Essay and images by matt moment

Robert Goldstrom, Anatomy Lesson, 2024, oil on linen, panels Measure 12 x 12 inches each

The semi-symmetrical array of “Anatomy Study” paintings by Robert Goldstrom functions as a keystone to All Figured Out, a group exhibition on view at Carrie Haddad Gallery through June 16, 2024. Goldstrom’s fragmented monolith comprises sixteen vignettes, cropped tight on canvases measuring one square foot apiece, wherein muscular male bodies are neatly posed in situations conducive to two-dimensional composition. Taken as a whole, the grouping approximates from head to toe an uncountable number of figures, so chiseled as to appear statuesque; rendered with the solidity of carved marble and the color story of flesh and blood, the paintings indicate humanness while opposing it. Yet for their formalism, Goldstrom’s pursuit of the figure is no means to an end — in the consort and five additional paintings included in the exhibition, the artist has embroidered motes of autobiography to be discovered amidst all the high-testosterone grandeur.

The artist sits in front of an unfinished painting at his Columbia County studio.

Goldstrom was born and raised in Detroit to parents who appreciated art — “weekend watercolorists,” to borrow his words — but didn’t consider it a viable career path. Perhaps this is partly why, as early as his teenage years, Goldstrom found ways to apply his gifts with a measure of pragmatism. He designed posters for events at his high school and, later, as a side gig at the University of Michigan, where he earned a “practically worthless” degree in English. After graduating, Goldstrom found work designing advertisements for the auto industry at a studio near his hometown.

 

In 1975, Goldstrom ventured to Chicago with his burgeoning portfolio in tow. He met with an art director at Playboy who, rather unexpectedly, offered Goldstrom an assignment. The young illustrator completed the commission and promptly quit his day job, thus beginning a three-year stint in the Windy City that would prepare him for life and work in New York.

Robert Goldstrom, East River, Con Ed, Panorama, 2022, oil on linen, 36 x 72 inches

Goldstrom often remarks that his is a story of “hubris and luck.” An example of his good fortune manifested shortly after his move to New York City: At a party, he met a recent hire of the New York Times who introduced Goldstrom to John Cayea, then the art director of the paper's “Week in Review” column. Even more fortuitously, Cayea’s go-to illustrators were away on summer vacation. Over the next six weeks, Goldstrom completed a series of assignments for the Times, setting the tone for what would be a successful two-decade career in illustration — one punctuated by awards from the Society of Illustrators and projects with major clients like Bergdorf Goodman, Disney, Rolling Stone, Simon & Schuster, Time Magazine and the United Nations.

 

In the mid-90s, as the advent of new software diminished the job market for traditional illustrators, Goldstrom transitioned to a fine art practice. Many of his early paintings centered on the Williamsburgh Savings Bank Tower in Brooklyn, a muse that has sustained him for upwards of 400 paintings (and counting) over the last several decades. “You see it all over the place,” Goldstrom enthused. “It’s always changing.”

Goldstrom shows off a book of figure studies from the early 20th century — a gift from his husband, the photograher david sokosh — which he has used as a reference in his paintings.

In subsequent projects, Goldstrom has explored a range of subjects in his distinct hand: a hybrid of realism and pointillism that is tight and terse while wholly musical. Whether part of an undulating Hudson Valley pastoral, a Provincetown beach scene or a sinewy anatomy study, his forms are defined by simple lines that entreat the eye to a joyride around the picture plane. He applies color in dollops that collectively cause the canvas to shimmer as if restless, too full of life to sit frozen in time.
 

Goldstrom's paintings are featured in All Figured Out, a group exhibition of figure paintings at Carrie Haddad Gallery.

Although Goldstrom’s craftsmanship arguably excuses him from an obligation to aboutness, meaning abounds in his oeuvre — even if it is, at times, buried in the brushstrokes. “They’re about color, light, composition and rhythm, but there’s always something going on other than what is visually there,” he explained. “If there isn’t something going on, why would anybody be interested in looking at it?” 

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