Atlanta artist Mike Goettee is in love with the American Southwest, so much so that he is being honored with a show – Technicolor Coyote – at the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville that runs through March 13. It would make for a good road trip “outside the loop.”
Goettee’s paintings are part of the Booth’s permanent collection. His work also hangs in the Columbus Museum of Art, the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Cologne, Germany and in many private collections. He paints at his home studio in Avondale Estates where he is active in the Avondale Arts Alliance and hosts monthly “Artists Coffee.” INtown talked with Goettee about his inspiration and how he works. He also shares several pieces that will be in the show.
I was a huge fan of TV westerns growing up. I watched them until they disappeared after I went off to college. There was no other western anything on my wavelength until an artist friend here in Atlanta saw a show I was in at Stanley and Schenck Gallery at Peachtree Center in the ’80s. She said that I just had to go to Santa Fe because it would “change my mind about color.” That was both baffling and extremely intriguing. In 1995, I went. Within the first 30 minutes in the rental car, I saw sky the color of which I’d never seen in my life. Mid-day and it was nearly dark cobalt blue, with perfectly spaced pom-poms of little clouds. Surreal, actually. For the rest of the week the sky show every day, especially at sunset, had me thinking, “well this is just RIDICULOUS! Nobody’s going to believe this if I paint it. The first painting I did when I returned was a large landscape, my first landscape ever, but not my last. It sold so fast, I never got a picture of it. The most important thing was that I was out there where my imagination had been as a child and teen in the ’50s and ’60s, with our country’s version of nights in shining armor, who were in buckskin instead. The romance of the cowboy came to life again for me. That plus seeing all of it with an adult’s appreciation for not only the romanticized roots of that culture, but also of the hispanic and native cultures. A stroll down Santa Fe’s gallery-lined Canyon road for a day and a half, almost left me speechless. What other artists had done with all of that was beyond my experience and with so much rich variety that I knew I’d never be the same.
I had to think about this a couple of years ago when I was asked to give a talk about that very subject to the Artists Guild of Northwest Georgia. I told them that, as a young boy, I had the coolest junk drawer, full of things I’d found and saved that I could make stuff out of. I realized that over my whole life, my brain has become a “junk drawer” of experiences and memories of things that I noted as useful down the road. A friend once told me in an unoffensive way that only a friend can do, that I was “A walking encyclopedia of useless information.” I considered it a compliment because this brain is a deep well, treasure chest, junk drawer of usable art supplies. Now my real junk drawer is all in labeled, clear plastic boxes on bookshelves in my studio. It includes such labels as “rusty things,” if that helps describe it. Every thing from feathers and horse tail to doll house parts to make my equivalent of western “retablos” or altar panels, like in “Red Rocks Romance.” Those are Victorian dollhouse porch columns and corbels.
Jeff Donaldson named the show and took his clue from my Acme Rocket Skate Boot, named “Coyote.” (What would Acme products have really looked like if we could order them like Wile E. Coyote?) I’d always described my early retirement as “jumping off a cliff.” I decided the Wile E. just aimed too low while chasing that scrawny bird of a Roadrunner. I aimed higher and flew. Perfect to hang the show with a title that explains my glorious swan dive off of a fine art cliff. My last name, that looks like a cat walked across the keyboard, also rhymes with “Coyote” and Buffalo Bill Cody, so he thought it was the perfect show name. I agreed 100 percent. The big work, the 6-foot wide “Red Butte With Tourists,” is my take-off and tribute to my favorite Western artist, Maynard Dixon. My favorite painting is his 17-foot wide “Red Butte With Mountain Men.” Executive director Seth Hopkins asked me to create this piece just for the show, because he loves my carved vehicle works from before and also because the Dixon piece is his favorite painting too. I replaced the horsemen with carved wooden vehicles heading west. “Of Gin and Cheap Perfume,” is the most recent in a series of 16 or so dresses, that I called my “Fiesta Dress” series. I painted (on canvas) a picture of a dress, and on that was various landscape parts. It was a hit at a show I was in and two women who missed their chance at purchasing it said “You should do a series.” I’ve sold all but two. This was from a story I heard told at the museum about a “fine ladies” boarding house in an old western town. It caught fire and the sheriff, mayor fire chief and other important mail figures were seen running out of the flames in their drawers, “smelling of gin and cheap perfume.” All I needed was to hear that phrase and a new dress was born.