Emma Kelly – Robert Goodnough’s Struggle

Struggle by Robert Goodnough, 1966-67

Robert Goodnough’s 1966-67 piece titled Struggle combines mediums, colors, and shapes to
create an energetic explosion of form on canvas. Goodnough combines charcoal, acrylic, and oil
paint allowing for colorful, solid, overlapping shapes surrounded by sprawling black lines. The
piece does not allow the viewer’s eye to rest. Instead, its chaos jumps from shape to shape and
encourages the viewer to try to find recognizable form in all its disorder. The shapes stay
concentrated in the center, eventually dulling to a blue color around the edges, almost appearing
as clouds. The singular yellow shape near the top right of the piece mimics the sun. It feels as if
we are looking at something that should be recognizable in an outdoor space, maybe a landscape
or a building. However, no recognizable form is found when the viewer’s attention is turned back
to the disarray of shapes and colors in the center.

The piece feels suggestive of Cubism, as Goodnough abstracts form into simple shapes. It almost
appears as a collage, bits of paper glued down, working together to abstract the subject.
However, the placement feels random, the central form extremely abstracted, and the piece
seems to be more interested in evoking feeling than playing with form. Goodnough’s
title Struggle is appropriate for the piece. It becomes a struggle between the viewer and the piece
as well as a struggle between the piece and itself. Especially when approaching the piece, the
viewer is overwhelmed by the intensity of colors and shapes and their seemingly disorganized
placement. The piece is roughly 21ft long and 9ft tall. It completely engulfs the viewer,
throwing them into its world of color and chaos. Thus, the struggle ensues for the viewer to try to
find an identifiable form, to make sense of what they are looking at. Goodnough creates a
feeling of anxiety and a loss of control, almost making it a ‘struggle’ to look at the piece
altogether. The piece then struggles within itself, fighting against the representation found on the
outer edges in the forms of clouds and sun. It almost appears as the farther it goes into itself, the
more it loses the battle with representation. It struggles between these two areas, eventually
concaving into an unrecognizable chasm of shape. Even the black expressive line of the charcoal
is lost near the center, and all hope for representation is gone. Goodnough no doubt succeeds in
depicting a struggle, as the piece seems to be fighting and battling within itself, causing a feeling
of disruption or, even, anxiety for the viewer. It’s as if we can see the shapes moving, morphing
in and out of abstraction.

Goodnough’s Struggle is on display through the Empire State Art Collection and is located in the
underground concourse.