“Blue will give me fits.  Red, I can tame” Bonita Williams Goldberg told me.  We were in her studio, the walls alive with her paintings. Some coast along pretending to be landscapes – well, actually, they are landscapes, but the color sense and design of her abstracts hold true here as well.

“I learn something new every day,” this long-experienced artist said. “I’m a good Indian, not a chief.” Some might quarrel with that, but the truth is her paintings invite repeated attention. She starts out with an idea – “I may have a very planned composition in mind,” she said, but the finished work “may not happen that way.”  In the course of working on a particular painting it’s sometimes four or five days before the paint is dry enough to be painted over and a new idea launched.

Such decisions, of course, are the nature of the work.  Asked when she knew she was an artist she said “high school.  I didn’t realize the bumps in the road ahead. . .”  She was a sophomore when she felt she learned to be competitive with herself.  “You have to allow yourself to grow.” Her college experience would be interrupted :  after a year and a half in the right fields she moved off but was back, with the basics out of the way, to earn her bachelor’s degree from Thomas More University at the age of 40.

In the way that life shapes what one does, Goldberg gave up oils when her first child was born – there were in fact three children so oils were not the usual thing for her for quite a long time. She is back with oils now.

Walt Kahn, German-born artist and teacher and “crusty old guy,” she said, taught her any number of things including to “look at shadows” which can tell you more than you expect. In addition to producing her own art she has for a number of years been on staff at various galleries, particularly Closson’s, as a sales person. “The work is so interesting,” she told me. “I loved it.” It was useful to find out what customers responded to, she felt she learned things from the art itself, and “I got good at names.”  She has also been a docent at the Contemporary Art Center and all in all is in an informed position to know what sort of art Cincinnatians respond to.  Her work title has been “art consultant,” a position that requires knowledge of art in general and what in particular drives the artists being shown.

All in all, Cincinnati has been good for her as an artist.  She has, she feels, “my family of people who take care of me. . .you hate to push yourself.” This, of course, is a particularly Cincinnati line of thought. But in Cincinnati a woman artist can turn, as Goldberg has, to the Women’s Art Club and the Cincinnati Art Club for companionship and support.

Color, vital to this artist, was a subject we talked about.  “My color palette is always evolving.” Light greens and blues are very much related she pointed out, and went on to say “electric blue is not going to beat me.  I’m going to win.”  She worked in pastels before taking on oils and hopes to go back to them. For some time her canvases were often large – perhaps 72 inches by 48 inches – but now “they’re too big to handle.”  She and her husband are looking for a new place to live, their children now grown, and of course for her the availability of space for a studio is paramount.  The studio needs to be in the basement, she said, “because smells stay there.”

We talked about when she likes to do the actual painting. Sometimes at night, she told me, with music playing on radio or television, soft tunes that she might sing along with.  As a tone deaf person she adds that she sings softly “and only in the studio.”

This artist may be tone deaf but her color sense is perfectly on key.

–Jane Durrell

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