Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Up Close with Fran Mann Goodman

Fran Mann Goodman remembers a time when, as a student at Chouinard Art Institute in California, she couldn’t sign her paintings if she expected anybody to show them. To be a female artist in the boys’ club of the 1960s vanguard of modern art was to consign oneself to obscurity.

“This upset my father very much, even though my work was great,” recalls Goodman, from her apartment in downtown Boca Raton. “He said, ‘I only see a starving artist in your midst.’”

And so, for decades, Goodman put away her brushes and canvas. It wasn’t until 2013, in her 60s, that she began to pursue the passion again, and her foot hasn’t left the gas pedal. In fewer than 10 years, her art—a richly colorful, three-dimensional style of Abstract Expressionism deploying acrylic skins, paper towels, rags, stones and other sundry materials—has appeared in 39 exhibitions, many in Delray Beach and Boca Raton but a few in New York and New Jersey. She taught painting in the Creative Art School at Old School Square, and a solo exhibition of her work was on display in March and April at the Delray Beach Public Library.

She likes to say that she’s only been “playing” in the art world for nine years, emphasizing the intuitive and free-flowing nature of her work. “It just pours out of you,” she says. “And when it pours out of you, you’re not working at it. You’re enjoying it. You’re playing at it. It’s fun.

“When I’m starting a painting, I’m never interested in the goal,” she adds. “I’m so fascinated with the process of what it’s going to be like to get there.”

The same could be said for Goodman’s biography, which has endured many unexpected twists and hardships to arrive at her current state of satisfaction and creativity. At age 12, her jaw stopped growing, and she was diagnosed with micrognathia—a condition affecting 1 in 1,500 infants but rarely appearing in teenagers. She was tormented at school, and “I ended up losing my parents’ love.”

When Goodman was 14, a plastic surgeon attempted to build her a new chin from one of her ribs, but she choked on the breathing tube used to augment her anesthesia. Her heart went into arrhythmia, and she nearly died in the operating room. But Goodman was undeterred: “I wouldn’t leave the hospital without a chin.”

The procedure worked the second time, but her body rejected the implant a year later. It wasn’t until her third surgical attempt, at 15, that doctors found a permanent solution in the form of a silicone chin. (She ultimately reconciled with her parents.)

Goodman’s condition and recovery were so medically notable that articles were written about her, touching on the “facial harassment” she experienced as a teen. Her ordeal would later impact her career. After graduating from Chouinard and being dissuaded from an art career, she went into makeup for top models. Despite their beauty, her clients often expressed issues of self-esteem related to their faces that Goodman knew all too well.

“It wasn’t about how they physically looked; they did not have anomalies like I did,” Goodman says. “But they were carrying that angst of childhood messages into such a place that they had a distorted perception of their faces, so that when they looked in the mirror, they didn’t really see what they looked like.”

For 35 years, most of her adult life, Goodman worked with women and their faces. She ran seminars and workshops and support groups. She appeared on talk shows and wrote a memoir and two screenplays about her journey and her cause, one of which was nearly optioned for a TV movie. She was discussing her work with Hollywood agents when another rare medical condition—Lyme disease, which led to arthritis in her hands—shifted her path again, circa 2012.

“I could no longer write,” she says. “So invariably, I went into a deep depression. … One day I took out a paintbrush. I had not painted at all. I couldn’t hold the paintbrush, but I could hold a palette knife.”

That tool became her saving grace—the catalyst for the prolific third act of her life. At the time of this writing, Goodman was seeking gallery representation for her work, and she continues to find inspiration in teaching; her four-week Zoom course, geared to beginners, intermediate or advanced artists, is called “Not Your Ordinary Painting Class.”

And given her life experience, Goodman is no ordinary instructor. “My favorite thing to do is mentoring,” she says. “I love to take people that have no real trust in themselves. … Because for me, it’s their process that thrills me. When they start pulling through, it’s my joy to watch that happen.”

To see works by Fran Mann Goodman, check out her website here.

This article is from the March/April 2023 issue of Delray magazine. For more like this, click here to subscribe to the magazine.

John Thomason
John Thomason
As the A&E editor of bocamag.com, I offer reviews, previews, interviews, news reports and musings on all things arty and entertainment-y in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

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