Clay Schiff and Scott Goodman at Bushwick Open Studios
While at Bushwick Open Studios a few weeks ago, I stopped by a storefront space shared by ten artists, a few of whom I'd known from school. Despite that bias, paintings by Clay Schiff and Scott Goodman stuck with me long after the visit was over. I think that's a good sign. - Whitney Kimball, NYC Contributor
Clay Schiff's paintings and comics tend toward barren or sparsely-populated mazes. There's a direct exchange between the comics and the paintings-- the paintings look like empty backdrops for his comics, and the comics' uninhibiting panels and subconscious flow feel more as though they come from the realm of painting.
Clay Schiff | After a Series of Failures, Duncan Doherty Gets Down to Business, 2011, Photo courtesy of Dimensions Comics
When characters in Schiff's comics interact, as in Hey, Come Here, it's as though they repeatedly attempt to communicate, but often fail to understand each other-- or else the characters are inexplicably trapped by mundane tasks. In a recent comic, for example, a palm tree named Duncan is trying to catch the "3:30 to Cape Barlow." "Rats!" exclaims the tree, as it watches its colleagues—a cluster of shrubs—float away on an iceberg. It's surreal, but it makes a lot of sense. Schiff has cited the strip Gasoline Alley as inspiration; that strip has a wide-open approach to composition, which describes both Schiff's surreal labyrinths and allegory.
If Schiff and Goodman’s work share a theme, it's bringing empty surface to the core of the work. It's unsurprising that Goodman's been working as a freelance signmaker; he often uses facades (brick or window frames) or interior design elements (wallpaper, wood grain). It's a seductive, achingly vacant quality which is likewise addressed by contemporaries like Stella Ebner and Sarah McKenzie. The surface is very flat, but sometimes the paintings provide a deceptive exit, as in "Caged Window", a view through parallel faces of grating, or "Wall", a passage in a wall with no visible end. Like Schiff's, they're as wishful as they are a preemptive blockade-- they're alluring, but it's a bittersweet attraction.