THE GATEKEEPER: Goodworth’s Art Practice

So we, Craig Goodworth and I, were hiking on the trail. Not just hiking, but cutting back limbs and bushes pruning the summer growth of the foot paths on a 90- acre property surrounding a lake in a remote area outside Portland, Oregon. He had some contract with the property that allowed him to live on, and have access to the place, along with the duty of maintaining the grounds. I was visiting Goodworth’s home.  The time was late summer, 2011.  We had fabulous sunlight, which he told me would soon disappear with the oncoming Oregon rain.

So we worked, mostly him, maintaining the grounds together.  I said "I can see why you like this," after we finished and returned home.  He asked me, “Why?”

I honestly did not know why. Felt something, did not know yet exactly know what.  Certainly, there was some playfulness as we (or he) was avoiding the crowds of the city, making me feel we were some invisible spirits in Japanese folklore.   But then, I also sensed some honor in it.  I felt a bit strange about this term coming up in my mind, but I did not know how else to put it.  A few days later some notion came to me…


* * *


Sometime December 2010, we were walking on the beach in Santa Monica. Craig was here in Los Angeles to finish up some artist business and staying in my room for a few days. We had spent some time together at museums, galleries, and then we were at the beach.  We talked and walked.  Somehow our topic was about what art means.  I remember I provided two metaphors:


The first being about an animal that is trapped at the bottom of the trou-de-loup  - a hole.  It has tried everything to escape, and failed. It’s howled and howled and none came to rescue. Starving, knowing its end, it scratches the walls, leaving marks (drawings) that evidence that it has lived - not knowing when or if it will be seen by others.


The other metaphor is an animal caught in a steel trap.  The animal is crying out of pain, not by his choice, but as a reaction to the torturing pain it receives from the trap. It can never escape the trap, but neither is the trap going to kill it. This excruciating pain makes it roar so strong, people hear it from miles and wonder why it has so much power to shake their mind all the while never knowing where it is coming from.


Goodworth seemed to like the former metaphor, while I felt his art being more like the latter, somehow.


* * *


I first met Craig Goodworth around 2000 while we were at art school in Baltimore, Maryland. We first saw each other in the sculpture building. He, wearing the cowboy hat and boots and chewing tobaccos and being over 6 feet tall, and filled with all those muscles.  While me, being an Asian whimpy kid never having lived in America, adjusting myself to the way of American life.  We seemed to be outsiders - hanging out with a different crowd.  I sensed in him a bit of isolation and a rebellious attitude to standard ways of thinking.  And sometimes he was stubborn, not always nice.  But I felt he was a good person. A nice person can be untrustworthy.  But a not nice person, even sometimes stubborn, can still be trustworthy.  So I liked him. Probably that is the reason why.


What specific kind of person is Craig Goodworth?  That has taken me some time to figure out.  And, I might still be figuring it out.  Come to think of it, we may die trying, and never fully figure out another human being.   


Several times I visited the deserts of Arizona, seeing where Goodworth grew up.  The philosopher in residence at the school we attended once remarked, "you simply cannot understand Craig Goodworth not knowing the place he comes from – the land and sky of that country," or something similar I recall.  I do remember the first time I saw the desert in Arizona. Open sky, mountains in the distance, and an ocean of sand. I felt I could gaze at it for days.


One sentence a Japanese author wrote about a poet from old Tokyo, or great Kanto plane, where you see nothing but hills is: "If you have this open sky, what else can you do other than fill it up with poems."


That is the way I started thinking of Craig.


* * *


After graduation, we met here and there, our lives moving forward, Craig steadily moving forward as an artist.  It was somewhat peculiar for me, since somehow whenever we meet it was the time I had some kind of trouble and was distressed, and it seemed seeing him blew away the cloud and gave me some momentum to carry on.  Hence, I also started seeing him as some mystic spirit in Japanese folklore.


The more I saw him over the years, the more I saw of his art, and his love for poems.  I remember seeing the way he lived in the shed on a horse ranch in Arizona, then a cabin in the forest in the mountains near Flagstaff.  Always he was near nature and animals, remote from cities and crowds, always seeking and talking to something in his spirit - sometimes solemn, sometimes calm – and always rejecting any 'ready-made' answers.  Some people make art, others write a poem. Craig Goodworth is the art, he is becoming the poem.




I have been asking myself.


The answer, I think, would be more of my....feeling, so should be very difficult to explain in words and sentences.


* * *


The first time I saw an exhibition of Craig Goodworth’s artworks after graduating from our art school, was in the summer of 2010.  It was his MFA show just outside L.A.  I saw the evidence of a magnificent effort: installations spaces of drawings and sculpture and videos and artifacts from the desert.  The opening was followed by a meal of lamb accompanied by poetic readings.  Goodworth’s three-gallery exhibition seemed not only for everybody else, but somehow also just for him.  I simply could not sink all the artwork into my gut.


* * *


Then comes the time I visited him in Oregon.


In principal, I always hesitate to visit other's "turf", even when invited.  This is because I feel myself too awkward and shy. But then, there was an exhibition and such, and his first baby is coming soon after the show, he told me. I knew I wanted to see the show, and I definitely knew it would better to visit his turf before the baby, not after.  So I decided to fly from L.A. and go and see.


I had the honor of seeing the show before the opening.  Cozy nonprofit gallery, about a dozen or so drawings of horses, elk, bees, sculptures  and artifacts from the desert – beeswax candle stubs, deer legs, a deer fetus in a jar, a note book, etc.


Goodworth was busy mounting a honey-comb to the gallery wall while I was walking the space. Then he asked me what I thought.  My first reaction was ''hmmm," indicating I need more time.


At first, probably I was thinking in my craftsman/designer brain: What is the concept of the show? How does it translate into the tone and manner of this setting? What is the real and ideal audience? … not these exact words, but something similar.


Maybe not the best approach for Goodworth’s art, but still I got something:  What struck me most was the drawing of the life-size elk, placed next to the entrance.  Its hooves almost on the floor make the viewer feel this one is real, not just a drawing hung on the wall.  A dark graphite drawing, the eye’s of the creature looking out at you, watching the entire gallery space. I personally named it, “the gatekeeper.”


On the far side of the room, there was drawing of a set of antlers.  It felt like a symbolic door to the inner spirit of the artist. Thus, the further you go into the space, the further the viewer enters the soul. Next to this drawing was a drawing of an ambiguous face, an elk skull looking at the viewer from a field of marks.  This drawing, entitled, “Self-Portrait as Elk” related to the gatekeeper.


That was the sense I got at first shot. Not so satisfactory as a review, not about all the contents of the show, but the way "I" connected to it.  Perhaps this is in part due to a lack of nature experience, I am from an urban city, for me, horses belong to the western movies, and elks in a zoo.  Well then, being in the space alone with the artist, a 6 foot something big guy, well built with a beard and eager to get your reaction, was not helpful either. 


Nonetheless, my stay at Goodworth’s home continued.


* * *


When I say I want to visit someone, I just mean I want to see his/her face and to physically share some time and space.  For Craig Goodworth this means doing life with him.  So he handed me a water bottle and pair of clippers and took me to the trail the day after the show's opening.  Somehow I got in my gut what this was about.  I was thinking almost sub-consciously what this act meant to Craig Goodworth.  I realized what we were doing - we, or Craig, was maintaining the trail, the passage.  Technically he gets paid for this work, but I felt it was more – sacred and ceremonial.  The 90- acre property is not for profit, thus making it NOT about productivity, or producing some "value" counted in some economical statistics.


Then, what was he doing?


What came to my mind was "maintaining passages to the wilderness so that the humans can have access to it."

Of course, the trail itself is a very "unfriendly" scar carved by "human planning" onto the skin of valley and hills of the placeYet, we humans need such "artificial" pathways, along with some artifacts like GPS, power lines, gas powered pumps, well maintained water supply, etc, to keep contact with the wilderness - especially someone like me coming from an urban setting.  To me, the wilderness represents not just the nature outside us, but nature within us.  Call it sub-conscious mind, inner-spirit, soul, or even the bodi-ness (as opposed to the brain-ness of cities).


However insignificant we humans are to the wild, it would have to accept some scars to interact with us.  While we, also have to bear the burden of opening up the path, and maintaining it. 

Here comes Goodworth, clipping brushes, hands bleeding, at work sweating; yet relaxing.  Leaving no trace, Goodworth sustains some fragile trails easily overtaken by nature if not carefully maintained.

Goodworth’s art and life, create access for others to the wild.  There was something in the exhibition and the labor the day after I associate with honor, dignity and beauty...not exactly those 3 words, but some mixture of those, that's what I felt.


* * *


Raised in a such a huge open country where the nature and human system are not so easily mixed, Goodworth’s inner wild, his spirits within, might be so spacious, so strong, and so many.  And probably that does not mean just joy and happiness because the wild does not mean just all the pretty things.


I imagine, because so many times I saw him frown when seemingly trying to make some peace inside, there have been times the urge of the spirits feel like eating him up alive.  I imagine there have been times the heat the spirits cause inside him feels like burning his body from the bones.

I imagine there have been times the color of the spirits becomes so ugly, so much so that he was taken aback and swore not to tell anybody.  I imagine there would be so much conflict when he tried to appease the spirits within. If Goodworth’s spirits are as strong as I imagine, the heat, drive and color, and pains would be strong as well.  He just may be tough enough to withstand it.  


When the wilds collide with our system, there is always some pain and suffering, which belong to the body - whether physical, psychological, or spiritual.  We need some means to record that, to document and communicate with it.  To connect to it, to mediate perhaps in the form of poem, or the physicality of art, or through the artist.  Goodworth is a mediator. 


The life size elk drawing that seems to stand at the edge of forest, a border between the wild and our world, is looking at us.  In the open field emerging from the dark, it is luring us come into the forest.  And we have to go in ... to see it, or to understand it, or perhaps to hunt it.  It is a passage for us and invitation to go into that space within ourselves.  


This passage is not a pleasant thing – a nice or pretty experience.  Nonetheless I think Goodwoth will keep the access open to us in his life and artwork.  And I think that is very honorable thing to do.  





Wataru Ito is an artist and web designer presently residing in Las Angeles, California.  Born in Tokyo, Japan, he studied art at the Maryland Institute College of Art and has worked in the web industry in New York City, Tokyo, and Las Angeles.