In his triptych Unititled, Jack Goldstein defies our expectations of representation. The landscape depicted in the central panel is of a natural disaster, although the painting as a whole has no weight of disaster. Instead, it has a special kind of arbitrariness, one that balances between the beautiful and dark sides of natural events. Through his early photographic work, Goldstein had noticed that tornadoes give off a purple hue when photographed. By painting the tornadoes with a fluorescent epicenter and purple hues, Goldstein morphed what originally is a natural occurrence into a sci-fi fantasy. This work is ahead of its time, in that it resembles the digital alternations done in contemporary photography. Although painted, the colors seem to have been derived from a virtual world.
While visiting New York museums, Jack Goldstein noticed brush strokes in the opaque colors of paintings by Barnett Newman, Ellsworth Kelly and Brice Marden. Contrarily, Goldstein wanted to eliminate all traces of the paintbrush in his paintings. To intensify smoothness, he applied paint using an airbrush. As such, there is an immaculate feel to the red, black, and two shades of blue in Untitled. The clean colors echo the coating of a car–no surprise that Goldstein described himself as “coming out of the California car culture using a spray gun” (P. Kaiser, “Why Not Use It? Painting and its Burden,” Jack Goldstein X 10,000, exh. cat., Munich, 2012, p. 127).
Even the central landscape gives off a polished look, very close to photographic realism. Yet, the landscape in Untitled differs from 1980s photography by its unusual, atmospheric lights. The color and light juxtaposition momentarily transpose the viewer into the sublime, analogous to works of James Turrell, Dough Wheeler and Robert Irwin. Jack Goldstein was also concerned with space. The central panel protrudes forward, giving the monochromatic side panels an air of receding into space. The space in the painting becomes defined by wavelengths of color. Goldstein mentioned that airbrushing allowed him to apply paint always from the same distance on each panel. Paint, to him, was not marks on the canvas but vapors of color.
Being part of John Baldessari’s Post Studio seminar at CalArts, Jack Goldstein did not originally develop his artistic practice around one specific medium. His art revolved around photography, filmmaking, music and performance art. However, in his legendary essay on the 1977 Pictures exhibition at Artists Space in New York, Douglas Crimp deemed Goldstein to be the most prominent and paradigmatic appropriation artist of his time. It was in reaction to Crimp’s statement that Goldstein began to paint and continued to do so throughout the remainder of his life. With great visual acuity, Goldstein succeeded to make many believe that he was first and foremost a painter.