Goodnight, Paul 1946–
Paul Goodnight 1946–
Both an artist and an entrepreneur, Paul Goodnight has drawn as much inspiration from his African heritage as from his American culture. An avid learner, his field of study has always been art, culture, history, and life—a field which he has pursued ardently. “I see myself continuously working and traveling and making connections between where I was and where I am now,” he told People Weekly. Goodnight has come from war and trauma, and he has become an artist full of promise and prominence. He has valued going back to the people with what he has learned. “I have seen so much young talent,” he told Décor, “… that I feel it’s my responsibility to help it blossom by carrying on the teaching legacy of my own mentors.”
Paul Goodnight was born on December 31, 1946, in Chicago, the youngest son of a nightclub owner and a social worker. When his father left the family, Good-night’s mother placed him in foster care. He was taken in by James Lockett, a police officer, and his wife, Essie. They raised Goodnight and their other children in New London, Connecticut in a loving, nurturing home. “I was raised by a foster family that really loved me,” he told People Weekly. “There were five boys and two girls, and we’ll never be anything less than brothers and sisters.” He attended high school in New London. “I always drew,” Goodnight was quoted as saying on www.thingsgraphic.com. “I was always able to express myself through drawing.” However, young Goodnight focused his energy on sports, mainly track. “There was no ’history of art’ among my family members or their occupations—and, in any case, being a starving artist wasn’t something you were supposed to aspire to,” he told Décor. Instead he used his artistic talent for practical needs. “On days he didn’t like what he saw in his lunch bag, he sold pencil sketches of nudes, at 25 cents each, to fellow students and used the proceeds to buy something hot in the cafeteria,” People Weekly noted.
When Goodnight graduated from high school in the mid-1960s, war was raging in Vietnam. Like so many other young men, Goodnight was sent to fight. He arrived in Vietnam in 1967 and spent two harrowing years on his tour of duty. What he saw, heard, and felt traumatized him severely. In 1969 he returned stateside with a stutter and horrible memories. He moved to Boston and soon turned to drugs to deaden his pain. He could have been lost, but instead a horrible incident pushed Goodnight to get clean. He found the body of his close friend—also a drug user—dead. He had hung himself. “When someone that close to you dies,” Goodnight told People Weekly, “you have to believe that could have been you. I thought I’d been given a reprieve.” He quit drugs and turned to his childhood hobby of art. At first it was “out of necessity, in order to communicate,” noted www.thingsgraphic.com, but then it became much more. He had found not only his voice, but his calling. Paul Goodnight, artist, was born.
Goodnight wasted no time in pursuing an education in art. He began with classes at Vesper George School of Art in Boston. To boost his academic standing, he
At a Glance…
Born on December 31, 1946 in Chicago; raised by foster parents James and Essie Lockett in New London, CT; children: Aziza. Education: Vesper George College of Art, Boston, 1971; Roxbury Community College, Roxbury, Massachusetts, 1972–1973; Massachusetts College of Art, B.A., M.F.A., 1972–76, Military Service: U.S. Army, Vietnam, 1967–69.
Career: Freelance artist and teacher. Has taught art at schools through. Massachusetts, including: Charles-town Middle School, 1975–78: Lincoln-Sudbury High School, 1982–83; Wyland High School, 1984–85; taught art to inmates, Bridgewater State Prison, 1977–78; numerous commissions, including: album cover for Kool and the Gang, a mural for the airport in Orlando, FL, stained glass for Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, GA, and the commemorative poster for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta; work featured on television sitcoms, including: The Cosby Show, ER, Seinfeld; founded Color Circle Art Publishing, Boston, MA, 1991; planned to open an art school in Boston, 2001.
Awards: Award Fellow, Artist’s Foundation, Boston, 1971; National Conference of Artists Award, 1979; “Ten Artists at Their Best,” Martin Luther King Library, Washington, D.C., 1984; Unsung Heroes Award, Museum of Afro-American History, Boston, 1988; Governor of Massachusetts proclamation, 1991; Sports Artist of the Year Award, U.S. Sports Academy, 1997; “21st Century Award,” Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, 2000.
Addresses: Home —791 Tremont, Boston, MA,02118. Office — Color Circle Art Publishing, P.O. Box 190763, Boston, MA,02118–1049, (617) 437–1260. Website— www.pauIgoodnight.com.
attended basic courses at Roxbury Community College. In 1972 he transferred to the Massachusetts College of Art where he earned a bachelor’s degree and a Master’s of Fine Arts. Not only did his college education prepare him for a career in the arts, it also set him on a lifetime path of learning and teaching.
Following his formal education, Goodnight began the life of a struggling artist. Since 1975 he has worked consistently as an art teacher in middle and high schools throughout eastern Massachusetts. He also spent a year teaching art to inmates at Bridgewater State Prison. As he taught, he also learned. Refining his techniques, traveling extensively, and practicing, practicing, practicing, Goodnight created his own style. “I find myself anxiously looking forward to discovering new ways of drawing and painting by simply doing what we all do from time to time: observe, practice and document,” he wrote in a statement posted on www.colorcircle.com. “The trick is being patient enough to allow this process of creating to grow and manifest itself in me.” During this time he also traveled extensively in Africa, South America, and the Caribbean. Representational in form, Goodnight’s art reveals a world populated by black men and women—American, African, Haitian, Brazilian—simply living life.
Unlike other artists who shun categorical labels, Goodnight embraced the role of ‘African-American Artist.’ “To define myself as an African American artist doesn’t put limitations on me. Rather, it’s uplifting, and it pays tribute to the fact that my ancestors came from a rich cultural tradition,” he told Décor. “If my work can help others reach a greater understanding of some aspect of the African or American experience, that’s a positive thing.” However, he quickly noted that taking on this label does not mean he will create art only within its strictures. “The art world is so much larger than that! There’s literally room for anything and everything,” he assured Décor.
In 1982 Goodnight’s art, steeped in historical culture and imagery, received an unlikely break from a medium better associated with pop culture and quick fads— television. A California art gallery had taken on some of Goodnight’s work. When representatives from The Cosby Show saw Goodnight’s painting Cousins by the Dozens, they immediately requested it for one of the sets on the show. Suddenly, Goodnight’s art, little-known outside of New England, was being broadcast into millions of living rooms around the nation. The painting, somber-hued, featuring statuesque African women dressed in simple clothes, cloths wrapped around their hair, baskets balanced on their heads, became highly sought after. Other television producers came calling and soon Goodnight’s work was featured on ER, Seinfeld, The Hughleys, Fresh Prince of Bel-air, and the film Ghost. The exposure increased sales of his work, “Every time the programs air, people call us wanting to know how they can purchase the images,” Goodnight told Décor.
While the financial rewards of this have been substantial, there have also been other, more intangible rewards. “[The television shows] raised an instant interest in art by and about people of African descent, showing it in a warm and positive light,” Goodnight told Décor. In addition, prominent people began to collect this art. Works by Goodnight were added to the collections of Maya Angelou, Angela Bassett, Bill Cosby, Wesley Snipes, and many more.
Recognizing the new interest in art by and about people of color, Goodnight established Color Circle Art Publishing in 1991. According to the company’s website, Color Circle is “dedicated to the perpetuation of a culture by making widely available the compelling and revealing imagery of African Diaspora visual artists.” The business has supported established and emerging artists and has committed itself to not only the promotion of art but also to “building a strong economic future.” Explaining the intersection of art and business, Goodnight told Décor. “The business of art and the art of art are two separate things …. If we contribute consistently to the creative process that flows through and supports the world of art, then quality and demand will take care of themselves.”
Since The Cosby Show Goodnight has found much success—artistically, popularly, and financially. He has shown his work solo and in groups at galleries and museums throughout the world. He has also been commissioned for high-profile works. Highlights include a mural for the airport in Orlando, Florida, the stained glass for the newly rebuilt Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta’s Martin Luther King Jr. Historic District, and the commemorative poster for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. One of 14 artists asked to submit a proposal for the Olympic poster, Goodnight created Feet Don’t Fail Me Now, a celebration of the sport of running. “I used to run track, so I felt that would be the type of sport I could most knowledgeably portray,” he told Décor. The finished piece, a mixed media work incorporating acrylics, pastels and pumice, was chosen by the Olympic Committee and reproduced on posters and on television. The original resides in Switzerland at the International Olympic Museum. Feet Don’t Fail Me Now contributed in part to Goodnight being named the American Sport Art Museum and Archives’ Sport Artist of the Year in 1997. However, awards and recognition had already begun to dot Goodnight’s resume, including “Award Fellow,” from the Artist’s Foundation in Boston, inclusion in “Ten Artists at Their Best,” at the Gallery of the Martin Luther King Library in Washington, D.C., the National Conference of Artists Award, and an “Unsung Heroes Award,” from Boston’s Museum of Afro-American History.
Throughout his career, Goodnight has found time to settle down and start a family. He has maintained a committed longtime relationship with Boston-based art publisher Bernice Robinson and the couple had a daughter, Aziza. He has lived for over twenty years in an artist’s compound called the Piano Factory in Boston’s South End. There he has been a driving force in the art community of Boston and New England. He and Robinson have regularly hosted art shows and benefits, and collaborated with other artists to produce a wall calendar celebrating the work and history of artists of color.
Accolades, accomplishments, and awards aside, Goodnight has remained first and foremost a man following his passion. This has brought him an incredible sense of direction and satisfaction. In a statement posted on www.colorcircle.com he wrote, “For the first time in my life I feel I’m contributing positively and getting a sense of confidence and pride by doing something that people consider worthwhile for spiritual, material and/or educational reasons.” Showing his sense of humor, he added, “And it keeps me out of trouble.” With his commitment to the dual goal of teaching and learning, Goodnight will undoubtedly prove to be a major influence on a new generation of artists.
The Boston Herald, April 10, 2000, p. 35.
Décor, June 2000.
People Weekly, November 4, 1996, p. 127–128.
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