"The elegant brushstrokes of Jeremiah Goodman have dazzled art directors, decorators, designers, and the rich and famous for almost seven decades. Growing up as an impoverished Jewish butcher's son during the Great Depression, Jeremiah's dream of more glamorous surroundings was brought about by this rare talent for capturing the spirit of an interior, skillfully reflecting the personality who shaped it. By creating numerous remarkable covers for Interior Design magazine and countless illustrated advertisements for Lord & Taylor, a department store for which his style was a signature for 35 years, the commercial artist became a one-of-a-kind celebrity portrait painter of rooms. On a recent trip to new York Jeremiah welcomed us into his stunning uptown apartment to show his new paintings of artist's studios, especially made for this issue, and to talk with us about the imaginative mode of his interiors, growing up on the wrong side of the tracks, the struggle of making it against all odds, and how, at 87, he still gets his creative juices flowing."
Jeremiah Goodman working in Haiti, 1947
"Thomas Persson: Jeremiah, it is so nice to finally meet you properly. Jeremiah Goodman: Thomas, if we met fifty years ago, we would have met improperly. TP: [Laughs] I've been thinking about our last phone conversation when you quoted Mae West, saying: "You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough." Looking back, you've had a pretty amazing life... JG: Yeah, I did. But I don't know how to embellish it more than that. It just moved along. Now, unfortunately, I'm going to be 88 and I still feel immature. TP: Because you are young at heart. JG: It's the only place left. TP: I hope I'll be in as good shape as you if I ever get to be 88. Now, let's talk about your house in the East Hamptons where you used to have a great studio, a beautiful room that you have painted in this portfolio. Your friend Dean told me you bought the house in a derelict state. JG: How simplistic shall I make it? TP: In any form or tone you want. JG: Well, I was on the beach with friends in real estate and a mutual friend of ours, Kate, said she knew of some great barns that were available. I bought it for 18,000 dollars. This is in 1957. TP: Was it a house you used especially for entertaining in those days? JG: Yeah, it was great but I don't think I should go any further on that subject [laughs]. Well, I can say that the mighty Hermione Gingold was staying with me. while she was appearing in the theatre there. So, of course, all these social women and men wanted to meet her. They got to be so sticky about it that I decided to throw a party for her. I invited 100 guys and named the party "100 men and a girl". TP: [Laughs] Your studio there looked so elegant, white and spacious, full of books... JG: The studio was almost too clean for most people. It certainly wasn't like Francis Bacon's. I ended up doing my Lord & Taylor ads there. I used to go there in spring and stayed until September. It was wonderful. TP: Looking at the selection of artwork in your book, Jeremiah: A Romantic Vision, I wonder how you read a room when you enter it and how you translate its atmosphere into a painting. JG: Well, the truth is that it's more about a private memory in my mind than the actuality of it. That's always been the way I have thought of rooms - their spirit – and yet to give the information of the room and not going into total abstraction. TP: You master it very well because you get the details of the furniture, you get the texture of the fabrics, and with only a few brushstrokes you can evoke a very elaborate object, like an opulent chandelier. But then there is this incredible sense of mood, the feeling of being in the room that you manage to create. In a way you belong to a tradition of artists who have made their careers painting rooms and interiors, such as Alexandre Serebriakoff who did drawings of the Hotel Lambert in Paris, for instance. But these drawings are more like an account of a room - a description, which is very different from your style. JG: Well, they are done without emotion and that's not my interest. I mean, what do you want to see? It's ten times better if Yves Saint Laurent does a sweep of a drawing than somebody else drawing all the buttons up the back. My interest is the feeling of light and again, the romantic quality of the picture. That's the thing I'm trying to do. And, hopefully, that the person who sees them receives them in that spirit. TP: You have· a particular fondness for a Brazilian word, saudade meaning a mysterious longing. You have said that this word is an inspiration to your work. JG: Yes, it is the most marvellous word. We don't have that word in our vocabulary. It is about a feeling of having been somewhere before. It is similar to dreams and you feel that you had another life because it is so foreign to your actual life, and that the reality of your dream bewilders you. Saudade means a longing for something that you can't quite put your finger on. Like a longing to go back to Venice and walk along one of those strange streets in the fog and hoping that something very exciting is going to happen to you. Exactly what, you don't know. But secretly, you do, but you can't print that. TP: [Laughs] It reminds me of something Mr Pearl talks about in this issue, about walking in the streets of Paris and feeling the spirits, feeling the people that have lived there before. JG: Yes, Paris can have that feeling of mystery and romance. Have you been to the Camondo Museum? It is something you should reintroduce in your magazine. The Camondos were a Sephardic Jewish family who owned one of the largest banks in the Ottoman Empire and became enormously wealthy before the First World War. Comte Mo'ise de Camondo had a son, Nissim, that he adored, but who was killed during the war. At the time, Camondo was building this incredible mansion for his son to give to him on the day when he got married. Nissim never got that chance, but his father finished the house and then closed it up.You can go there today and everything is exactly the way it ~ould have been if his son had returned. It's the most elegant house. TP: Talking of elegant houses, when I look at the drawings you did of rooms from when you were as young as 14 you were already remarkably skilled, so close to being a fully developed illustrator. Your parents must have been aware that they had something very special in you. JG: Yes, to the extent that when my dad had a chance to get a job, which was in another city, and not anything well paid at all, they stayed on in Buffalo because I had this opportunity to go to an art high school. They stayed on for me to be able to do that, which was amazing."
Edward Albee's loft, New York City
"TP: Tell me about your parents. Your father was a butcher. JG: Well, yes. My mother and father met in New York City, then went to the coal mining section of Pennsylvania. They both spoke Polish and Russian, and my mother also spoke some German. At least she said she did. They had a general store and became impoverished, because, during the coal mine strike, they let people charge food and supplies at their store, and they got busted, went out of business and moved to Niagara Falls where they opened a small grocery store – a meat market. TP: And when you were nine you and your family moved to Buffalo where, by coincidence, there was a very good art high school. JG: Yes, with no fewer than five art teachers, all first class. One of them was an incredible American/German teacher called Elizabeth Weiffenbach and she did something so ahead of her time, even for now. When we started our classes she asked us what our ambitions were. I said that I wanted to be a Hollywood set designer. and after that I was permitted to carry out all my art projects with that in mind. If the assignment had to do with Scotland, I would design stage sets for Macbeth. That's how I began to acquire the skills to paint interiors. I wanted to go to Hollywood and be a set designer. That was my goal, always, right from the start. TP: This was during the Great Depression. JG: Oh yeah, and I was crazy about all these escape things. When I was about ten years old I saw a movie called Broadway Melody. It was about two small-town girls who came to New York City to become Broadway stars and they ended up as chorus girls. At the last moment, before the opening night, the star of the show couldn't appear. So one of the girls got their chance. After the show, the girl who suddenly became a star is asked out by a playboy. After being out all night she goes back to her room, to her girlfriend who is weeping alone in her bed. She undresses, gets into bed, and lets her arm fall over towards the other girl, and there's a huge diamond bracelet on her arm. And I thought, "Isn't that neat! To go out for one night and get a diamond bracelet!""
Jeremiah Goodman's studio, East Hampton
"TP: And when you were 18 you "greyhounded" to New York City to try your luck yourself. JG: Well, you know, for some reason I had in my head that I would survive all the unfortunate things that were in my way, such as getting a job, which was hard to get at that time. But somehow I put little pieces together and got going. It was a certain naivete that I think came from seeing Hollywood movies, such as this story of the chorus girl. I think I always had that thing embedded in me - that something wonderful would happen. Sometimes people would say, "Oh don't bother going there, they are not hiring people" or "You are not the son of person they are looking for". Quite often, I did go anyway, I wasn't aggressive but I always hoped some magical piece of luck would come my way, TP: And it did ... JG: Yes. And other times it didn't. I can tell you I did a lot of crying privately. A lot of dreadful things happened to me - huge disappointments. But New York has changed tremendously. When I came to the city, to see a black person in a department store was a shocker. The big thing about New York now is the ease and acceptance of everyone. Much, much more than it was before. I distinctly remember telling my relations that I was going to apply for a job at one of the department stores, and they said, "Don't bother, they don't hire Jews," It was always this attitude of, "Why do you try? You are not going to get there." It always amazed me how mean people could be, for no reason at all. I found that there could be a lot of bewildering resentment, in many ways, about a person. The only good thing about all the bad things that happened to me was that I lost a lot of weight and I thought that was worth all the torture. TP: I think as creative people we are often very vulnerable and it makes such a huge difference meeting people who see you for what you are and help you because they like you and think you are talented. Meeting people like that is a very positive upward spiral and suddenly one feels that life can be quite magical. For instance, when you met the British actor John Gielgud in the late 1940s he invited you to England, It was a trip that changed a lot of things for you. JG: Oh, absolutely. What amazed me in England was that even though I had so many strikes against me - being American, being gay, being poor, being Jewish, being whatever, not connected - so many people were wonderful to me there. I think that English people had much more respect for talent. Through John I met so many people who made their houses accessible for me to 'paint, They all seemed to' love houses and being illustrative. TP: When you did your paintings of rooms back then, you used to sit there in the actual room painting the interior portraits. JG: Yes, in the beginning I did. My first go of painting in England was very difficult because there wasn't much electrical lighting in these places. And if you did use lights it could blow the whole thing up. And also the damp weather created a different technique for me. That part has held me in good state because I sort of naturally paint according to the atmosphere of the climate of the place. TP: And when you came back to New York you meet Harry Rodman, the marvelous art director of the department store Lord & Taylor, where you began your career illustrating their newspaper advertising. JG: Yes, and Harry Rodman was absolutely unique - unique and a blessing. He was the dream person that just doesn't happen. He truly believed in getting his artists to express themselves. He probably had seven or eight separate artists working at Lord & Taylor, like Dorothy Hood for fashion, Carl Wilson, who was a brilliant men's fashion illustrator, and he had Arnold Hall who did interiors, and his wife. Helen Hall, who was a fashion illustrator and very important, particularly known for doing young people's fashions. When Helen and Arnold went away to Europe on vacation, I somehow had the opportunity to step in, and I never left."
Picasso's studio, Vallauris
"TP: You were with Lord & Taylor for 35 years, and during those years, illustration was still a big part of the advertising world. JG: Yes, and Harry Rodman had this very incredible idea to not be specific about a dress or an object. TP: Why? JG: Because they felt that if a woman came there and didn't find the dress in the ad, they didn't want her to walk out. They wanted her to feel that if that dress didn't fit her, there would be something else because the illustration presented itself as a look that she would think grand or wonderful. It was the mood that counted. TP: Harry Rodman said: "Jeremiah, there isn't anything that you can't do if you just put your mind to it." JG: Yes, and it was just so wonderful against the experience of Conde Nast where everyone felt that they couldn't keep their job unless they found a flaw somewhere in your drawings. I was very fortunate to have met him, to have that amazing bit o fluck. TP: How important do you think luck is in life? JG: Well, I think you have to know when luck does come your way. You have to be able to recognize it. I think it's about not closing the door but always leaving it open. TP: I feel very lucky to have met you, Jeremiah. Thank you so much for this interview and for the beautiful portfolio of work that you have done especially for this issue of our magazine. JG: You know, Thomas, I keep being conflicted by people saying, "For Christ's sake, give it up!" But I can say this: I am 87 years old and I'm still doing it. I really feel alive when I do. Not that it's easy for me to get to the drawing board, but I do get certain energy from it. I'm so amazed at how things can still happen. It's like the mail. It can be weeks of just getting dreary ads, or even a notice that you have to do jury duty. But then you suddenly experience something that respects your talent, and that to me is the wonderful part."
Picasso's studio, Vallauris
ALL IMAGES OF WORK BY JEREMIAH GOODMAN TAKEN FROM ACNE PAPER #11; INTERVIEW WITH JEREMIAH GOODMAN BY THOMAS PERSSON, ALSO TAKEN FROM ACNE PAPER #11; PHOTOS OF JEREMIAH GOODMAN'S NEW YORK APARTMENT, [1-4, 7-8] BY HEATHER CLAWSON FOR HABITUALLY CHIC, SEPTEMBER 28, 2010; [5,6] BY WENDY GOODMAN FOR NEW YORK MAGAZINE, AUGUST 27, 2010