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Into the breach, brushes in hand

William W. Goodman was talking with his old friend Fred Mills, longtime manager of The Kentucky Theatre, when Mills mentioned he needed artwork to display for Black History Month.

Goodman, who recently returned to Lexington, his hometown, from Key West, Fla., took that as an opportunity to do what he loves most: paint.

"Over the past several years, someone always appeared, wanting to display something during February," Mills said. "No one showed up this time.

"I said to Bill, have you ever thought about doing this? He didn't hesitate, and this is the result."

The result is Some Black Performers Remembered, an exhibition of eight portraits, with varying vibrantly colored backgrounds. The subjects are Odetta Holmes, known as the voice of the civil rights movement; Alberta Hunter, a blues singer and songwriter; Eartha Kitt, actress and singer; Billie Holiday, jazz singer and songwriter; Nat King Cole, singer and jazz pianist; Josephine Baker, actress and singer; Bob Marley, Jamaican singer and songwriter; and Jimi Hendrix, rock music guitarist, songwriter and singer.

Hendrix and Marley heavily influenced Goodman during his early years, he said, while the others were people his parents loved to listen to.

"It was very easy," Goodman said, about coming up with ideas for his portraits. "In some ways, though, maybe a black person would have made them more intense."

I don't know how.

When he's not painting, Goodman works with Mills at The Kentucky, one of the downtown movie theaters where Goodman's father served as projectionist.

Goodman, 57, grew up in Lexington, graduating from the Henry Clay High School in 1970. He attended the University of Kentucky twice, majoring in art, but never stayed around long enough to take a studio class.

"So you can say I am self-taught," Goodman said.

He left Lexington for Key West but found the touristy atmosphere stifled rather than encouraged his creativity. After his mother died, Goodman returned to Lexington in 2005.

"I've known Fred for many years," he said. "I feel natural and relaxed working with him, and it gives me energy."

Last year Goodman created several portraits of movie stars.

"I do visualizations," Goodman said, adding he takes an interesting black and white photograph and interprets it his way. He focuses on the eyes in particular, he said. "And I really love working with color."

Opening the theater's gallery space to local artists gives the artists an opportunity to show their work to a large number of people who come to the tapings of WoodSongs Old Time Radio Hour on Mondays or movies the rest of the week.

Slumdog Millionaire, nominated for an Academy Award for best picture, and The Wrestler, which stars Oscar Best Actor nominee Mickey Rourke, are now showing.

Theater patrons get "an added surprise" with the exhibit, Mills said. "We really want people to come down and see this." Mills said.

The exhibit is free and open to the public during theater hours.