Struggling artist Brett Goodroad soars to success after a New Yorker review

Brett Goodroad’s life changed forever after an unexpected visitor attended his 2021 exhibition at Cushion Works in San Francisco.

Highly acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and critic Hilton Als attended Goodroad’s exhibition after his friend, Jordan Stein, founder of Cushion Works, convinced him. Blown away by what he saw, Als wrote Goodroad a rave review of the show in the New Yorker, after which Goodroad’s career as an artist skyrocketed.

Before Als’ reassuring public praise, Goodroad had not been able to make a full-time career as an artist.  Once he’d completed his M.F.A. at the San Francisco Art Institute in 2007, he stayed in the city, working as a truck driver delivering organic produce and painting in between trips. The physical labour started to take its toll on his body and affected his artistic process. He’d often leave his paintings for up to five days to do his deliveries, although he describes being happy with the results, as the colours had time to “breathe” and reach their full “luminescence”.

In 2013, at the Headlands Center for the Arts in Marin County, California, Goodread first met Jordan Stein. Stein was struck by the artist’s “washed-out Rococo-type paintings – trippy little 18th-century French court paintings – that absolutely boggled my mind.”

In 2017, Stein gave Goodread his first show and another in 2021 at Cushion Works. The latter show was supposed to mark the artist’s farewell to the San Francisco Bay area before moving to Arizona. But after Als’ New Yorker review, Goodroad received interest from around the world – curator Klaus Biesenbach even bought one of his paintings for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, attracting even more attention. 

Brett Goodroad and his art at Gregory Lind Gallery

In Als’ New Yorker review, he says, “Goodroad wouldn’t know the market if it hit him on the head, and I hope it doesn’t.” When asked what Als’ meant by that statement, he said he wanted to put it in as a “warning” to artists entering a culture that “supports them doing stuff for the marketplace instead of themselves.”

But it seems that Goodroad’s feet are still rooted firmly to the ground. When asked about art market pressure, Goodroad responded, “If someone wanted me to be more productive, I would probably refuse it.” 

Goodroad’s exhibition at the Greene Naftali show, curated by Hilton Als, was completely sold out. With a new level of interest from Als and other influential people in the industry, Goodread has now fully committed to being a painter. 

“The thing about his paintings is that they live in his head,” Als said. “They’re not really finished. He has to stop working on them. That’s what makes them so vibrant. You’re in conversation with them while you’re looking at them.”

Main image: Brett Goodroad, Untitled, 2013/22. Source: ZESHAN AHMED/COURTESY THE ARTIST, GREENE NAFTALI, NEW YORK AND CUSHION WORKS, SAN FRANCISCO