The Benefits of Isolation: Mike Goodlett at Christian Berst Art Brut

by Paul Brown on October 2, 2015 Reviews

Mike Goodlett's HOMEBODY

Mike Goodlett’s HOMEBODY

Weird dicks, dicks that might also be fingers, butts that resemble faces, faces that might be dicks, and sculptures that might be alien colons or might also be more dicks. These dicks and more are what you will find in Mike Goodlett’s first show in New York, HOMEBODY, on display through this Sunday at Christian Berst Art Brut on the Lower East Side.

Goodlett, as the show’s title implies, leads a somewhat isolated existence on the outskirts of Wilmore, Kentucky, in a pallid, aging, farmhouse that is barely visible from the road that leads to it. The house also functions as his studio, it’s sparse and peeling walls are adorned almost exclusively with the artist’s own works. The art, in this context, become meditations on self and sexuality driven by an onanistic impulse. Goodlett’s experience as a queer man living an often solitary existence in the rural south may go some way in explaining the subject matter of his art. This loneliness has had at least one positive side effect—a voluminous and extremely affective body of work.

Which is not to say that amount of work Goodlett’s produced was readily apparent. The show, housed in the gallery’s more confined workshop space, manages to remain somewhat sparse, almost ascetic in it’s layout. This would be surprising for a show that deals with graphic sexual imagery were the small framed drawings and pastel colored sculptures not so intimate and personal. The show reminds me of the more fantastical masturbatory fantasies of Jean Genet in his novel “Our Lady of the Flowers.”. In the book, Genet constructs a world of violent but glorious depravity, rife with queers, cross-dressers, criminals, and prostitutes which he describes in dreamy, floral prose. And of course, there are life parallels between the artist and author as well. Both works are born of isolation, Goodlett’s being primarily geographic, and Genet’s from having written the work from prison.

The wall mounted work shares a common quality: The entity being penetrated, and the one doing the penetration are the same. Goodlett obsessively rendered hand like protuberances delicately with razor thin lines of graphite and perfect gradients of colored pencil against solid backgrounds of queasy green and blue line the walls. All at once, fingers caress and are caressed by one another, morphing into phalluses here and there. Holes spring forth at random and beg to be filled. One of the drawings (all of the works in the show are untitled) even asks nicely, outlining the word ‘please’ in the bulging veins that make the phallus partially erect. Viscous fluid drips slowly.

Mike Goodlett's HOMEBODY

Mike Goodlett’s HOMEBODY

In works like this, it’s hard to understate Goodlett’s ability to obscure and eroticize hardcore gay imagery. And that ability permeates the show. In one drawing, face like arrangements emerge from a multitude of limp dicks. It’s completely anonymous—an important quality given that in many places, anonymous sex is not only a fetish, but a necessary means of survival for some queer people. In another drawing, a face like entity is made up of what could be two bodies having anal sex shown from the view below, similar to the view in Courbet’s ‘L’origine du Monde’. The pieces embodies elements of dominance and submissiveness simultaneously.

The hydrostone sculptures made from molds of stitched spandex function like severed members of the drawings that accompany them. Made up of sumptuous curves that fit side by side into one another, they read a bit like sex toys, albeit ones that would be either impossible or highly uncomfortable to use. That, or mind garments utilized in various kink practices, with seams bulging and flesh held tightly within.

That tension left me with the feeling that this work had to exist. The work felt primal, made to express a basic desire that had at one point been restrained. As my mind drifted to Genet again, I wondered if there might not be even more similarities to the novel then I had originally thought. I had the sneaking suspicion, that like Genet, the construction of these objects is in itself a way of getting off.

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