Traveling Full Spectrum with Cleven Goudeau in Vallejo

Coming up on September 29 here at Listen & Be Heard Poetry Café is a special event that I hope all of you from around these parts will make an effort to attend. We already feature the varied and wonderful paintings of Cleven “Goodie” Goudeau on our walls. This show is coming down to be replaced by a whole new round of artwork by Goodie, this time very affordable prints, framed and ready for you to take home with you. The show will feature his African themed art, and for the fun of it, his caricatures of Listen & Be Heard Poetry Café characters who have stepped on to our stage since our opening in July of 2005.

The first time I saw the artwork of Cleven Goudeau, familiar to most folks around town as “Goodie”, was in 2003 at the annual Open Studios event here in Vallejo, presented by the Vallejo Artists’ Guild. Goodie is a slender and soft-spoken man with a history. All I had to do was look at the cramped walls of his small studio at the Guild, to know that he had personally influenced me in my own little world, without me even knowing it until that moment.

It is remarkable that, as saturated as our brains are with advertising images, we rarely stop to think about the artists who toil to create those images, or their motivations. As my eyes focused on the mostly humorous scenes of his comic art, framed and un-framed on his walls, I was amazed at how many of them I recognized from my childhood and beyond. I would never have imagined that they were all by the same man. It is no wonder that also hanging on his wall is a Clio award, a distinction coveted by the best in advertising.

On closer observation, I noted an obvious shift early in his career from comic strip art featuring white characters, to a new kind of commercial art never produced in America before, that of comic art about black Americans, created by a black man whose humor is colored with love. I visited Goodie again in his studio wanting to fill in the picture and understand the man. Goodie described learning how to draw “white”. Taught by white teachers, white was not only a color, but an anatomy and a culture. His early drawings for the Navy Supply Oakland proved his success as a “white” artist. But here is where motivation comes in. Goodie describes the strange experience of having to learn to ?Äúdraw black.?Äù Since black people were for the most part not even represented he had to learn techniques, and also employ humour to address uniquely black physical and cultural characteristics.

The kick-off to Goodie’s greeting card career was a visit to his mother in the hospital. Goodie searched the stores, but couldn’t find a single greeting card with a picture of a black person. This was in those days when black people didn’t exist on the drawing boards of Madison Avenue. Goodie created his own humorous card for the occasion of visiting his mother, featuring a woman the same color as she was. That card was passed from bed to bed around the entire hospital and inspired him to seek backing for a line of greeting cards, so that “any black person in America could walk into a store and have the choice of purchasing a greeting card with a picture that looked like their mother or father or sister or brother.” It took a lot of persistence, and resistance to negative perceptions before he prevailed upon a Jewish businessman named Lou Kramer, who helped him launch the bright colored cards. Cards that I love as much, seeing them again today, as I did when I was a young white kid in the Southwest.

The Original Greeting Card that started the whole Line…
Goodie took advantage of his success to actually go back to school and get a degree in art, after which he embarked on his career in advertising. He created commercials for many of the corporate giants, which he will proudly play for you on a small TV in his studio. My experience as a native New Yorker has been that people who come to New York City from other places, and stay on throughout their trials and tribulations, will claim New York as their home, and call themselves New Yorkers. If he doesn’t tell you first that he’s from Oakland, he will tell you that he’s a New Yorker, and he certainly earned the title. I asked Goodie why, considering his successes in New York, he came to Vallejo. He said he was “coming home.” His wife Jeanette is from Vallejo, and he is happy that he came here to settle down. Part of coming home for Goodie is to offer his wisdom to a younger generation struggling to get a foot inside a very competitive world. The albums and crates and stacks surrounding him, are testament to a prolific career. You could say, that despite his struggles to be recognized as an American, Cleven Goudeau is managing to live an American dream. After a successful career in advertising he is taking the time to paint with freedom and abandon. His paintings, some still smelling fresh, look completely different from anything that has come before, and demonstrate the range of a true genius. I suspect that his time in Vallejo will mark another milestone in his body of work, another rare and precious gem to be admired and appreciated here in Vallejo.

Please join us on Saturday September 29, 2007 from 7-9pm, for a reception for the opening of this new show, at Listen & Be Heard Poetry Café. Framed prints will be for sale from $35 to $75. If you purchase at least $75 in prints, you can stay for The Talons, who will play from 9pm-Midnight without paying the $10 cover charge.

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