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Flowered Table Top, 1978

Flowered Table Top, 1978

Ralph Goings was born on May 9, 1928 in Corning, CA. He grew up confident in the fact that he would one day become an artist. After high school Ralph Goings went straight into the army, and afterwards due to the GI Bill he enrolled in the California College of Arts and Crafts, in Oakland California during the early 1950′s. Throughout his time at the California College of Arts and Crafts, the majority of students had a great interest in the new movement of Abstract Expressionism. The majority of the faculty at the California College of Arts and Crafts still focused on extremely traditional art education, but Ralph Goings recalls that several teachers encouraged their students to explore this new era of abstraction. Ralph Goings was initially compelled by the freedom that went along with Abstract Expressionism and focused his paintings on exploring the movement. However, in the early 1960′s Ralph Goings began to feel fettered by this style of painting and soon lost motivation to continue with abstraction. While studying to receive his masters at Sacramento State University, Ralph Goings began to have experiences that spawned his realistic approach to painting. Thoroughly unhappy with the work he had been doing recently, Ralph Goings started to spend time looking through magazines and advertisement photographs for inspiration.

Ralph Goings became excited by the idea of attempting to paint an image that mimicked the color, texture, and form of the magazine photographs as closely as possible. Although this technique of accurately depicting reality brought back memories from his traditional art education practices, Ralph Goings found this work to be incredibly stimulating. It thrilled Ralph Goings to make his own version of what had initially been someone else’s representation of a real person or object. To use artistic effort only to copy another’s image was greatly frowned upon by professional artists at the time, and seen as a mindless hobby rather than real artwork. The fact that his artistic method upset disciplined artists only enhanced the excitement Ralph Goings had for his work. Ralph Goings found the artistic oppression in this era incredible motivation to reject traditional rules and assist in creating a new phase of art in America. The Pop Art movement began with the same concept of breaking the rules by creating artwork that consisted of direct replicas of ordinary objects people saw everyday. Ralph Goings was excited by the direction of the Pop Art movement, but wanted to take it a step further. Ralph Goings valued good craftsmanship in artwork, always wanting his paintings to look thought out and devoted too. Instead of emulating the blunt, careless quality of most Pop Art, Ralph Goings pursued creating realist art that looked elegant and highly developed. During his career, Ralph Goings became widely recognized as one of the most skilled artists of the Photorealist movement.


In 1965, Ralph Goings received his Masters degree in Fine Art from Sacramento State University, and soon after began working as a high school art teacher. Still pursuing his own approach on depicting reality, Ralph Goings put aside copying from magazines and began taking his own photographs, which he used as the subjects for his paintings. This method gave Ralph Goings a great sense of autonomy over what he was rendering in his paintings, and opened up new doors for what his subject matter could be. The practice of painting directly from photographs is something Photorealists are still criticized for today because many see it as a sign of a lack of original imagination. However, Ralph Goings saw the process of working from his own photographs to be incredibly freeing. Ralph Goings understood that a quickly taken photograph does not have the same visual selectivity as the human eye. Ralph Goings referred to the camera as being a democratic tool that assisted him in giving each piece of his painting an equal opportunity. Through this perspective Ralph Goings believed that a stool in a painting should be given the same artistic attention as the person that is sitting upon it. The camera gave Ralph Goings the ability to see the beauty found in a glimpse of mundane items existing in candid reality. The devotion Ralph Goings has to each painting is evident in how tenderly each aspect of a scene is rendered. Ralph Goings is in tune with every detail of his paintings in order to present to us an image of everyday life that he felt needed to be shared. Ralph Goings recalls how there would be beautiful aspects of a photograph he had not even noticed until after he developed the film, such as a suggestive shadow or reflection. The honesty of an image the camera produces is why Ralph Goings dedicated himself to creating art through this photograph-to-painting process.

In 1969, Ralph Goings was invited to participate in a group show titled “Views of Sacramento”. While traveling the city looking for inspiration he became entranced by the sight of a customized pickup truck. Following this incidence, Ralph Goings took photographs of pickups all over Sacramento and began painting them. Ralph Goings began to recognize the pickup as a relic of American history, at first used for work and now seen as a status symbol that gave a nod to the end of an era. Ralph Goings glorified these objects by keeping in tact the truth of the form, but also giving the scene a sophistication that cannot be captured with a photograph. Once he selected the image he wanted to use, he would project the slide onto a canvas and pencil in the lines and details. The photograph would eventually be transformed into a painting, but with more detail and clarity than the human eye could see in real life. The end result would have a painted surface, but without pronounced brush strokes giving the painting a texturally “real” effect, not manufactured. Ralph Goings never cropped the image to center it around the subject matter, allowing all the stray shadows and figures surrounding the subject to remain. This practice ensured the painting would possess the quality of a snapshot as Ralph Goings transferred the image onto the canvas. Instead of forcing a painting to have an exact compositional plan, Ralph Goings would go about creating a painting in an intuitive way in order to avoid having the scene look overworked or posed. Ralph Goings would simply be attracted to a scene or a photograph he had taken, and that is how he planned the layout for his painting. Therefore, the paintings have a natural quality to them as if you stumbled upon the scene yourself.

In the early 1970′s Ralph Goings ventured into other subject matter, looking beyond the parked trucks to the environment around them, where the fast food stores and highway stands resided. As Ralph Goings began to depict the largely ignored visual sprawl in California his audience questioned if there were further social implications behind his subject matter. However, the intention of Ralph Goings was only to create representations of overlooked and often criticized American scenery that he found visually appealing. Ralph Goings painted the exteriors of the fast food restaurants, with wide-open blue skies framing the geometric architecture of the colorful buildings. In 1972, Ralph Goings became curious about the interior setting of such restaurants, and painted works that took a look at this setting from an inward, closed off perspective. Instead, Ralph Goings became enthralled by the strength of reflections and light pouring in through the windows that existed in these interiors. Ralph Goings began to recognize the difference between how light is perceived by the human eye and how light is captured by the camera. These indoor paintings prove the true light captured by a camera to be much more altering than how the scene would appear through the human eye, which naturally blurs the effect light has on the environment. A trademark of these early paintings of Ralph Goings is the absence of people in the scenes. The subjects of his paintings are objects and locations that would not exist without people, yet Ralph Goings purposefully eliminated any figures in his paintings. Ralph Goings felt that a person was too often the main subject of a piece of art, and even when this is not the intention of the artist, the audience will find the figure to be the most interesting part of a painting. His goal was to stress the importance of the environment and every day objects and not have the audience distracted by figures. Therefore, when people began to appear in the early work of Ralph Goings they were made as inanimate as possible by being very detached and distant from the rest of the details in the painting. Ralph Goings would not change this about his work until he found the people in his paintings to be of greater importance than in his California works.

In 1974, Ralph Goings left California to move to upstate New York. Along with this move the work of Ralph Goings would go through a transformation. Ralph Goings initially attempted to paint subject matter that was similar to what he had focused on in California. Ralph Goings visited fast food restaurants and parking lots, looking for scenes or trucks that might give him inspiration. Ralph Goings soon realized that not only were the vehicles and buildings vastly different in New York, the entire environment created a different perspective in his photographs. The energy he had seen in the California environment did not translate to his new location, and Ralph Goings found that in the different lighting and aesthetic of New York he was no longer inspired by the same subject matter. Ralph Goings began exploring diners in upstate New York, observing the people and interactions that went on there. Ralph Goings became inspired by the people there and found them to be a crucial component to these locations, versus the impersonal patrons of the fast food restaurants he had seen in California. This new stage of work has a softer, more private feel to the paintings. Ralph Goings had captured the sharp, modern lines of the scenes in California, and now he was attempting to depict the friendly, sluggish life that existed in the diners on the east coast. Always being sure to ask permission of the restaurant owner and the patrons, Ralph Goings would then take his time before photographing a subject to ensure that they had slipped back into their natural state. The people in his paintings do not present strong emotion or action as they often seem to be caught in a state of private daydreaming. Although the figures appear to be depicted at their most insignificant moments, it is difficult not to create a narrative that goes along with each figure. Ralph Goings realized this would be a natural tendency for any audience, but he did not choose to paint the figures to tell a story or anecdote. The purpose of Ralph Goings in his paintings is to stress the elegance of the figure or object in space, along with all the details that weave amongst each other to make up the visual scene. Ralph Goings did not want to tamper with a scene he found beautiful by investigating the meaning behind it, because to do so would alter the organic appeal to his snapshots of reality.

Ralph Goings is also well known for the still lifes he painted from the various diners he visited on the east coast. Upon noticing that there was a staple collection of items that each diner chose to nestle on its counter, Ralph Goings began taking close up photos of the various countertops. Ralph Goings felt a connection to how an employee from each diner had their own way of composing the condiments and napkins. Initially painting the still lifes with watercolor, then moving onto oil, these works of art all maintain the sharp focus on the objects set against the slightly blurred background details of the restaurant. The still lifes have a personal feeling because the viewpoint is often as if we are sitting at the counter ourselves surveying our own cup of coffee. Ralph Goings also experimented with highly focused still lifes, in which we see an up close version of a ketchup bottle or saltshaker that mainly focuses on the abstraction and light hitting the object. Ralph Goings continues to delve into his subject matter and transform his work, proving through his growth as an artist that Photorealism is not the dead end many claimed it to be. Throughout his career Ralph Goings rejected the structural rules so many held in the art world, and instead chose to follow his own path of inspiration that he found through Photorealism. In each work of art Ralph Goings attempts to share with us the excitement he has found in an ordinary scene thru the paintings that he becomes strongly committed to.

Ralph Goings lives in Charlotteville, NY and Santa Cruz, CA.

Sources include:
Photorealism at the Millennium, Louis K. Meisel and Linda Chase, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, NY, 2002
The Watercolors of Ralph Goings, John Parks, Watercolor, Fall 1996, p. 68-73, 127
Ralph Goings, A Retrospective View of Watercolors: 1972-1994, Introduction Dr. Gerald Silk, Jason McCoy Inc.,
New York, NY, 1994
Review: Ralph Goings, Jason McCoy, Anastasia Aukeman, ARTnews, September 1994, p. 168
Ralph Goings, Essay, Linda Chase, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, NY, 1988
Richard McLean et Ralph Goings, Beaux Arts Magazine, Paris, France, June 1984
Iperrealisti Americani: Don Eddy, Richard Estes, Ralph Goings, Duane Hanson, Richard McLean, David Parrish, John Salt, Galleria La Medusa, Rome, Italy, January-February 1973 (catalogue)
New York Reviews: Ralph Goings, Jean-Louis Bourgeois, Artforum, November 1970, p. 87

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