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Geoffrey Rigden


Geoffrey Rigden
1943 - 2016

A memorial show of a range of works from various periods of his life, aged 17 to 72
Curated by Jennifer Harding
Thursday 30 June to Sunday 10 July 2016

Exhibition supported by A.P.T

Review by Sam Cornish

Geoffrey Rigden  1943 – 2016

An Exhibition curated by Jennifer Harding

This exhibition isn’t intended to be a formal retrospective and it’s not arranged chronologically but I’ve included work from most periods of Geoff’s work to give an idea of the wide range of what he produced.

From an early age, Geoff had been convinced of his future as an artist and he wrote to his mother, ‘When I grow up I am going to be an artist and nobody is going to stop me. That’s what my talent is, just like grandad. I’m definitely not going to be a soppy old person who works in a silly old office all day.’ There was never much danger of that since, as E.M. Forster described the poet Cavafy, he was always ‘at a slight angle to the universe’.

Geoff saw himself as part of a continuing tradition, out of the early Italians by way of Cubism, modernism and 60s abstract painting and sculpture. ‘Progenitive’ was a word he often used to describe the process. A youthful interest in landscape painting gave way to abstraction during his time at the Royal College, where he deemed the obligatory life drawing classes as ‘beside the point’. The iconoclastic tendencies were always tempered with a deep understanding of art history so that many of his works had their origins in transcriptions of favourite master works – in recent years ‘The Conversation’ by Matisse, a painting that became an underlying theme as I planned this show.

Geoff was fascinated by language, habitually pointing out the Latin origin of the word ‘educate’ and he enjoyed playing the devil’s advocate, though sometimes there was an alarming correlation between the devil’s views and his own. He loved teaching but his habit of conducting tutorials in pubs didn’t impress his employers, though it endeared him to many students. His aversion to the ever-increasing administration tasks that accompanies lecturing in art colleges didn’t help, but the desire to teach never left him.

His upbringing in Gloucester and Somerset played an enduring part in his development and in spite of the mockney accent, he remained a West Country Wurzel. His godfather encouraged a belief in flying saucers and extra-terrestrials, Uncle John played drums in jazz bands, while grandad Deeks (a signwriter, amateur artist and model maker) always advised, ‘Learn to use your hands’. And the fruit box assemblages of Geoff’s recent years do have something in common with the animated, Heath Robinson style working models of his grandfather.
Geoff’s enthusiasms were many, including cricket, making soup, playing the harmonica, and all sorts of music and literature. Minor art interested him, too, - the little-known treasures in provincial museums and galleries. One of the joys of Paphos is its low-key archaeological museum, mercifully off the tourist track and devoid of both interactive information and the groups of small children that were guaranteed to get Geoff’s goat. But he had great empathy with the off-beat and odd-ball – a good example being the side-kick characters in Western films which he would watch endlessly, so that eventually even I began to recognize Fuzzy Knight, Smiley Burnette and Arkansas Slim.

Aside from the larking about, though, he was always what Stass Paraskos called a ‘Professional’, and was keen that exhibitions of museum quality should be presented in this gallery. So he was determined that his long-planned ‘Construction Industry’ show should go ahead, despite his illness and thanks in large part to his able side-kick Stephen Jaques.

So I do hope that he would have approved of this exhibition but I don’t doubt that had he been here, he’d be saying, ‘You don’t want to do it like that!’

Jennifer Harding
June 2016

The Habitats of Geoffrey Rigden

There were places Geoff liked to be – his habitats.

1. The studio – his own, and the studios of his friends.

2. The pub, its conviviality and its seductions.

3. Home. Geoff’s home was in Wapping, not far from the marvellous Hawksmoor church he loved and sometimes painted, St George‐in‐the‐East, where hundreds of his friends gathered for his funeral, last February.
He and Jennifer lived there for 30 years. Reardon Towers, he called it. Visiting them was like walking into a treasure trove, their paintings hanging close alongside each other on every wall, with strange and lovely objects dotted around.

There were shelves full of books. Books Do Furnish a Room, Geoff would say. He was a great reader, very wide‐ranging, which may explain why he was such a wonderful writer. He frequently re‐read the twelve novel sequence Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell, and was delighted when he heard that his grandson Henry liked it too. Together they checked out the painting by Nicolas Poussin at the Wallace Collection that had inspired the work and provided the title. He would have been so proud to know that Henry has recently won a scholarship from his Oxford college to study History of Art in Italy.

The last time Steve and I visited Geoff I saw on his desk amongst the many art books, a biography of Francis Poulenc, a classic Raymond Chandler novel, short stories by P G Wodehouse, and the definitive study …… Those Great Cowboy Sidekicks. This made a nice link with one of the tracks played at his funeral, Spaced Cowboy by Sly and the Family Stone.

Cavafy was a favourite poet. He named a painting after him. At the end of Geoff’s funeral, I read Ithaka in translation, and then Jennifer read it in Greek. Geoff loved to hear Jennifer speak Greek, and I should say that another habitat of both Geoff and Jennifer was Cyprus, usually for seven weeks, at Easter time.

4. Geoff sitting alone under the big tree at Lemba, early evening, drink in hand, concentrating on getting the fire going. That is one of the many memories I will treasure.

Mali Morris
June 2016

Acrylic on canvas

Acrylic on canvas

Acrylic on Canvas

Cycladic figure (blue)
2002 - 03
Acrylic on canvas

Acrylic on canvas


Geoff: Studio life by Stephen Lewis
We moved from Greenwich studios to Deptford over 20 years ago. The artists’ new spaces, cinder block walls, concrete floors, were simple and functional but stark. Geoff’s new studio on the top floor was no exception; over time, however, little home comforts began appearing. The first was a sideboard, then an Eastern Turkish kilim, some Romanian artefacts, the odd Ikon and African masks. A Carding comb from Transylvania that looked like a bird.

It looked at first like a random array of stuff but in fact he was really creating his own Bateau-Lavoir. It was the sort of interior that he needed to make his particular work, and it included the combined total of his interests. His friends’ postcards, Cypriot beer mats, humorous mis-spelt Greek labels from his and Jennifer’s travels. An empty box of macaroni on his shelf with the tag line  ‘ Try it. Now try to forget it ‘. A donated stereo of surprisingly good quality for a studio played the tracks of his life.  Thelonious  Monk, Sly and The Family, Duke Ellington.
He would put some paint down, cut a piece of wood, joust, poke a canvas with a brush, have a glass, a fag then have a wander. If Stephen Jaques was in, he would be first, then Mali, Dave Oates, Rob Welch, Dave Webb, Richard Lawrence and anyone else in between, and then me if he needed anything from DIY, like the odd wooden disc or dowel. These studio visits, similar to those of a hospital consultant, were always a welcome excuse for a break and not a little education.

Some years ago I was commissioned by British Waterways to produce a series of plaques that would eventually stretch along the Grand Union Canal. I found myself profoundly stuck, so I asked Geoff to come on board. He came to me a few days later with a beautiful drawing of a canal boat and Bargee, in the style of Marquet.  It was a perfectly complete image and needed only a little pattern work, and I immediately cast it into bronze. In the end we made eight for that project… taking it in turns, advising each other as we went. Seeing Geoff cutting patterns, using power tools and scalpels, was a wondrous sight, a sight as rare as the Kakapo. From this modest start we produced over forty-five bronze plaques and manhole covers, with Geoff playfully referring to this partnership as ‘The Firm’.

When struggling with a work, a phrase from Geoff like ‘leave it, you get the idea’ was always welcome.

As Geoff Mowlam once said, Geoff was always ‘ON’.

He made us feel better about ourselves and as artists gave us the confidence to crack on when the ego was low and confidence fragile.

We loved him and miss him terribly and will always remember and savour the times we had with him.

© Geoff Rigden 2016