Skipping Town: WETA?s Around Town art critic goes outside of the city for inspiration.
Skipping Town: WETA?s Around Town art critic goes outside of the city for inspiration. Credit: (Photograph by Darrow Montgomery)

As a nature enthusiast, Janis Goodman loves spending time exploring the great outdoors.But when it comes to creating the abstract drawings inspired by her adventures, she prefers the confines of her cinder-block studio. “It’s simple and void of any romance,” she says.

The 13 graphite drawings currently on view in “Shifting Waters” at Flashpoint—all inspired by kayaking and traversing mud flats—represent Goodman’s antinplein-air approach. Unlike artists who take their easels and pads outside, she works from photos, videos, and memories of her experiences. “I’m using myself as a processing machine,” she says. “It’s a combination of trying to bring all this information back and make some sense of it.”

Goodman—who is probably most familiar as the art critic for WETA’s Around Town—has taught full-time at the Corcoran College of Art and Design for almost 10 years and currently serves as the coordinator for the third-year Fine Arts program. Though she trained as a painter at George Washington University, it’s drawing that has most consistently held her attention during the past two decades.

“Drawing really helps me think. You eliminate so many of the variables—especially color,” she says. “There’s nothing glitzy, nothing fancy or embellished in a good, solid drawing, just graphite that’s been worked and worked. And I like that—the simplicity of strong gestures, physical marks.”

In her drawings at Flashpoint, flurries of pencil marks, intersected by the occasional straight ruled line, float on large sheets of white paper. Some of Goodman’s works look almost lyrical, balletic; others look like the results of a fistfight. “I have these really thick pieces of carpenter’s graphite,” Goodman says. “I tape them to the shaft of a screwdriver, and I physically beat the paper…some of them are very aggressive marks.”

Vertical Splash, graphite on paper, 2006
Evening Shadows, graphite on paper, 2006

Though Goodman’s main obstacle lies in bridging the gap between long stretches of isolation in the studio and her desire to be active outdoors, the latter presents its own artistic challenge: passivity. “When I’m in the kayak, I’m observing; I’m just trying to physically immerse myself,” she says. “That’s traditionally the relationship that the artist has—pretty passive. But how [else] do you really engage the landscape?”

For Goodman, overcoming that challenge requires not just drawing pictures of the way water looks but physically interacting with it. From a tidal cove in Deer Isle, Maine, where she spends her summers, Goodman started seeing mud flats “as this big empty canvas…I thought, ‘I could go out there, and I could draw right into those!’”

So that’s what she did. She started taking rocks and shells with her in the kayak and creating “pictographs” in the mud. She then records her mud images and re-interprets them in graphite while standing on her poured-concrete floor.

“Her process is interventional but temporary,” says Flashpoint Gallery Manager Rebecca Lowery. “She immerses herself in the natural environment, makes these temporary interactions—then takes [that] back with her to her studio.”

For Goodman,“it’s the reconstruction that’s more interesting to me,” she says, “not the event.”