Navigating our way to Ardith Goodwin’s painting studio in Semmes proved quite a challenge. Without a street address, we followed landmarks and over-the-phone directions until we pulled up to her sanctuary among the trees. Walking through the woodsy, 42-acre property felt like wandering through a different world, somewhere far from the always-bustling Mobile. Gone were the rumbling car engines and blaring tugboat horns as the birds perched on the tree branches serenaded us. Perhaps such a place is fitting for a woman with an entire fantastical world in her mind, a realm she uses to connect to the one in which we stand.
The Land of Ardithian, as she has aptly dubbed it, is populated with characters and stories of her own invention. They find form in the vibrant, abstract paintings that surround us in her outdoor studio. Ardith paints with the spirit of someone who knows precisely why she walks this earth and with the imagination of someone who has lived many lives before this one. A self-taught painter and former art teacher at St. Paul’s Episcopal School, she turned to art in her 20s to help cope with a debilitating bone disease, teaching herself about colors and lines and perspective. She has worked to master her craft and help others tap into their “inner child, ” while diving fearlessly into the world of abstract art.
ABOVE Her canvases often feature mixed media, including acrylics and Stabilo 3-in-1 pencils, which are a combination of colored pencil, watercolor and wax crayon.
So, what exactly is Ardithian?
That is the magical place where my imagination lives. I am currently writing a children’s book, “The Fantastical Characters from the Land of Ardithian.” It’s how I move creatively throughout the world.
How did Ardithian come to be?
Being creative is my love, and that is how I communicate with people. The framework I work with is my belief that the world is broken, but we’re all still beautiful. You can overcome huge obstacles in your life if you learn to approach your life creatively — at least that’s the way I’ve lived.
When do you expect to finish the book?
My goal this coming year is to get in the studio and get the book done. It will probably come in stages because right now I have 67 characters, which is a bit ridiculous. But when they show up, I pay attention. I’m also thinking there will be two versions: a book of poetry and chapter books. I write a poem about each character. It’s a huge project! I’ve been working on it for four or five years in bits and pieces. I’m so eager to see how it unfolds when I dive into it this year with big chunks of time. It may surprise me.
What is your process like?
Sometimes I start with a study — kind of a rough sketch on paper — and I’ll begin with a specific idea in mind. Other times I begin intuitively by laying down a base coat of color. Like I teach my students, I never marry the base coat but move toward building visual interest through glazes, marks and layers until I know where I am headed. There is a balance between structure and pure freedom for me.
how do you know when a piece is finished?
I have an internal peace when a painting is complete. There will be a strong balance of contrast, darks and lights as well as an overall cohesive style throughout the piece. This gets a whole lot easier the more one paints and learns to “see” the elements of impact for visual art pieces.
ABOVE LEFT Ardith’s unique abstract paintings often depict characters from her imagination who play important roles in the books she’s currently writing. Here, she portrays a mother and child, which she worked on and completed following this photo shoot.
ABOVE RIGHT A mixed media work entitled “Princess Fairy Fartblossom and Sir Flatulancealot” shows an Ardithian couple on their wedding day.
Where do you find your inspiration?
It’s my belief that we’re surrounded by energy at all times, but we don’t see it. Like when we plug something into a socket — we don’t see it, but it’s there. There’s energy that flows through us, flows around us; it impacts us and we impact it. I tend to visualize that and ask, what would it look like if you could see it? A lot of that is connected to the energy of love. I’m quite idealistic in my optimism, but I’d rather that than be pessimistic. Go ahead and call me a Pollyanna — my husband does all the time!
Do you believe in self-actualization as an artist?
For me, the journey is key. Number one is all about creativity, my point of view. I value what I do and I feel confident where I am, but it’s a much bigger picture than just painting. It’s a way of life. I’m going to give it all that I have and strive for excellence and mastery but not with the mindset that it needs to be perfect. Perfection is a mindset that humans created to set themselves up for failure.
What do you love about creating art in Mobile?
Mobile is such a cool place. There are some amazing creative humans that live in this city. I’m one of the cofounders of Artology Gallery and Gifts (which features work from local artists). And the Alabama Contemporary Art Center is such an amazing space. Just having a place for artists to fly in from around the nation and take a workshop in Mobile is exciting.
There’s this quote from Eugene Walter about how mobile is “sweet lunacy's county seat, ” and “the land of clowns, ghosts, and musicians …”
Oh my gosh! I come from a family of professional clowns! My sister and my mom, my aunts, were professional clowns. I used to be one! For a short stint, I was Blueberry the Clown. I was a hoop clown with a yellow wig. It was outrageous! I’m quite bubbly and joy-ful now, but I didn’t care for the years I was a clown. But when people met me, they were like, you’re the most hysterical clown ever!
The power of the mind never ceases to amaze. It can recognize splendor, sure, but its true strength lies in the ability to create exquisite beauty out of hardship. And there is no better proof of that than in Ardith. Through pain, she sought hope in the comforting embrace of a world all her own, and her life’s mission is to welcome all others to the wonderful, fantastical, imaginative Land of Ardithian.
For information about Ardith’s workshops, or to purchase or commission a piece, visit ardithgoodwin.com.
text and interview by Chelsea Wallace Adams and parker butler • photos by jennie tewell