In 1970s America, California’s Pacific Coast Highway Route 1 was already famous as a symbol of the American West’s optimistic development and flourishing automobile culture. Ralph Goings’s work documents a slice of the Golden Age of the highway, during which time he became well-known for his hyper-realistic paintings of diners, vehicles and storefronts along the roads.
Lucky Yellow Pick-Up is a classic example of Goings’ favorite subject matter during the early Seventies, that of pick-up trucks. Goings depicts the radiant blue sky with just a hint of the clouds that had brought on a rare moment of rain. In California, the Lucky Stores’ red and white sign was a ubiquitous sight rising among the palm trees as chain stores expanded alongside the highways. The clean bright yellow of the Chevrolet truck appears to embody the blazing sunlight that is drying up the remnants of the rain, which is captured with such vivid precision as to make it feel as though one is witnessing the moment of its evaporation. By this time, while he had originally started by picking out images from magazine illustrations, Goings had begun to make his own slides of pick-up trucks and transferred the scenes into the medium of oil on canvas. Despite the invisible brushstrokes, the uncannily large depth of field in the image differs from that of a photographic portrayal, suggesting the imperceptible editing of details by the artist’s eye. In this typically astute observation, Goings created a fond portrait of an iconic American symbol in an unassuming parking lot at the back of the store, away from the highway and the storefront so that the ‘Lucky’ sign is partially obscured from this point of view.
Instead of presenting an entertaining scene of beguiling commercial display, the work reflects a clear-eyed view of the consumerist landscape in a similar style to that of the industrial landscapes of Precisionists in the 1920s such as Charles Sheeler or Charles Demuth, eschewing the often-brash presentation favored by Pop Artists such as Andy Warhol. His consummate technical skill in reinterpreting the genre of landscape is a deliberate rejection of Pop Art’s ironic approach to the art-making process. Goings’s particularly exquisite rendition of the mirrored reflection in the puddle, the meticulous details of the shadows on the white stucco wall together with the sharply metallic surfaces of the vehicles, makes it clear why art critic Edward Lucie-Smith called him “America’s Vermeer” (E. Lucie-Smith, “Ralph Goings: America’s Vermeer,” Ralph Goings: Four Decades of Realism, exh. cat., Butler Institute of American Art, Youngstown, 2004, n.p.).