Johanna Goodman’s singular ‘Beings’

The worlds of fashion and art intersect in a most striking manner in a series of works by Nyack-based illustrator Johanna Goodman.

“The Catalogue of Imaginary Beings,” showcased in a solo show at the Piermont Straus gallery in Piermont earlier this year, is filled with women — and a few men — dressed in outfits fashioned out of architectural elements, scenes of nature, bold colors, textures or patterns — or just about anything that Goodman’s imagination creates.

Goodman, who grew up on Long Island, attended art school at Boston University before transferring to Parsons School of Design in New York. There, she would earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in illustration in 1992 and has worked as a freelance artist and illustrator ever since. 

Goodman’s work has certainly been recognized, including awards from The Society of Publication Design, American Illustration and Communication Arts. In July of this year, Goodman was awarded The New York State Council for the Arts/New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship grant in the category of Book Arts.

A glimpse into her client list — from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York to Smithsonian magazine, West Elm to Time magazine, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to Rolling Stone magazine, Le Monde to The New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times to The Paley Center for Media, among others — hints at the diversity that has also found Goodman’s work included in several books about illustration, art and collage.

Design director and author Logan Bradley has described her work this way: “‘The Catalogue of Imaginary Beings’ is an exciting collection of fantastical collages… Goodman, who studied at Parsons School of Design, has that remarkable ability of being able to create shockingly good work in a myriad of styles. This is no mean feat. Chopping and changing styles, and being successful with each of them, shows a true creative talent… However it’s Goodman’s ‘Imaginary Beings,’ an ongoing personal series, that stands out as being wondrously refreshing. Using various textures and body parts, Goodman collages together bizarrely beautiful formations. The costumes and figures that fill the catalogue are strangely disjointed, with cumbersome proportions and voluminous gowns made up from a selection of textures that keep surprising you at every turn. The playfulness of it all recalls the joyous absurdity of Tim Burton’s ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ the haute couture of Comme des Garçons, or, dare I say it, the costumes of ‘The Hunger Games.’ They’re odd, wildly imaginative and strangely beautiful, and surely they reveal a little bit of Goodman’s own whimsical nature.”

Goodman tells us that she’s “always made art. My parents were very encouraging and creative themselves. They made art, though not as a trade, and were very involved in the Pop Art scene of the ’60s.”

Between projects, Goodman told us a bit more, taking time to answer a few of our questions.

How would you describe the works in “The Catalogue of Imaginary Beings”? What initially sparked the series and how many have you now created?

‘“The Catalogue of Imaginary Beings’ is an ongoing series of work begun in 2015 that sprung from over 20 years of portraiture and collage work. Now at over 200 plates, the body of work seeks to explore a range of themes in popular culture, including the role of the individual in fashion, in history, in the artistic imagination and, more broadly, the collective consciousness. 

“The body of work draws its inspiration from a wide spectrum of sources, including Magical Realism, Surrealism and Symbolism and, more specifically, references such cultural artifacts as talismans, idols, totems and all of the material detritus that surrounds all of us all the time. These characters are composites embodying notions of ‘the warrior,’ vulnerability, industry, the universal and the personal. They reference these identities as they’ve been depicted historically through art, literature, and commerce.”

What is the process — by hand or digital — and where do you find your source materials? Do you create works individually or as themed groups?

“While I’ve done some by hand (or analog), most of the series has been done digitally. So the final ‘original’ art is a print. Sometimes they are done singularly and sometimes as a series. And some series have been done in stages, not necessarily sequentially. Some examples of series I’ve done are The Women’s Marches in Washington, D.C. and NYC, science-themed for the march in support (of) science and facts, New York City, The Hudson Valley, Textile, Sculptural, Nature and Landscape, Global, the Elements (overlapping with science), Color, Animal and Abstract.”

Your designs feature women wearing unique “outfits.” Do you feel this work is about fashion and clothing — or are you using the manner of dress to present ideas, observations, commentary and the like?

“For me the work is about fashion and costume as well as expression and commentary and concept. These beings are a perfect diving-off place for me to visually explore whatever it is I’m thinking about at that moment.”

With your work now reaching a wider audience — everything from the “Subway Muses” project for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority of New York to a signature collection of prints and home goods for West Elm and skateboard designs for Habitat Skateboards — does having a higher profile affect your creative process?

“So far no, not at all. I’m doing what I love and it’s flowing freely. The art directors I’ve worked with have given me almost complete creative freedom, which I think is the best art direction because then I don’t tighten up and can keep tapping into whatever bizarre forces I’ve been tapping into that are driving this series.”

The series is such a showcase of creativity, and it seems your sources of inspiration could be endless. Will “The Catalogue of Imaginary Beings” continue indefinitely?

“That’s a good question. At the moment I have no plans to end the series as I’m still compelled to keep making more.  I love working on the series and seeing where it’s going.  I’m finding the work immensely satisfying and I hope it keeps resonating with viewers. I hope to eventually publish the series in book form in the spirit of Audubon’s renowned compendium of birds and have a gallery show of large- scale prints to accompany it.”

For more, visit johannagoodman.com.

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