Three hundred and fourteen

Pandemonium, the Chopping and Boiling (detail)

c2010 by Steph Goodger
The Threadneedle Prize 2012, Mall Galleries; http://www.stephgoodger.com.

Goodger’s work is inherently interesting. She takes marine-based history and lets its intriguing and original horrors inspire her painting. Drawing the ghosts of merchant ships, the activity beneath a water raft, the hidden insides of boats, Goodger illustrates our fascination with past life at sea, highlighting the disturbing truths of our history. The history to her paintings is considered and texts explaining the sources are available to further what are essentially visual lessons. However, even without these texts, Goodger’s paintings breath the palette of history – with dark browns and blacks, and washes of background that sing through the texture and tea-staining of parchment. The detail and cross-sectioned compositional style of Goodger’s paintings gives them the feel of drawing plans, as if someone has poured over them in the clutches of imagination in order to build their historic masterpiece. The creativity is carried by the wonderfully expressive line of Goodger’s drawing, yet the irony comes when we realise what she draws is not imagination but truth, the horrific truth of our past mechanisms of survival. Pandemonium, the Chopping and Boiling shows the internal bowels of a whaling ship in the nineteenth-century, taken from the revelations of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. The fleshy pink meat piled at the bottom of the boat is disturbing in its excess and wastage – all to be chopped and boiled, by the small faceless figures that appear to attack each pile with a collective and monotonous brutality. The layered effect of activity is reminiscent of the wall painting of ancient Egypt, illustrating the depths of the underworld – see postcard 256 – and indeed there is something distinctly hellish about Goodger’s painting. The two burning cauldrons, their flames brilliantly bright within the dustiness of the picture, top the composition almost gleefully. Telling tales, Goodger’s work is worth looking into – with other works showing more bellies of ships with other dark uses; hoarding prisoners, for instance, when old dis-used ships were used as temporary prisons in the late eighteenth-century.

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