Roadside Attraction: Masterpieces by Van Goat

 Carol Barrett


In caprine aesthetics, the primary hues suggest grainy sustenance – the greens and gold of good sweet grass. No second cut alfalfa, growing so fast the nutrients shoot up the stem and out the top. Abstract images prevail, but the illusion of hay is created by the constant criss-cross in lines of paint, heavier in the center, tasty fist of straw. Blue is used sparingly, sea tones of sky barely rolling in on this Long Beach peninsula, its almost religious rains. One can imagine deer moss hanging in the pines, feel the salt rubbing the air near Cranberry Road.

The artists don’t stay within the lines, like their teachers, two sisters who would rather raise goats than leave home. Long strokes splash across the chest in T-shirts, their latest canvas. Latresha and Summer cut squares from plastic, lay frames over jersey, ensure a crisp border. The smaller the brush, the thinner the line. A mixed modality makes a study of angles, a curious tangle of delicate branches resembling fronds of tarragon, or parsley, just before going to seed.

The first painter, a baby goat bottle-fed from birth, scratched his hooves while the sisters were raking, adoration in imitation. He took to paint when supplied underfoot. Goats will do anything to please their masters.  The sisters teach his cousins to bite brushes and streak acrylic on a matte. One goat will not leave the milking machine until she has finished two canvases. But not all are smitten with the craft. A ram plunged his horns into the matte and ran it up against the fence till it stuck. The competition, well, just too much.

One has to admire the inventive setting, gutted trailer on the farm, verbena inching toward the stairs, its gold offering. And the initial approach, fry pan hanging in the wind, wood spoon to call the gallery attendant. Such details suggest the original derivation of the work, springing from a humble life, curtains torn at the windows, chickens running around like diapered toddlers. Personally, I’d like more space between paintings, to encourage reflection, though photos of the Van Goat protégé who created each work are a nice touch. The necklaces with trinkets painted by goat kids could be better lit; I almost lost them in the mirage of mist. The pelleted sand underfoot provides a visceral experience of the goats’ creative calling, inviting the viewer to walk with care, slow down for art’s sake.


Carol Barrett has published two volumes of poetry and one of creative nonfiction. Her writing appears in journals in the fields of literature, psychology, gerontology, education, medicine, women’s studies, religious studies and art therapy. She teaches for Union Institute & University and for Saybrook University.



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