The Daily Heller: Investing the ‘Me’ in Commercial Art

Posted inThe Daily Heller

If some of the work in Timothy Goodman’s recent solo exhibition looks familiar, it is because his type-and-lettering-propelled, message-infused, graffiti-injected imagery is a conscious mash-up of his favorite contemporary makers (see if you can see). The stark black-and-white Every Time I Fall In Love It’s Summer exhibits “Goodman’s emotional affinity for summertime,” as the gallery notes, “that includes childhood nostalgia, past heartbreaks, and NYC as a grounds for healing.”

For Goodman, graphic design is a stepping stone for personal expression. Like many designers today, he effortlessly puts the “ME” in comMErcial art, which is part of what we talk about during this end-of-summer tete-a-tete. The show is up through Sept. 5 at the Richard Taittinger Gallery.

This is your second solo exhibition. It taps into summer memories, but black and white are not the common seasonal colors. What else triggered this output?
I want the work I create to be digestible, immediate and personal. Black and white helps me get to the point fast, and I draw and create quickly because I’m inherently an impatient person. It’s important to let our personal postures inform our creative output. I want my work to be a pop song … but not without meaning. Bob Dylan said profound things and connected to millions of people, and half the time he only needed a harmonica to do it.

There are two visual influences at play, I think. The major hand-drawn art pays homage to Keith Haring. The complementary typographical portion has suggestions of Barbara Kruger. Were these two influences for you?
Keith and Barbara are my two biggest visual influences, along with Angel Ortiz, who actually helped and influenced Keith Haring in the early ’80s. I’ve worked hard to build off this style and make it my own, because text and lettering are the main component in all my work. Creating murals on the street for New York about New York is one of my biggest objectives because public art can give a sense of ownership and pride to a street and a community. Keith said it best: “I assumed, after all, that the point of making art was to communicate and contribute to culture.” 

You’ve said that “I’m still constantly trying to push the boundaries of what a graphic designer is or should be, and how we can use our tools to tell stories in different ways.” How do you define the common design role, and what more is possible?
In our current social and geopolitical landscape, I think there is a need for traditional graphic design more than ever. But I don’t believe “design” has to be a service for clients only. Instead, we can also use our tools as designers to create personal work about our lives, the same way a writer or a filmmaker may. Connecting to other humans emotionally through work is why I’m in this. I’m a commercial artist, a fine artist, a muralist, and an author—but I’m also a designer because everything I do is rooted in my formal design education. Sometimes these lines get blurry, and that’s interesting to me!

What goes through your head as you make your vast graffiti images? What do you want the viewer to see?
I just want to tell a story. The work in this exhibition highlights all sorts of topics, like my favorite NBA basketball teams of all time, my fascination with the history of the Chelsea Hotel, all the places I ate in Paris when I stayed there for six months, as well as my own personal experiences with heartbreak. My work is editorial.

It is also very autobiographical. What memories do you choose to share, and why?
A friend recently said to me, “Don’t seek where you want to be, seek the truth of where you are.” This show is an extension of where I’ve been, where I am, and of all the summers I’ve had in the past. Recently my grandmother died, and she was the single biggest influence on my creative journey. This vibrant woman was always busy painting, drawing, writing, curating a show for Cleveland artists, reading a book a day, sending me handmade notes, traveling to NYC, Italy or Ireland, and capturing her trips with amazing sketchbooks she created. She had a profound impact on me. 

Professionally speaking, what are you spending most of you energy on? Your art or design?
It’s 50/50. However, whether I’m drawing on a basketball court for the kids at PS 115 in Brooklyn, partnering with Kevin Durant on a Nike Shoe titled the “Timothy Goodman KD15” with art honoring Brooklyn, spray painting all over a sanitation truck for the city of NYC, or creating my graphic memoir, I am always an artist and a designer. One project may be “commercial,” one may be “cultural,” and one may be “personal”—but all of them are inherently “me.”