Much of Graham Goddard’s work is a tribute to his native Trinidad.
While chatting at Starbucks on Hoover Street and Jefferson Boulevard, Graham Goddard, a fifth-year student majoring in fine arts, excitedly displays one of his latest masterpieces, “As We Arrive and Depart, Our Legacy Shall Ascend.”
The painting depicts a bright coral scarlet ibis, the state bird of Trinidad, where Goddard was born, entering from the left into a deep green forest amid a waterfall – a picture of peace and tranquility.
But looking closer, a secret is revealed – the scarlet ibis isn’t the only thing on the canvas. Hidden among the trees and waterfall, there are three almost invisible ghosts, while the shrubs hide hundreds of others.
Goddard then rotates the painting upside down. Suddenly, the bird and its ghosts, wings now turned down, fly out of the tranquil forest.
“Forty years ago the sky in the forest was all red, but the birds are now dwindling, and they’ve been migrating to Venezuela,” Goddard, who visits the forest when he travels to the Port of Spain, his home until the age of 7, said.
“Growing up I used to roam the rainforest with my cousins, and I know my American friends will never see that unless I show it to them.”
The piece is an example of Goddard’s current inspiration, the creation of legacy.
“When you leave or come to a place, you have to pay attention to the influence you have, because you are leaving and creating a legacy,” he said. “Although I have a legacy in Trinidad, I also want to create one here.”
His mother, who works for the United Nations, and his father, a comptroller, discovered Goddard’s talent when he was 6 years old.
“I am a lot different from my parents, more like a free spirit, while my parents are corporate workers,” said Goddard, whose friendly manner and baggy jeans, button-down shirt and gold chain necklace depict a rapper more than the stereotypical brooding artist.
“Since they’re religious Catholics, they just say, you’ve been blessed, so forget the money.”
As a child, Goddard used his art to communicate when his family, which also includes a younger sister, moved to Rockland County in upstate New York.
“When I first came here I had an accent and kids made fun of me, so I hid behind the art,” he said.
Goddard, whose first solo exhibition was when he was 10 years old, attended art schools as a child. He decided to come to USC for an academic foundation.
“At USC your skills mean nothing since it’s a conceptual school. You have to have an intellectual conversation with the art and give a real reason for your approach. A pretty picture isn’t enough,” Goddard said.
Goddard usually works on his art through the night, sometimes until about 4 a.m.
“Each work is like a romance. At first I become infatuated and obsessed, and then a point comes when I hate it because it takes so long that it becomes frustrating,” he said. “When it all comes together, the frustration leaves and I come back to it again.”
His obsession can also become a hindrance, Goddard said.
“Sometimes I just can’t let go of art, to the point where I dream about it, and it can get frustrating,” he said. “It seems like there’s so much to do in such a short period of time, that I’m constantly pushing to become successful, and it consumes me, and I become such a workaholic.”
Goddard said his biggest influence is his Trinidadian heritage, which he expandsup on in a recent work, “Family Reunion,” a print done with alcohol and watercolor that depicts a group of jellyfish in a red, blue and purple sea.
“Coming from Trinidad this appreciation for nature will always be a part of me,” he said.
He also said that his main goal is to become an artist of his generation and that he is beginning to accomplish this goal through his trademark, which he calls “rotatable art.”
“In the 1800s, rotatable art was used for playing cards, and no one has done it seriously since the 1600s,” he said.
Goddard pulls out another piece from his portfolio dubbed “Fantasy of Freedom.” The painting is a double portrait of a horse done with acrylic and charcoal. The portrait on the left depicts the enslavement of the horse through his melancholy, black eyes and dark brown and black visage, while the right shows the horse’s subconscious as the same face is drawn as a charcoal sketch with light colors. When the picture is turned upside down, the horse’s fantasy is realized as he runs free, his master unable to control him.
“It’s about realizing your preciousness as a human being,” Goddard said. “We all feel trapped and enslaved sometimes.”
Goddard said he is concerned about living off his art after he graduates, which has lead him to consider a more “business approach” to his work. He usually sells his art around campus, and its popularity has expanded through word of mouth. Goddard said he hopes it will continue to grow with an upcoming Web site and exhibits.
“The truth is that not only should you get your hands dirty, but you have to think about business,” he said. “Of course the art is first and foremost, but for success, you have to be a salesman for your art.”
Goddard is weary, however, of turning his art into a trend that eventually fades.
“This has a lot of potential, but I don’t know how long it can last,” he said. “I don’t want to be called ‘Mr.Rotating Artist,’ and I have to make sure to prevent that.”
Goddard said he hopes to let his art seep slowly into the public.
“Something somebody can buy in any store can lose its integrity,” Goddard said. “I really want it to create its own space in fine art.”
Goddard said he ultimately wants his art to relate to the human condition, and not just small issues and controversies.
“Life is bigger than politics,” he said. “The human condition is always the same everywhere. I want someone in Trinidad to be able to apply my paintings to his life as much as someone here would,” he said.
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