… I paint because of the satisfaction resulting from doing a satisfactory picture — my own satisfaction only is at stake while working on a picture. 

When it is done my interest is that it interests others but to do that it must interest me first.
– Robert Goodnough

Robert Goodnough (1917 – 2010)  was born in Cortland, NY and spent the remainder of his childhood in Moravia, NY. Goodnough’s early forays into art were undertaken as a student of Walter Long, Cayuga Museum founding director and a fine arts lecturer at Syracuse University. Under Long’s recommendation, Goodnough applied for and received a scholarship to attend Syracuse University where he received a B.A. in 1940. 

Long and Goodnough remained lifelong friends, and the Museum’s archival holdings contain many correspondences between the two, and Goodnough’s marriage and children’s birth announcements.

After serving in the U.S. Army, Goodnough continued his training at New York University where he studied with Amédée Ozenfant and Hans Hofmann.

Prior to working with the Abstract Expressionists, Goodnough’s work was figurative and realistic. He first saw the work of Picasso when he was serving in WWII, and perhaps his painting titled Fortune Tellers from 1947 was inspired by the Cubist.

Fortune Teller (Cayuga Museum Collection)

…Since the ideas in painting are visual and not verbal, it is difficult to say what paintings mean in words. The meaning appears in the emotional impact of the work and this can only result from capturing the variety of feelings that take place during the process of painting.
– Robert Goodnough

He stated in early interviews that after moving to New York in 1951 his move towards abstraction became solidified with the influence of the “first generation” Abstract Expressionists, like Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and Jackson Pollack. 

He says I liked the freedom of their work. They had gotten away from just looking at a model, or copying one, and went off in a completely different direction. For example, the Abstract Expressionists selected a form to fit a color… In abstract painting, you find a form to contain a color that you have already chosen. In more realistic painting, the color has to fit the form or the shape you started with; so if you have a coat, and it’s red, the color fits into the shape of the coat. But in abstract painting, it’s just the opposite: you want to use a color so you decide how much red you want or need, then you fill the whole painting with red, or perhaps three-quarters of it, and the whole approach is much freer emotionally.

Goodnough’s first solo exhibition was at the Tibor De Nagy Gallery in New York City in 1952. Since then, his work has been exhibited and collected by major museums throughout the country.  

 By the 1960’s Goodnough developed his signature style, using large shapes in strong colors- reds, blacks, greens, browns, with drips and runny paint, inspired by early Abstract Expressionists action paintings. Preferring large canvases, this 68” x 30” work was completed three years before his monumental Form in Motion, which has been heralded as one of his most famous works.

…Before a canvas is confronted with a two-dimentional surface on which must be worked out a visual experience. In our daily experience with life we are continually associated with three-dimensional experiences. This presents a conflict.
– Robert Goodnough

Vertical Abstraction NC, 1964 (Cayuga Museum Collection)
Brochure from Robert Goodnough Art Exhibition, 1969 (Cayuga Museum Collection)

Take a Closer Look at “Vertical Abstraction NC!” Can You Tell Which Section of the Painting is Pictured?

…I believe that conflict is necessary to painting. I think in terms of objects and figures, yet I try to keep the picture plane flat. I do not try to achieve a third dimension.” – Robert Goodnough

In 1964, Goodnough was selected by Time Magazine as one of the “100 most important artists in the United States.”

Goodnough’s work is imbued with dynamic energy and creative form. Perhaps best said are the words of a colleague about the artist:

Back and forth he has swung between the severe and the unrestrained, but always informing what he was doing with that most precious of gifts – a recognizable style, a way of working, a way with color, a way with impregnating each and every canvas or object with his own particular stamp, his own presence. – John Bernard Meyers, Director, Tibor de Nagy Gallery

Search Through Goodnough’s Other Work Around the Country!

Albright-Knox Art Gallery

Art Institute of Chicago

Metropolitan Museum of Art


Museum of Fine Arts Boston

North Carolina Museum of Art

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

Whitney Museum of American Art