Johanna Goodman was a freelance illustrator for 23 years after graduating from Parsons School of Design in 1992. She began The Catalogue of Imaginary Beings in 2015 when she realised the commission based work was not giving her enough room to breathe creatively. Inspired by John James Audubon’s 19th century illustrated compendium, Birds of America, Goodman started the collages with the aim of developing them into a book. What started as characters sewed together from scraps of fabric soon evolved into a coherent series of Imaginary Beings that loom large over the equally imaginary landscapes they inhabit.
These collages give Goodman the creative freedom to express herself organically whilst maintaining that link to classical portraiture and her illustration roots. They equally give her the physical freedom to not be tied to paper-and-glue; making these pieces digitally means that her creativity is literally unlimited. Her only restriction is what exists online and she draws from a vast bank of seen and never-before-seen imagery to create these magical, almost mythical, beings that touch us with history and just as quickly escape into the contemporary climate.
As well as giving her an unlimited creative potential, these digital collages are also a way for Goodman to draw attention to less-used imagery that might not otherwise have been seen. In her words, ‘it also gives me an opportunity to use imagery that’s different, and not trendy, and not tasteful, and not of our current standards.’ This allows her to bring together past and present in an unexpected way. The Catalogue of Imaginary Beings draws inspiration from a vast spectrum, including surrealism, symbolism, cultural artefacts and the ever-present material detritus that surrounds us every day. Each Imaginary Being created is a composite figure, made up of history, nature, fashion; it embodies the Universal and the Personal, and allows us to step inside the mind of its creator, if only for the briefest of moments.
Her method is quite simple, although the density of content in her artworks might indicate otherwise. Having no specific creative objective with The Catalogue of Imaginary Beings is liberating because her work can go in any direction. Ideas are constantly floating around and she absorbs them, which is what gives her work that organic quality. She reacts to imagery she finds and allows the creative flow to happen naturally, then follows it until she feels it has reached its conclusion. Imaginary Beings started as female figures and continues to evolve in that direction but Goodman has since added male characters to her repertoire, including an Eskimo dressed in an iceberg jumper and Zeus covered in iridescent bubbles.
For Goodman, the meaning of these collages comes from the people that view them, she has no desire to impart on anyone a thought-provoking interpretation. She does insist on one thing: that her figures tower above the rest. The Imaginary Beings that she creates are commanding, full of vigour and animation, completely unlike those waif-like figures found in magazines. It’s a deep dive into an unknown creative well with no expectation of what will emerge when she finishes.
Since Goodman started The Catalogue of Imaginary Beings in 2015, she has received numerous commissions and worked on multiple collaborative projects. In 2017, she collaborated with Habitat to produce a series of skateboard covers, and in the same year worked with West Elm to produce a home collection, including cushion cases and plates. Her largest commissioned work to date is “Subway Muses” she created for the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority’s Art Underground project. Her Imaginary Being Subway Muses appeared throughout the New York City Metropolitan Transit System, and were used as floor-to-ceiling banners in Grand Central Station as part of the “Poetry in Motion” event the same year.
Goodman has won the American Illustration Award of Excellence every year since 2013. She was recently awarded the Gold Medal from The Society of Illustrators in the category of Editorial Illustration and won the Gold Medal in the category of Surface Design in 2018. She was awarded an Artist Fellowship Grant from the New York State Council on the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts in 2017. Her work has been exhibited since 2001; She featured in the recently released Collage By Women: 50 Essential Contemporary Artists, published by Promopress Editions, 2019.