When I was ten years old, I had a t-shirt with a stick figure drawing of a boy on it—the boy was running from circles with squiggly lines behind them, and the caption read, “Boys r stupid, throw rocks at them.” Seventeen years later, I faced a painting featuring the same stick figure, same caption at the Ross Art Group, a Midtown Manhattan gallery.
Todd Goldman, the artist behind this poignant but childlike image, has clearly been busy since the preteen version of myself bought pieces from his clothing line. Still under the brand David & Goliath, Goldman sells tees of his popular designs to this day. From “Peas on Earth” (literally peas standing on an image of the globe—I used to have socks like this) to “Spooning leads to forking” (a fork and a spoon holding hands), his adorable puns adorn the bodies of children and adults alike.
This makes sense, since one can essentially sum up Goldman’s humor as adult themes wrapped up in kids’ packaging. At least, gallery owner Mickey Ross described it that way.
Ross met Goldman years ago, when Goldman had purchased a vintage poster, the Ross Art Group’s specialty, from him. Years later, Goldman reached out to Ross again. “What’s your life? What have you been doing?” the gallery owner asked the artist. The talk ended with Ross encouraging Goldman to have an exhibition at his gallery, the former told me during the show, appropriately titled, “Never Grow Up.”
The title is appropriate, in part, because Goldman’s art seems not to have matured much since I first bought one of his t-shirts (okay, I was ten, my mom bought it for me). This isn’t a good or bad thing, it simply is. First of all, many of the popular designs remain the same (“boys are stupid,” “peas on earth”), but the themes of Goldman’s work still very much reflect the ethos of ten, twenty years ago.
A friend of mine, art conservator and library scientist Victoria Velasco, deemed a lot of the messages behind Goldman’s pieces “quintessential 90s girl feminism.” Indeed, Spice Girls style girl power, in the form of “girls rule, boys suck,” prevailed alongside paintings that proclaimed the likes of “Golddiggers—like hookers but smarter,” and “Spandex is a privilege, not a right.”
The latter two messages, while certainly jokes, don’t fit in with today’s dialogue of “woke” feminism. The second shames non-skinny women, the first judges sexual behaviors. Another painting, not on display but listed with the 150 pieces in Goldman’s “Never Grow Up” collection, pokes fun at “dumb blondes.”
But, let’s not make a judgment call yet. The humor in these pieces comes from their blatant representations of, let’s call it, retro feminism. They are juvenile and dated, and that can be refreshing. When applied to current subjects, the humor stays the same. A painting of a Trump-like figure wearing tighty whities and nothing else reads, “If you think I have tiny hands you should see my…” It’s a current joke, but it’s the elementary school version of it, complete with censorship of the word for male genitalia.
While an air of nostalgia wafted through Goldman’s art opening, being around his work jolts viewers into the present. It’s hard not to snap to attention in the face of his bright colors, bold lines, and adorable creatures (be they peas, giraffes, ice cream cones, or chicks—the bird kind—wearing bras). Relying on puns to illustrate “adult” topics, like a single bedside table captioned, “One night stand,” Goldman brings a certain innocence to his subjects that engenders benefit of the doubt when it comes to pieces that read, “I’m naturally blonde, so please speek[sic] slowly.”
Part of the proceeds from the “Never Grow Up” exhibition’s opening night will go to the I Have a Dream Foundation, which seeks to help low-income children go on to graduate college. Check out the exhibition online through the Ross Art Group’s website.