Carol Brown Goldberg


"Born in Baltimore, MD, Goldberg moved to the Washington, DC metro area after graduating from University of Maryland with a B.A. in American Studies. She received a second B.A. at the Corcoran School of Art, where she was awarded the Eugene M. Weisz award upon graduation. In 1989 and 1990, Goldberg produced and curated a 14-part lecture series, “Voices of Our Time,” which explored the relationship between art and science. This interest in science has also led her to serve as a board member of the Johns Hopkins Lyme Disease Research Center. She has taught at American University and University of Maryland, was Artist in Residence at Chautauqua Institute, is a recipient of the Maryland State Arts Award, serves on the board of The Phillips Collection in Washington, DC and serves on the Collector’s Committee of the Reading Public Museum and the Contemporary Art Accessions Committee of the Baltimore Museum of Art."


October 2019 | By Jiazi Yin

"I think you get the sense that the space goes dark when you see its opposite. There is something about ambiguity. ...We all have ambiguous states when we love, when we hate, when we want this, when we want that. Forces of uncertainty are a part of being life, part of being human."

Jiazi Yin: How do you structure your day? Do you have a plan from the beginning or do you simply go with your feelings?

Carol Brown Goldberg: My day starts when I wake up. I come to my studio, often with pajamas, and get started around 8 am. I almost do not go out with anyone for lunch. I try not to see anyone. Before you can be serious about your work, you have to make sure everything is set up in your life. I knew I would be a serious artist when I was little. So just do it, set up, and then you are free to spend all of your time painting. When I was young, my day was to take care of my children. Now my day is all day painting.

Yin: When you were raising your children, in terms of your art pursuing, how did you manage that?

Goldberg: I never took art classes in University of Maryland. I was in a brand new major called American Studies. After graduation, I had no idea what to do except a desire to use my hands to draw what I saw. One day, I was 27, I was sitting on the sofa feeding my youngest son, and the other two were chattering in the room. My husband had his briefcase and suits on, and he looked at us and said, “I wish I could stay home with you all!” But I thought, “You're so lucky, you got a life!”

Just then, another thought came out, “Wait a minute, I'm only 27, I have a huge life ahead. I am gonna stay home with my kids all the time and I am going to study art. I can start right now.” So I brought my kids to the library, I took out art books. I learned art history first, Matisse, Cezanne, Picasso, these are my heroes.

It was the moment when my husband was all dressed up to go out that I decided I've got all my life ahead to make. It was a very exciting moment, a moment that I decided that one day I shall be a full time student in art school. When my youngest child went to school full time, I went to the Corcoran. I never hung out with anyone there. It was top priority for me to put my time in with my kids and then I would have free time later.

Yin: How would you describe your work in general?

Goldberg: My work is really my life and my life is wrapped in my work. I never identify with artists who would say, this is my work. It's never about one thing. Everything is about politics, everything is about gender, and everything is about the culture. It is the whole. It is about how do you express everything, the theory of everything.

I love technology. To me, science is magic. It backs up what we instinctively feel. It helps us to see and understand more, to express what is unseen and what is mysterious. I remember in the seventies when I heard that space is filled with particles. I was in my studio alone and I thought, "Oh my God, I am not alone! There are particles. So much of them, how exciting." I did twenty big pieces inspired by just that thought in the seventies and early eighties. Now a lot of my work is filled with details, inspired from DNA, RNA, cells, and molecular.

I was once criticized by one of the Washington Color School artists. He said to me, “You're so defensive. You put lines everywhere. Don't put borders of your work. Let it flow.” But I cannot let it flow. I have to create forms. My mentor was Gene Davis, who did strips with all edges and that fit my personality, too. And he said, “You need to fill out space; it's not a good thing to need to fill out space.” I thought about it. It was the seventies. There are so many different rules artists grab onto. Now I can say, just follow your instincts and what you are feeling.

Garden Behind the White Picket Fence

Apache Dusk

Yin: You talked about wanting to fill the space, but when you leave space in your painting, what is that?

Goldberg: That's such a good question. I used to go to the Freer gallery a lot, and I love Japanese and Chinese art. I love the Turkish, Middle East and Far East art. I love the way they handle space. There are two major things; one is that they do not have a vanishing point or perspective. I love the way they show size and distance by putting one object behind another. The other thing is that there is one chunk of area that they leave open. I've done that with a lot of my work. It's a far eastern influence.

I think you get the sense that the space goes dark when you see its opposite. There is something about ambiguity. Many people want assurance, black or white, yes or no, but artists often live in the state of ambiguity, or uncertainty. It's actually creative to live in that state. We all have ambiguous states when we love, when we hate, when we want this, when we want that. Forces of uncertainty are a part of being life, part of being human.

Yin: Would you please talk about the idea and the process of the Circles painting?

Goldberg: It was after 9/11 when I was teaching at American University. I started to think about my own teachers, the color school artists that I learned from. I thought of Tom Downing, Gene Davis, I thought about creating light using circles as a vehicle, from dark to light. If you squint your eyes, you see light emerging. Then I decided to do a series of this work where light comes from inside, most of them from dark to light. When I did these, a friend of mine who is a theater director said to me, "Why don't you open up your canvas, why do you keep them close, open it up." That was a big “Aha” moment. I loved his suggestion. I opened it up, which created the layers that I love to present.

And the way I'm working on this is different from anyone else. I work on tables, so the canvas is flat. I paint the whole canvas with the background color, and then I put archival glue down, sprinkle glitter on it. Then I take a brush, throw the paint dancing around the canvas, creating lines for another layer. I have lots of different stencils for creating shapes. But I don't use them in painting, every circle and every oval is hand done by my brush. I work from the outside, all around the canvas, then a little inside all around. I keep mixing the paint lighter and lighter until I can't reach any further. Then I stand the canvas up and that is the first time I see my painting, when it's almost done. That is a very exciting moment. The curator calls the show Inner Light, which is exactly what I am trying to show.

NT 16, 2011
NT , 2010
Tess, Stefan and Lucas Love Each Other, 2009
The Cosmic Harp, 2008

Yin: Would you talk a little bit about your sculptures please?

Goldberg: Sculpture is a different part of the brain. But again it is spontaneously connected to entanglement. Because you just use your hands, your eyes, and your brain, piecing things together. I love doing geometric. I have a lot of geometric pieces. I am trying to organize what painting goes to what group. I would say some of these sculptures are a group of work just to keep my hands busy.

I took a design class at Corcoran. I love to create shadow with points. Anything that slows me down, I love it. When my kids have piano lessons, or cello, rumba, violin, I would sit in the car with a big pad, do pointillism, and create free-formed shapes, to keep my hand going. I do believe by doing that, some magic mystery will happen.

Yin: How do you title your work?

Goldberg: It's such a chore. In the early work, the circle paintings, because it's completely separate from personal content, I gave them personal names. I tried to personalize them. I connected them to cell biology. There is also a group called NT, which is for nanotechnology, and I started with NT18. I also started putting personal names for sculpture. A wonderful, dignified art historian said, “Do not call them by personal names. It's very trim.” I think he is right, then that sculpture became NT21. You have to follow your instinct and be prepared to change.

Yin: After you graduated from Corcoran, how did you create a career out of it?

Goldberg: I was a little bit fortunate because I won a reward at graduation, which surprised me, as I didn't hang out too much with anyone. As the kids grew older, I needed my own space, and then I rented a garage as my studio. In terms of career, I actually never thought about it, but I did think about having a group, having artist friends. I went to Hanover Place and began to be friends with other artists, exchange ideas, which I hadn't done much at the Corcoran because I was so into working.

Then the WPA had its first option show and Gene Davis was responsible for me being in that show. Then the gallery wall at the Corcoran picked me up, which was also a little bit unusual. And I had three paintings at the graduation show. I feel like I had a good lurching from the Corcoran for the next ten years. I was so preoccupied with family before, so I just worked and worked, made as many friends as I could. It is not easy being an artist; you need to find a partner who is supportive.

Another thing I would recommend: do not answer your phone or go online while you are working. My friend once said to me, “Get off the phone. Do not answer the phone. Stop the phone.” That was before emails or text messages and it was the best advice she gave. Be really focused. Do not pick up the phone. Once you let people know what your hours are, you begin to take yourself more seriously.

Yin: Do you have any suggestion for students when they are not doing art? For example, how can they promote themselves? Social media, Facebook, Instagram, these things I guess did not exist when you started your career. How to get yourself out there?

Goldberg: What I would do is go to openings and get to know the dealers. It's really good to go to openings and listen to other artists talking about their work, as it will give you the vocabulary. If you know someone who works like you, bond with him or her, and then you will have similar vocabulary. If it happens in a gallery, introduce yourself to the dealers. You could get a card, put an image on one side and your email on the other side.

You could also have a party and invite other artists, or make a potluck with good friends and invite other people. I have done it many times. Usually what I will do is send out an essay to a bunch of friends and say: potluck dinner, 6 o'clock, let's just talk about the essay, or what are your thoughts. All of our meetings, for 25 years, instead of promoting our art, we talk about things out there in the culture. It helps to create a community.

Pick a graduate school and get a master's degree. It really combines art, intellectualism, and connections, and it gives you the credentials. You can get a teaching job, for very little money, but it's stimulating, it keeps you in it.