Cartoons Extend Beyond Childhood For This Chicago Artist


Griffin Goodman in blue t-shirt sitting on a stool holding a painting

Artist Griffin Goodman’s artwork addresses social issues using a heavy dose of nostalgia.

If we reflect on our childhoods, we might find that there were clues to the métier we chose as adults. Look at one of artist Griffin Goodman’s works, and you’ll likely guess that he loved cartoons and pop culture. But look closer, and you’ll also see a shrewd eye for social commentary. 

Griffin Goodman using a paint roller on wood in front of three circular paintings

Goodman's acrylic-on-wood pieces, such as (left to right) "The Lion, The Boy, and The Lady Bugs," "Running with the Bulls" and "The Lion, The Witch and The Good Boy," have a nostalgic tone.

Grouping of cartoon paintings in an art studio by Griffin Goodman

"There are so many different layers to a cartoon," muses Goodman.

A cartoon artwork and acrylic paints on a table by Griffin Goodman

“Chicago Supreme Hype-Boy" reflects Goodman's lifelong passion for streetwear.

cartoon drawings and paintings hanging on the wall and one on the floor

While Goodman often paints his cartoon- and toy-inspired images on wood panels, he also experiments with other surfaces, such as bedsheets.

a spray paint artwork by Griffin Goodman with cans of spray paint in front of it

Besides Goodman's main medium of acrylics, other materials such as spray paint (bottom, right) can come into play.

Griffin Goodman describes his works—intricate paintings comprising well-known iconography, brands and cartoon characters— as a “Where’s Waldo meets Warhol experience.” Much of his art references his childhood, from The Smurfs to Pop-Tarts, but the whole of those myriad parts represents much more. 

Usually, Goodman begins his work in his East Garfield Park studio with a memory or object from his childhood, such as a chattering-teeth toy or a rubber chicken. From there, he starts sketching while also making notes and lists of other objects, often pairing things that wouldn’t normally go together. He’ll apply the sketch to the surface—which is often a wood panel but has also included large canvases and one series of ceramic Etch A Sketches cast from molds. Intricate as they may be, the designs are far from set in stone at that stage. As Goodman applies the acrylic paint, often playing with thickness, the image can change drastically. “I have some sense of a layout before I pick up the paintbrush,” he says. “The pencil lays the land, but the paint brings it all together.” 

Beyond the colorful frivolity of the works are deeper themes—mental health, sexual harassment, puberty, relationships. One circular painting, titled Men Are Like Dogs, Be a Good Boy, came to fruition at the height of the #MeToo movement. “How men treat women is awful and it’s a conversation that we need to have,” Goodman explains. “I have a twin sister and we had these talks as more people were called out.” Inspired, the artist created a work featuring a statue of Marilyn Monroe with giant, beady eyes surrounded by dogs barking at her. “There are a couple of mischievous ones, a couple of cute ones, but it summed up the discussions with my sister.” 

But while Goodman weaves in these deeper themes, his priority is helping people recapture a sense of childhood whimsy. “I hope they relate to the stories I’m telling,” he says, “but also go back to that beautiful feeling of being a child and free and loving the little things.”