PETER GOOCH CAPTIVATES WITH
‘PROJECT ETHIOPE’ AT UD ARTSTREET
By Jud Yalkut
Peter Gooch is a unique painter who has for 25 years distilled his recollections of travel in such varied places as Siena, Italy, Cambodia, Malta, coastal Maine, and the Georgian Bay of Canada into striking and colorful abstractions. An associate professor at the University of Dayton, Gooch was afforded the opportunity of taking two extended trips to Ethiopia in December 2008 and December 2009 through a Department of Visual Arts Sabbatical Research Project.
Twelve of these works on paper and wood panels are currently on view in “Project Ethiope” at UD’s ArtStreet Studio D Gallery through Friday, September 24, while another large grouping of his “Ethiopian Paintings” have been displayed with Gooch’s representative, B. Deemer Gallery in Louisville, Kentucky through Tuesday, September 14.
“These pieces are not intended as depictions of Ethiopia,” says Gooch, “but reflect impressions over two years, and are works of fiction that aspire only to a redolence of the ancient and complex place that is Ethiopia – a series that becomes self reflexive.”
Born in 1947 in Ann Arbor, MI, he accompanied his father, a professor of art at the University of Michigan, to India and Nepal in 1967 before enlisting in the United States Air Force, and later earning his M.F.A. from Western
Inspired as he is by divergent landscapes, fueled by photographs taken by his wife Sharon Ransom and himself, Gooch has always sought to capture the feel of his chosen environ rather than describe it literally. In “Project Ethiope,” he has focused on three different but distinct groups of Ethiopian life and culture: “Lalibela,” “Baku,” and “Mekuamia” (all 2010).
The “Lalibela” series reflects “my impressions of light, shadow and atmosphere in the mountains and valleys around ancient Lalibela in Northern Ethiopia, at nearly 8,000 feet high with many rock-hewn churches and ancient monasteries.” These pieces are imbued with the “color of light at dawn and twilight.” Lalibela #7” on panel has a luminescent golden ground infused with jewel-like intonations, overlaid with broad bands of mottled mauve with blue stripes, all seen through cream-colored bars as through a
Gooch achieves his rich and glowing tones and textures by infusing his acrylic bases and gels with additives like garnet or slate particles, glass beads, coarse alumina, and ceramic grog. “Lalibela- Yellow” is horizontal with vertical bands of yellow interspersed with more slender strips of pale blue, purple and green, and small groupings of short black bars like symbols in the light wash ground. “Lalibela # 10-Green” glows with sapphire tones with golden bars and pearlescent pink
The ceremonial staffs of the Oromo peoples of Southern Ethiopia inspired Gooch to create narrow vertical pieces with rich bands of color infused with motifs from these pastoral people. “Baku- Blue” frames a black-banded ladder effect with a sea of rich azure blue, while the diptych of “Baku- Stitch” balances a pair of narrow climbing bands each intersected by two broad bands of tracks over an earth and rock inspired brown field.
Three “Baku” walking staff paintings are mounted side by side, reiterating the verticality of achieving balance on the ground. “Baku- Black Snake” has ascending red, browns, and a rectangle of blue and white stripes on textured charcoal-gray, and its companion “Baku- Black Snake Girl” has a narrow ladder of softly-shaded color bands between two horizontal bands on a dark slate or granite-like texture. Between these two “snake” personages is the horizontally-banded ladder staff of “Baku- Red” surrounded by the brilliant red surging around its tarnished border.
The “Mekuamia” series is a counterbalance to the “Baku” series in referencing the walking staffs of Christian pilgrims in Central and Northern Ethiopia “used also for support during the three to five hour service held by the Orthodox Church. These walking staffs are often distinguished by a curved “T” or scroll-shaped head. The vibrant red often favored by Gooch provides the ground for the variegated striped shaft topped by a yellow rectangle that supersedes the busy horizontal groupings of stripes in “Mekuamia- Yellow Wedge.”
The “Project Ethiope” exhibition concentrates on works done on reinforced wood laminates primed with acrylic gesso on all sides. Many pieces have multiple layers secured by gel, often cut from painted plastic film, to create reliefed surfaces like a low dimensional collage adding depth to the assembled image. When paper is used, it is Rives BIK 300 gram litho paper, emphasizing the fact that Gooch has a great concern for employing archival materials “sound and without vice,” as he has written. As in previous series, “each of these paintings serves as a kind of narrative schema or mnemonic map, locating points and regions of personal recollection, history and myth rather than simply physical geography.”
ArtStreet Studio D Gallery is located on the 300 block of Kiefaber Street on the University of Dayton campus. Gallery hours are 8 a.m. to midnight Monday-Friday and 12 p.m. to midnight Saturday and Sunday. For more information, call (937) 229-3101 or visit online at http://ArtStreet.Udayton.edu
Reach DCP visual arts critic Jud Yalkut at email@example.com