Above all, stay true to your vision. Believe in what you do and that what you have to say has value and is important. If you desire gallery representation, research regions whose art scene and community best fits your work. Attend show openings and network with gallery owners and especially other artists. It’s imperative that you as an artist develop good working relationships within your art community, as these are the people and institutions that will be critical to further expanding your network and creating potential opportunities to show your work. The old adage ‘It’s who you know’ is a primary element of the art world. That does not necessarily mean you need to be a social gadabout (unless that’s your thing), but strive to be an integral and familiar presence in your art circle. Get your work out there in some way, whether through shows, social media, community volunteering — whatever it takes to make your art up front and visible to the world.

Get your work out there in some way, whether through shows, social media, community volunteering — whatever it takes to make your art up front and visible to the world.

I also recommend developing a social media presence across multiple platforms and engage directly with your audience, especially when it comes to replying to comments or direct messages. Each person you correspond with is a potential buyer of your work, so maintaining communication is critical. But also be aware of scams or deceptive people who want to take advantage of you and your work for their own agenda. When you get suckered the first time it subsequently becomes easier to sniff out who’s being truthful and who’s attempting to pull one over on you.

And keep producing art! I can’t stress this enough. It’s ok to take a step back from your artistic life for short periods of time and take a breather, regroup, pursue other interests, attend to matters of your life, but if you stay away too long, it becomes harder and harder to get back into it. Life moves quickly, and if you aren’t careful one day you’ll wake up and it’s ten years later and you’ll ask yourself, ‘What the hell happened?’ Trust me on this, because it happened to me. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I lost ten years — ten critical years at a time in an artist’s life when creative artistic growth is the catalyst to establishing a solid career as a practicing artist. Ten years I’ll never get back. I think that’s why I’m such a workhorse; I’m trying to make up for lost time. Stay focused and keep your eye on the prize while maintaining enough flexibility to see alternative paths and opportunities as they are presented to you.

Ten years I’ll never get back. […] I’m trying to make up for lost time.

KRASNER:
Any upcoming shows, new works, events, etc. that you’d like to share with us?

GOIDICH:
I’m embarking on a new series of work that I would rather not reveal right now, as it’s still in the formative stage of development. I will reveal the progress and results as it happens on my various social media platforms, all of which can be accessed from my website www.damiangoidich.com.

I’m also currently one of several artists from around the world participating in a group exhibition at the Saginaw Art Museum in Saginaw, Michigan. The exhibition, entitled ‘Artumentary’, showcases the works created at or inspired by the Golden Apple artist-in-residency program located downeast along the Atlantic coast in Harrington, Maine. The Golden Apple Art Residency is a perfect opportunity for artists interested in exploring and concentrating on their work in a comfortable, remote environment. I’ve been there twice, and am eager to go again. The show runs through June 10th, so check it out if your able. You won’t be disappointed.

Check out more of Damian Goidich on Instagram @damian_goidich_art