Arts & Entertainment

Freeport’s Dr. Roger Goodspeed: Transforming Music into Abstract Art

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After he retired in 1996, Dr. Roger Goodspeed became a full-fledged artist. Meet the man whose abstract work has been garnering local attention over the past five years.

Before pursuing abstract art, Goodspeed was an avid painter of birds, wildlife, flowers and realistic subjects.

When Freeport artist Dr. Roger Goodspeed closes his eyes at a concert, he’s not sleeping. He’s watching the music in his head.

The notes transfer to pictures in his mind; a high note may be bright, hot yellow or red with sharp, jagged edges. Base notes tend to emerge as large, cool blue or purple, rounded images. Chords are all mixed together.

Each piece of music conveys feeling and emotion – some are clashing and upsetting while others are soft, soothing and smooth, lending similar feelings to the abstract paintings that Goodspeed creates. The retired obstetrician/gynecologist has always seen music in his mind, a perceptual phenomenon known as synesthesia, but it was after he saw the classic Disney movie “Fantasia” that he considered trying to paint the shapes and emotions from the music he heard.

“I was mesmerized by the beginning of the video, in which dramatic lighting effects enhanced the magnificent orchestra music conducted by the maestro,” Goodspeed says. As the film progressed, bursts of enchanting colors, light, contours, shapes and lines on dark backgrounds transferred the energy, mood and vibrations of the instruments into ethereal artistic expressions. Disney had nailed it, and Goodspeed felt inspired.

Goodspeed grew up in Detroit, where he spent three years of his childhood as an invalid. He suffered from polio and a number of medical issues, and when he was nine, he crashed his bicycle into a truck. These were difficult days for a young boy who gazed longingly out the window and cried because he couldn’t play baseball and do what the other kids did.

“There was no TV, and radio soaps got old very quickly,” says Goodspeed, now 85.

In those days before the internet or video games, Goodspeed turned to painting. His mother gave him a set of tempera paints and an Audubon bird book in hopes that he would find some joy in creating art. He found that he truly did have a talent and began painting very realistic, detailed birds.

Despite the hard times, Goodspeed calls those days a blessing in disguise. It was because of his illnesses that he found a career in medicine and an avocation in art.
He took a few art classes in school, but considers a mechanical drawing class to have been the most beneficial.

“Drawing a simple thing like a screw from all sides and angles taught me a great deal about spatial relationships,” he says.

As he painted, he broke “the rules of art” by copying from other artists – but that was how he learned about light, shape, composition and perspective. Andrew Wyeth was among the painters he most admired.

During his working years at what’s now FHN, there was little time for painting. But after retirement in 1996, Goodspeed was able to travel more with his wife, Jane, and take advantage of painting workshops in Texas, Louisiana and Wisconsin. While visiting the Indonesian province of Bali, he participated in a workshop taught by artist Doug Walton.

Goodspeed also took a class from the late Stella Perkins, a noted Cedarville, Ill., artist and teacher who studied at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago.

It was around the time he saw “Fantasia” in 2013 that Goodspeed, a longtime painter of birds, wildlife, flowers and realistic subjects, felt as if he’d reached an artistic desert. He was eager to try something different and to challenge himself.

That’s when he discovered urban watercolors by world-renowned watercolor artist and teacher John Salminen. Salminen has earned more than 200 awards in national and international exhibitions and is a signature member of the American Watercolor Society and the National Watercolor Society.

When Goodspeed signed up for one of Salminen’s workshops, he thought he was going to learn about creating urban landscapes. But the focus was more on abstract painting.

Goodspeed discovered it isn’t just a blob of paint splashed on a canvas, but an artistic expression that conveys a message. Out of that first workshop emerged his first musical abstract watercolor entitled “All that Jazz.” He participated in three of Salminen’s classes.

Goodspeed found the abstract techniques difficult and challenging. Now, his eyes light up when he talks about his imaginative pieces, which he prefers to paint in acrylics. He listens to music over and over, forming a basic idea in his mind. From there, he sketches it and revises it many times before painting the finished piece.

For the past five years he has continued to explore the relationship between music and art, producing a number of vibrant, abstract works.

His work has been featured in exhibits at Highland Community College in Freeport and The Next Picture Show Gallery in Dixon, Ill. He has also done one-man exhibits locally as well as in Texas and Wisconsin; plus, his work has been displayed at Monroe Hospital in Monroe, Wis.

Humble about his talent, Goodspeed likes to share his knowledge with budding art students. He has offered beginning watercolor classes at his home studio and most recently taught watercolor classes at Highland Community College, where he will teach again next spring. He also has taught a workshop there in creating abstract art from music.

Lucky students at Highland have additionally learned silk scarf painting techniques from the multi-talented Goodspeed, who became fascinated with the capillary effect of dyes on the silk, similar to the capillary action in watercolor, and as a result has produced some stunning wearable art.

Goodspeed has conducted workshops at a college in Tyler, Texas, been a volunteer art teacher for local second- and third-grade students, and offered painting instruction alongside his wife at Pinecrest Community’s memory care unit in Mt. Morris, Ill. Never one to sit on his laurels, he also started “Paint Inn at Parkview” at Parkview Nursing Home in Freeport. A monthly “play day” for local painters, the event includes lunch and plenty of camaraderie for amateurs and accomplished artists alike.

“There are no dues, no teachers and no rules,” Goodspeed says. “It’s a time to enjoy art in one’s own style and pace.”
While he is open to painting commissioned work, the octogenarian is always looking to grow and challenge himself. He wants to continue exploring techniques with his musical abstracts, also noting that art offers so many mediums to try.

“I’ve always been interested in sculpture, and then there are pastels,” he says with a twinkle in his eye.

Who knows what he’ll do next?

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