Living on the streets of San Francisco, Ronnie Goodman was never “homeless,” for his heart was ever at home in his art. “I am inspired by the beauty of this city and its diversity, balanced with the struggles of human despair,” he wrote before he died. “With my brush, I try to capture these raw emotions.
Former San Quentin resident Ronnie Goodman successfully made it onto the national stage as an artist before passing away at the age of 60.
Goodman was preparing to fly to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City for the opening of an exhibit featuring nine of his paintings depicting life at SQ. He suddenly passed away at his homeless encampment in San Francisco in August 2020.
Goodman’s paintings were displayed at the museum as part of an exhibit entitled “Marking Time Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration.” The exhibit was curated by University of Rutgers Professor Nicole R. Fleetwood.
“Ronnie was brilliant and, whatever his struggles, there was a light that emanated from him,” Fleetwood told the San Francisco Chronicle in a Sept. 25, 2020 article. “He drew people to him.”
Fleetwood discovered Goodman’s art in the mid-2000s while researching art for her book of the same name released in April 2020. She was particularly impressed by the art Goodman did while serving time at SQ.
“I hired Ronnie to help us do some wall art around the prison,” said Scott McKinstry, SQ resident, and artist. “He was really good.”
Goodman did charcoal portraits of fellow SQ residents, oil paintings of the yard, and incarcerated people living through desperate times. He did linocuts of baseball in Folsom, jazz in SQ, and light streaming through the bullet holes in the roof of a building at SQ. He was also known for painting murals around the prison.
“He honed his skills as a portrait artist in prison,” photographer Joseph Johnston, a friend of Goodman’s, wrote in an email.
When Goodman was released from prison, he began painting the walls and streets of San Francisco.
Goodman was born in Los Angeles but moved to San Francisco as a baby. “He says he probably became an artist because many of the people he hung out with were artists,” Johnston wrote. Goodman lived in a hospital-green high-rise apartment building on Laguna Street and played in Jefferson Park as a child.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed met Goodman when she was director of the African American Art & Culture Complex. “I liked his work a lot. And I don’t like everybody’s work. I’m pretty particular,” Breed told the Chronicle.
Over the years Breed helped arrange places for Goodman to live and exhibited some of Goodman’s paintings in her office at City Hall.
Frank Ruona met Goodman in 2005 when Ruona was
as coach of the SQ 1000 Mile Running Club. Ruona knew him as a long-distance runner.
He said he and Ronnie often ran and worked out at SQ. “He was the best runner in the club and he held many of the club records for the various races that we’d run at SQ.”
Goodman and Ruona worked together to help create the first SQ Marathon. In 2008 and 2009 Goodman finished the marathon in first place, then
before he paroled in 2010.
“From 2010 until 2015, Ronnie ran in six Dipsea races, several half marathons and various other races” said Ruona.
After Goodman paroled, he helped raise awareness and money for different causes, according to Ruona.
“He raised a significant amount of money for Hospitality House while running the San Francisco Half Marathon in 2014,” said Ruona.
That same year, Goodman’s son was stabbed to death near 24th and Capp Streets. “I’m taking this pretty tough, here,” he told Johnston. Goodman stopped running and that’s when Coach Ruona said he began to deteriorate. “I believe that Ronnie started using drugs after moving into the Redstone Building,” said Ruona.
Ruona and other 1000 Mile Club coaches took Goodman out to lunch and tried to set him up in a hotel. Ruona told Goodman he’d have to follow the hotels rules.
“Ronnie got up from the table and was very belligerent! He told me that I was not his parole officer and I was not going to tell him how to live his life. That was the last time I saw Ronnie.”
Goodman died at his encampment on 16th and Capp Streets near a makeshift sign he created that said “Art For Food.”
“Unfortunately, he had his demons, and I believe that his addiction to crack cocaine was his downfall,” said Ruona.
Regardless of his struggles, Goodman still saw beauty in life, as he wrote before his death:
“I am inspired by the beauty of this city and its diversity, balanced with the struggles of human despair. With my brush, I try to capture these raw emotions.”