Treasures from the Vault: Yis ‘’Noségo’’ Goodwin

Jenna Gilley, Associate Curator of Exhibitions

I’ve found myself wandering around downtown often this summer, as an East Central habitant does, and admiring our city’s multitude of murals. Readers may know Yis ‘’Noségo’’ Goodwin from his whimsical Nomad mural on the side of Pint & Slice or from his enticing animal mural, The Teacher, which welcomes visitors into the FWMoA’s John S. and James L. Knight Learning Center. These are just two of Noségo’s numerous mural commissions, extending from his hometown of Philadelphia all the way to California and even Rome.

Set against a purple-blue background, an imaginary create with three eyes and the body of a snake rests at the bottom of the canvas. Emerging from his abdomen is a snow-globe like structure with bubbles and three tigers rising in the air.
Yis “Noségo” Goodwin, American, b. 1985. Tales of a Dreamcatcher. Oil on wood panel, 2014. Museum purchase, 2014.73.

Noségo also creates beautifully rendered paintings, like the one above, on a smaller scale. The Philadelphia Inquirer perfectly described his surrealist work: “as if Salvador Dalí made a sentient sandwich from your early childhood memories”. The FWMoA is pleased to have two of these paintings, Field Notes (below) and Tales of a Dreamcatcher (above), in our permanent collection. Both relay Noségo’s continual themes of infinite inspiration and boundless imagination through their expressive, surreal characters and expansive use of color.

Noségo was born and raised in South Philly. He has stated that his style is rooted in his childhood toybox, where GI Joe figures overlapped with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, amalgamating in his mind to form fanciful, anthropomorphic creatures. His mother was an artist; therefore, he grew up surrounded by creativity, recalling “It’s like it’s embedded in me… I was very fortunate to have supportive family members.” In class, he was always the kid getting in trouble for doodling. The streets of Philly also had an impact on his formation as an artist. Noségo started participating in his local street art scene as a teenager. After repeated rejections from art scholarship programs, he decided if no one wanted to look at his work, he would make them see it publicly. Through street art, he found a community who made their own rules and had unique voices. This inspiration extends into his work today, displayed in his skilled aerosol mural compositions and original subject matter. In fact, even his artistic pseudonym, “Noségo” (a play on his name), stems from the tradition of tagging, or using a signature nickname to mark the surface of a wall in graffiti. Noségo notes having an amazing art teacher at the Philadelphia High School for Creative + Performing Art, and he holds a B.F.A. in Film /Digital Video from UArts in Philadelphia.

In Field Notes, we can actively see these characteristics and influences. In this painting, a snouted creature with a curling body is situated against a glowing background. Its face is solid and densely rendered while its body is composed of wispy silver forms. A luminous butterfly perches on the creature’s nose. Two cartoonish legs of bones with mitt-like claws crawl forward beneath it. This image shows Noségo’s characteristic mix of cute and absurd. Our creature, while cuddly with a lot of beautiful ornamentation and pleasant motifs in his twisted body (flowers, bears, and glistening raindrops), leaves us slightly on edge due to his crazed expression and skeletal arms.

The realistic head of a rat whose body is cut into slices of silver filled with flowers, a bear, and dots, the artist creates a surrealist animal. A light-filled butterfly rests on the nose and it's paws are disconnected from the body.
Yis “Noségo” Goodwin, American, b. 1985. Field Notes. Oil on wood panel, 2014. Museum purchase, 2014.74.

Noségo is drawing from the long history of surrealism in art, although perhaps subconsciously (Ha!). Famous surrealists like Salvador Dalí often melded human, animal, object, and simple abstract forms together to create wacky characters that frequented their compositions. This practice was an exercise to connect the awoken body with the sleeping mind, or so-called subconscious. This, according to Freudian belief, is the primary source of human behavior. Similarly to this theory, Noségo states that his creations are often the embodiment of his feelings and emotions. They are the combination of complex thoughts, like the nostalgia of childhood, and continue to grow and evolve like Noségo himself. Perhaps the combination of the many painting styles seen in Field Notes, such as the realistic head versus cartoon arms, can be seen as a progression through Noségo’s artistic journey from street art to fine art. Neither are more important—on the contrary, they are both necessary to form Noségo as a current artist—and therefore meld harmoniously together. Slices are another frequently used visual device he employs to expose varying layers of the creatures’ so-called innerworkings.

However, rather than drawing from subconscious sleep, Noségo prefers the idea of internal “infinite imagination”. When he begins a new painting, he enjoys the feeling of approaching the canvas with an open mind, generally going in with only ideas of shapes and movement. Once this is established, Noségo works the piece like a puzzle, fitting new elements in day by day as inspiration strikes. More than anything, Noségo desires his audience to come away inspired by his work. “You always want your work to empower others because that is what great art does,” he says. “It’s all about being the greatest you.”

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