A working class lad born into the burned and broken post-war Britain
Born in the final months of World War 2, Geoff was born to a bleak start. I remember Geoff mentioning destroyed buildings at the end of his street, rations, and making his first bookshelf out of an old oranges crate. However, this bares no reflection on his life at all. Over the next 74 years, Geoff went on to live an incredible adventure - in his career, life, mind, and love.
Energised and inspired by the sixties counter culture - a philosophy he never walked away from
Showing a talent for art from an early age, Geoff developed a burning aspiration to go to Art School. And through hard work, studying O Levels after work, he went to study fine art at De Montfort in Leicester, Ravensborne in Bromley, and the Royal Academy of Art in London. For Geoff, the last was the real deal, a true privilege. I remember that he joyfully recalled this journey several times, as if it was a real adventure. And actually, it was one. Back in 1960s, a working class kids didn’t go to university. The vast majority of Geoff's peers went straight to work. And Geoff worked really hard to make it happen.
Energised and inspired by the sixties counter culture - a philosophy he never walked away from
And, in turn, over his lifetime, Geoff took his mind on a great adventure. A student during the late sixties, a time of incredible cultural change, dad was inspired by this time. Its pop music, art and literature, and the ideas and messages that they carried, profoundly shaped his beliefs, and led him to be a keen reader for the rest of his life, allowing him to live a thoughtful life.
Beyond work, hungry to see and experience the world, dad went on many great adventures; hitchhiking many times all over Europe. Growing up, I’d love listening to what seemed like dad’s endless tales. Some told of special places, some were just plain funny, and some I knew were meaningful.
For example, one day, after work, dad spontaneously decided to go on an unexpected pilgrimage to Holland to see Van Gogh’s work. When he got there, he made friends with the steward. Dad explained that he'd travelled from England, and that he wanted to see a particular picture. The steward allowed him to go down into the vaults and look through Van Gogh’s drawings himself. He even left dad on his own. I can imagine the exhilaration dad must have felt; he must have felt so close to Van Gogh, peering through the drawings, having his own secret conversation with him.
And dad’s great adventures weren’t only in work, mind, and life - but also love.
After finishing Ravensbourne, Dad met mum. Hair down to her Levis and big smile, dad met her at the Leicester Student’s Union where he immediately new she was special. Knowing she lived in Thurlaston, but not knowing at what address, he rang every Thurlaston number in the telephone book to see her again. Finaly Mrs Wainwright, said, “Oh, she’s the girl opposite”. They each experienced the loss of a parent and this helped bind them to each other. Recently, looking through some old photos of them, to me they both look like John and Yoko.
After dad passed away, mum said to me that she’d truly shared a wonderful life with him.
Dad lived an alternative life led by his own values
Dad never drove a car. Instead, he rode a bike for 30 years. Dad never wanted a career. He avoided promotions. For a long time, when the bell rang at 3pm, dad cycled out of school along with the school kids - often giving a student a croggy. Dad bought his wedding shoes on his wedding day. Dad
never wanted posh studio space. Instead, he painted in a unit on in the Imperial Typewriter Building on East Park Road – to say the building was in terrible repair would be an understatement.
Dad did things differently; and he did them this way because they fitted his philosophy. Dad wasn't interested in money, status, luxury, or fame. Instead, he was interested in doing what he loved: painting, reading, listening to music, playing the guitar and writing songs. He loved the act of painting for what it was.
Where did dad’s values come from? Although highly influenced by the sixties, he also got his guidance from learning about and following the example of people he called “the masters” – people like Van Gogh, Bob Dylan, William Shakespeare, Django Reinhardt, Johanne Vermeer, and Charles Dickens. (He often painted them in the background of his pictures). He was particularly inspired by Van Gogh’s bohemian life, wandering and feeling the world. When we recently visited dad’s workshop, we found an old Van Gogh book. In the inner sleeve, we discovered that dad had written: “To Van Gogh, my greatest source of inspiration.”
But dad’s values were also led by the spiritual. Dad was a spiritual person. He read the bible every night. Married to him for 38 years, mum watched him quietly whisper a few pages to himself every night before he went to bed. Also, although not heard by many for a long time, dad also wrote many Christian songs; songs inspired by Jesus, the Good Samaritan story, and the story of the Road to Emmaus to name a few. Not being a conventional man he found organised religion difficult but, as mum said, ‘he kept Jesus in his heart.’(I have put this in because your mother sent a text and E mail to this effect)
However, dad’s faith can be mainly found in his art. Much of it was inspired by Christian values. Dad painted the homeless, particularly a man named Walter. Painting him many times, it seems dad had a continued interest in him, a Christlike concern for the marginalised? Maybe he saw in Walter’s poverty and soulful eyes something true.
In light of this, dad’s life choices form a picture. Dad was brave enough to push aside the demands and distractions of modern life to pursue what he believed was valuable. Inspired by Christian values, dad practiced a humble life that aimed to understand human experience through painting.
Dad had an incredible enthusiasm for his passions, for life, and for sharing both with others. And he did all this with such astonishing energy.
Dad loved to paint – and did so tirelessly. Our house and garage are full of his paintings, let alone his studio. Looking back, dad painted prolifically his whole life. He never got bored of it. Strangely, the only time mum heard him suggest so was the weekend before he fell ill - as if he sensed his vocation had come to an end. But dad’s passion for art even challenged this, astonishingly continuing to paint when unconscious in his hospital bed. Battling the effects of chemotherapy and the hallucinations it brings, dad must have wanted to capture the visions before him by marking the air with an imaginary paintbrush. He also unconsciously narrated his marvellous visions – spectacular scenes of spellbinding ever shifting forests, fields, and unfolding mushrooms. I like to think that he was painting his final masterpiece.
Dad’s passion for art had continued into his later years. When on holiday in Florence a few years ago, some days we wouldn’t see him all afternoon. He'd be in one of Florence’s great museums studying the Renaissance masters. When he returned, his excitement was uncontainable.
But beyond painting, life itself always excited dad. He was rarely bored, low, cynical or depressed - a rare gift in today’s complicated world. Just the little things, like his latest CD, would always excite him. He’d always pop his head round my door and beg me to listen to his latest favourite song.
Also, importantly, dad’s enthusiasm for life wasn’t limited to art and discussing it with arty types. All people interested him. For example, I remember that recently even made really good friends with the gas repairs guy – someone he’d met for about 2 hours. He relayed the man’s life with real enthusiasm to me when I got home.
And this rings true through dad’s paintings. Dad loved to paint people, and to get to know them whilst doing so. Looking back, he painted all walks of life: Walter, the silent tramp etched in wrinkles who lived in the Saxby Street doss house; Graham Oppenheimer, the violinist who ran Leicester’s International Music Festival; the gentle and dignified Mr Gadsby, owner of Gadsby’s picture framers alongside Leicester market; Vance, the peroxide blonde haired punk; Sikh worshippers at the Guru Nanak Temple on East Park Road; the hardworking machinists at Billan Garments factory; and his final painting, Manu Tulagi, the Leicester Rugby player. The list goes on. Looking back, a gift dad left us is a body of art that captures Leicester’s very different lives and worlds.
And finally, dad’s passion for life was true to the end, even in light of death. When Will and I received the phone call about dad, it was like being hit by a tidal wave. We rushed home immediately, the word “Leukaemia” looming like a monster in our minds. If it terrified us, we wondered: “what would dad be feeling right now?” It pained us to even imagine how scary that might feel. But when we visited him the next morning, our fear soon fell away.
Lying quite relaxed in bed, he greeted us with a smile. We spoke for around two hours, and he reflected on life. He said he’d lived a fantastic life and was thankful for everything he had been given. He was calm and at peace.
And over dad’s final days, I was persuaded that this was his continued state of mind. When visiting Intensive Care, every time I’d find him entertaining a group of doctors, or fully engaged in conversation with a nurse. For example, Margaret, from Cameroon, he spent the whole afternoon talking with her, learning about her life back home, and sharing life stories.
And even when signing his will, dad showed zero desire for sombre ceremony. He fired jokes at the solicitor, who hopelessly tried to keep decorum.
And finally, in his final hours, at the peak in his fight for life with his cancer, dad proved his passion for life. Out of nowhere, shaking a clenched fight, he suddenly started singing the title phrase of Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild”.
And this is why, although sad of his death, we're happy - as he lived a full and rich life.
EDUCATION AND TRAINING
Nottingham Trent University
Fine Art (MA)
Royal Academy Schools
Ravensbourne College of Art
Fine Art (Painting)
Embrace Arts, University of Leicester
Part-time Art Tutor
Rockingham School, Corby, Northamptonshire
Wreake Valley College, Syston, Leicester
Part-time Art Teacher
Young Contemporaries, 1968
One-Man Show at 9 St Martin's City Gallery, Leicester, 1977
Leicester Arts Co-Operative, 1977
Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, 1978
Leicester Society of Artists, 1978-2014
Seymour Gallery, Mill Hill, London, 1979
The Neville Gallery, Canterbury, 1979
John Neville Gallery, Tite St., London, 1979
Bilan de l’art Contemporain “British Artists” Town Hall, Paris, 1979
Royal Society of British Artists, 1979
“Five Artists” St Martins City Gallery, Leicester 1979
Royal Institute of Oil Painters, 1981
Royal Society of British Artists, 1981
Hunting Group Finalist, 1981
Royal Institute of Oil Painters, 1982
Royal Society of Portrait Painters, 1982
One Man Exhibition, Leicester Museum and Art Gallery, 1983
Royal Society of Portrait Painters, 1983
The Pastel Society, Mall Galleries, London, 1984
The Royal Society of British Artists, 1984
Bottle Kiln Gallery, West Hallaton, Derbyshire, 1986-87
Artweek, Leicester City Council, 1986
Royal Institute of Oil Painters, 1989-1990
Innovart Exhibition, Leicester Museum and Art Gallery, 1993
M.A. Exhibition Billan Series September 1993, Leicester Museum and Art Gallery
Hunting/Observer Prize Finalist, 1993
Royal College of Art, New Contemporaries, 1994
Leicester Music Festival Portraits Exhibitions, 1995-1999
·Portrait of Joseph Aloysius Hansom, Hansom Hall, Leicester City Council, 2008
Portrait of Joseph Aloysius Hansom, Birmingham City Town Hall, 2008
The Pastel Society, 2010
The Pastel Society, 2012
The Pastel Society, 2013
Leicester Society of Artists, Silver Medal Award, 2014
BP Portrait Award, National Portrait Gallery, London, 2014
Leicester City Football Club, Leicester
Guru Nanak Sikh Temple, Leicester
International Music Festival, New Walk Museum, Leicester
Haymarket Theatre, Leicester
Billan Garments Limited, Leicester, (MA placement)
Artist in Residence, Rockingham School, 2008 -2014