After nearly 60 years in the art and illustration business, Jeremiah Goodman has never been busier. His highly skilled architectural renderings of the homes and apartments of famous people recently appeared in Architectural Digest, he had a one-man show in California last month, and he’s in the seemingly endless process of redecorating and rearranging both his New York and Sarasota apartments.
The schedule seems to agree with him. With sparkling blue eyes and an energy most of us would love to possess at any age, let alone at Goodman’s 79, Jeremiah (he’s always signed his work with just his first name) clearly enjoys both his life (strolls from his downtown condo to Burns Court or a day spa) and his work (which has included lively, intimate paintings of the interiors of apartments of Vogue legend Diana Vreeland, film stars like Greta Garbo, designer Billy Baldwin and former President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan).
It’s a career Jeremiah arrived at naturally. Growing up in Niagara Falls, one of five children in an artistic family, he attended Lafayette High School in Buffalo, where, he says, he was always encouraged in his drawing by very good teachers. Having continued his studies at the Franklin School of Professional Art in New York, he got his first real professional experience working as an illustrator and designer for Joseph B. Platt, who had designed interiors for such classics as Rebecca and Gone with the Wind.
But when World War II erupted, Goodman decided to return home to Buffalo, where he worked in the Curtiss-Wright Corporation’s experimental division. After the war, he began doing editorial illustrations for New York-based magazines including House and Garden and Harper’s Bazaar.
He also made the acquaintance of actor Sir John Gielgud (who invited him to England and introduced him to friends whose rooms he eventually rendered), and composer Richard Rodgers and his wife Dorothy, for whom he illustrated a book called "My Favorite Things: A Personal Guide to Decorating and Entertaining."
"I’m eternally grateful to her because of the incredible people I met through her that I never thought I would," says Goodman. "Those were the days when I met Pamela Harriman, Artur Rubinstein, President Kennedy when he was still a senator. All of this time I was doing monthly covers for Interior Design magazine, as well as all the print advertisements for Lord and Taylor-I worked for them for 35 years in all."
That experience rendering everything from furniture to handbags proved invaluable in developing his signature style, which involves working in a combination of watercolor and gouache with broad brush strokes, usually on illustration board, and conveys his keen sense of dimension and of the play of light and shadow. "I’m an artist, an illustrator, but also a designer," he says. "And that’s helped me in my approach to the paintings. The project dictates the style. I did some of my best work for the Rodgers, work that was sort of more cerebral in nature. For someone else I might do every little detail. When I did [jewelry designer] Elsa Peretti’s apartment in Spain last year, I did a painting of her dog. An Andy Warhol painting of her dog was right behind me when I did it, so I tried to better it. I’m working right now on a piece for Bill Blass."
Most of the paintings, especially in the ’50s and ’60s, were done on the spot, commissioned by architects (I.M. Pei, Phillip Johnson), decorators (Dorothy Draper) or industrial designers (Raymond Loewy); and Jeremiah continues to work that way when he can. But in some cases, as with the New York City apartment of the elusive Garbo, he has worked from photographs, notes and sketches from interior designers or other colleagues.
Several of his renderings have been featured in the book "The Illustrated Room," which pays homage to illustrators who’ve worked with designers since the dawn of the 20th century. A description of one of his paintings calls him "a modern master of interior rendering" and "one of the most admired practitioners of this art form."
"So many people are afraid of mimicking someone else," Jeremiah says of his career. "When I first started, if I admired people I tried to imitate them.you create your own style afterwards. I used to look at everyone else’s work to try to emulate. It’s important to keep your eyes open all the time."
And to be able to convey what you see to your viewers. A catalog for a recent gallery show in New York contains a preface written by good friend (and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright) Edward Albee that says, "A drawing or a painting of an environment must do more for us than a color photograph would.It must give us the experience of the thing..A wall, for example, must not be literal; the artist must give us a ‘sense’ of the wall, how it functions in and relates to its environment, not simply how it ‘is,’ or ‘looks.’ And this is the feeling I get looking at Jeremiah Goodman’s paintings of interiors. I learn what a room is ‘like’ and how it ‘feels,’ what it will do to me when I am really there."