Dan Goozeé | Plein-Air Poet

Early Morning Coffee, oil, 16 x 20. painting, Southwest Art
Early Morning Coffee, oil, 16 x 20.

By Molly Siple


California artist Dan Goozeé has a talent for painting many subjects, including landscapes, still-lifes, and figures. Regardless of his subject matter, however, he is always searching for a sense of the universal in the specific.

“A painting should be more than a record of what you see,” Goozeé says. “I’m not waiting for Old Faithful to blow just so I can paint the steam. I want to capture the spiritual element that exists in all great art. In the landscape, it’s the presence of the land and our connection to it. I see this in paintings by George Inness, of course, but I also see it in the work of painters like Thomas Moran, who have a much tighter style.”

Goozeé feels the same way about portraiture. “The viewer should be able to look through the eyes and into the soul and get a strong sense of who that person really is. Velázquez was a master at this. Drawing and painting are a way of communicating ideas and emotions—a form of storytelling, if you will. The key word here is communicate. Whether the audience sees the work as laborious or poetic depends upon the skill of the artist and what he or she has to say.”

Spring Morning Near Ramona, oil, 30 x 36.,painting, Southwest Art
Spring Morning Near Ramona, oil, 30 x 36.

Goozeé, 54, was born in Astoria, OR, and raised in nearby Seaside, where his grandfather managed the local movie theater. He saw every movie that came along, which may explain in part his move to Los Angeles, CA, to study at the Art Center College of Design, which was recommended by one of his high-school teachers.

“It was more like a trade school for artists back then,” Goozeé says. “The instructors emphasized basic techniques such as drawing. One of my teachers, Don Putnam, used to say that learning to draw never kept anyone from being a genius.”

After Goozeé graduated with a BA in 1965, his teacher and mentor, Joseph Henninger, sent him to 20th-Century Fox “to look around.” Based on his portfolio, they hired him on the spot. Goozeé went on to become a senior illustrator and later a production illustrator, working in the same capacity  for Metro Goldwyn Mayer and Walt Disney for the next 20 years.

A Soft-Lit Day in Spring, Santa Monica, oil, 9 x 12.,painting, Southwest Art
A Soft-Lit Day in Spring, Santa Monica, oil, 9 x 12.

“At 20th-Century Fox I met Emil Kosa Jr., who was a prominent California artist back then,” Goozeé says. “I was also guided by western painter Jim Reynolds, and through him I met Bettina Steinke, who gave me lots of valuable advice. I also learned from Audubon Tyler, who was quite a bit older than me and specialized in portraits.”

Goozeé was the production illustrator on “The Poseidon Adventure” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” helping plan the filming of the final scene of the spaceship landing on earth. He also produced the promotional art for three James Bond movies and “Crocodile Dundee.”

Redheaded Girl, oil, 12 x 9.,painting, Southwest Art
Redheaded Girl, oil, 12 x 9.

Goozeé’s specialty is coordinating live action and stunt work with mechanical and optical effects the source of “movie magic.” This includes, for example, a scene in which a volcano explodes and lava pours through town. “I storyboard every detail of the action and then the director and stunt crew plan the scene using these visuals.”

Goozeé is currently teaching a class in oil painting at Disney Studios, where he is a visual consultant to Walt Disney Imagineering, producing design concepts for theme parks. One day, when the class was painting an Asian female model, Goozeé began by blocking out the large planes of her face and the shape of her hair, telling the students to think like sculptors in the early stages of painting the head. He next explained how to paint the eyebrows and pointed out that the dark area of the nostrils looks more alive with a little color added.

The students, who work as illustrators for Disney, gave Goozeé their complete attention, watching in silence each touch of his brush to the canvas. “How many portraits did you finish before you felt comfortable?” one student asked. Goozeé answered, “Are you kidding? Whenever you sit down to paint the head, you’re learning to paint all over again. There are no formulas.”

Deserted Barn at Twilight, oil, 14 x 18.,painting, Southwest Art
Deserted Barn at Twilight, oil, 14 x 18.

Goozeé has a great sense of modesty about his work. “Looking at artists such as Velázquez and John Singer Sargent both humbles and inspires me. When someone is complimented in Japanese, there is an answer that means roughly ‘Thank you, but I am not very good yet.’ That’s how I feel about my work—I still consider myself a student. Last year I attended a workshop with Richard Schmid, a painter I have long admired, and it was a tremendous experience. I was amazed not only at his skill but at his generosity.”

Goozeé loves California and has become known for his plein-air paintings of the region. “In the Los Angeles area alone is every conceivable environment, including the ocean, the mountains, and the desert. I like painting in Malibu Canyon and the Santa Suzanna Mountains and sometimes at a ranch near Ramona owned by friends of mine. The altitude is 3,000 feet, so the atmosphere is constantly changing: Atmospheric fog trails across the hills in the morning and clouds edge up the valleys in the afternoon.”

Mist on the Water, Backbay, oil, 12 x 20.,painting, Southwest Art
Mist on the Water, Backbay, oil, 12 x 20.

One of Goozeé’s paintings of the Ramona ranch area was purchased last year by the Los Angeles Athletic Club. He is one of only three contemporary artists whose works have been acquired by the club.

Over the years Goozeé has won numerous awards. A signature member of the California Art Club, he received the Gold Medal for figure painting in their 1994 Gold Medal Exhibition and third prize in their 1997 San Juan Capistrano art competition. He is also a signature member of the Oil Painters of America and received an award of excellence in their 1995 show.

Lotus Blossoms, oil, 7 x 12.,painting, Southwest Art
Lotus Blossoms, oil, 7 x 12.

Among his colleagues Goozeé is known as a superb draftsman. “Edges fascinate me,” he says. “Drawing is not so much about line—a line is just a graphic device used to define an object. When you squint, the edges of objects become soft because the area where two things meet is really just a difference in tone.” Goozeé’s skill in rendering is particularly evident in his chalk and charcoal drawings—his superb technical ability lends strength to everything he does.

“As I get older, what appeals to me most is creating a beautiful composition,” Goozeé says. “I try to see a subject as abstracted shapes. The landscape teaches you this because you can’t paint all the details of nature—you have to simplify just to get it down on canvas. I also use the play of light passing through a landscape or washing over a figure to create an evocative moment that will be both timeless and transitory. There’s something pure and simple about good art.”


Photos courtesy the artist and Joan Irvine Smith Fine Arts, Laguna Beach, CA.


Featured in January 1998