Art is a Language

In the Renaissance art was read by most people. The visual language artists employed was comprehensible to most. Literacy was limited and usually the written word served those who ruled – primarily the Church and the armed warriors of the aristocracy who protected and fed off the wealth the Church stole from the people. Imagery put artists in a position where their work communicated with more people directly than the written word prior to the 17th century.

Whilst some artists were used to propagate the word of the church to the illiterate peoples, others became more subversive and were persecuted by both the Church and the powerful to which knowledge was a threat. Look at how much effort went into keeping an English language bible from the hands of common folk to see how spreading knowledge could be subversive. Look at the persecution of those whose art was not acceptable to the church, such as Caravaggio.

Square Dance 1968

Square Dance
Acrylic on Canvas 6 x 8 feet 1968 Student piece retain by BAA

A composer friend of mine said how lucky I was to be a visual artist as so much of music had become corrupted in the service of today’s powerful through advertising jingles etc.. This comment came from someone whose own understanding of visual language enabled him to be blind to the way that commerce exploits the visual arts as much as the musical arts.

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Fuschia Acrylic on Canvas 5 feet by 3 feet six inches 1978 now in a Private Collection

Today much visual language is also debased not just by its corruption in the hands of commerce but also by those artists who are derivative and whose command of visual language is impoverished. This results in work that is lacking in skill of any kind, and where the ideas within the work are derivative.


Tea for Two Acrylic on Canvas 4 feet 6 inches square 1998

It is true that today it is harder than ever to avoid reworking ideas expressed before. In the same way that a new play or poem re-uses language so art re-uses the visual work of others, extending knowledge through pushing ideas further than they have been pushed before. Thus Hockney continues to develop an understanding of the visual world through the use of cameras and drawing that enriches our understanding of the world around us. The language he uses is that same but his interpretation pushes it further in broadening our understanding of the world around us.

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Pencil sketch amended

I’m no Hockney and don’t seek to compare myself with the  greats, but I do share their passion for the language of art. In my own way I too am struggling to express my own understanding of the visual world through the language of art. That this comes from within, from the soul perhaps, can be seen in the way the underlying ideas remain after 50 years of work.

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Oil pastel and collaged imagery 12 inches square

The grid is a traditional part of visual language, a device used in the renaissance to enable accurate recording, a device used for enlarging drawings onto canvas, a part of the grammar of art practice that I try to pull to the surface so that structure, rather than being hidden underneath paint is revealed as a part of the painting.

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Oil pastel, giclee print collaged 12 inches square

As yet I struggle to get to the painting, but I feel the drawing process is starting to open up my understanding, and this week’s drawings, reworking some of what has gone before, surely seem to make a step forward. I hope you think so too.

Constable clouds and Stella stripes

Do we see influences in our work in a rear view mirror? Or is it simply that having been through art school the philosophy of art we develop embraces us and colours all our thinking? Are art schools a bit Jesuitical – that ‘give me the boy and I’ll give you the man’ sort of development of our minds, where art becomes like a religion?

Clouds seen from Seaford station as I waited for the London train

Clouds seen from Seaford station as I waited for the London train

That we live in search of beauty as artists I often doubt when I look at the ugliness that some artists develop in their work. As a boy I remember reading a story about a man who finds a coin in the gutter one day and spends the next ten years looking for another. The n one day he looks up and sees the clouds and is almost struck dumb by the beauty he has been missing.

Trying to get the colour to pulsate. pencil page from the sketchbook, about six inches square (170mm if you want metric) Albers? Stella?

Trying to get the colour to pulsate. pencil page from the sketchbook, about six inches square (170mm if you want metric) Albers? Stella?

I have been quite ill recently, unable to get in the studio, forced to rest. Work has been difficult but I had my look at the sky moment the other day when struggling to make an appointment in London. Waiting for the train I became mesmerised by the changing skyscape as the wind off the Channel drove clouds across the sky, a blue sky with the moon still shining down. I came home later tired but the sky was still dramatic, still beautiful and I felt re-energised.

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the colour is based around a bed of geraniums with grass and daisies below them

Psychologically I seem to be getting over my setback and am beginning to pick up the threads in the studio. I’ve picked up the drawings and continued to explore the colour for the next painting. I’ve already stretched the canvas, but it’s been sitting on the easel for over a month now – which may be no bad thing as I tend to try to go too fast.

36 inches square ( about a metre). Scale allows full flow for gestural mark making. Format evolving from earlier drawings. Oil pastel

36 inches square ( about a metre). Scale allows full flow for gestural mark making. Format evolving from earlier drawings. Oil pastel

So the drawings continues to develop as I work at the same time with the photographs that combine with colour notes in the sketch book to form the base from which the ideas are developing.

Afternoon light as I got off the train - still gifts me a lift living in Seaford, beside the seaside, beside the sea

Afternoon light as I got off the train – still gifts me a lift living in Seaford, beside the seaside, beside the sea

It is almost a year now since my love gave me the studio for Christmas. It has transformed my life and will continue to change it as I get back into painting. The large drawing here is the seventh in a series. The process is changing the format and the process is also changing how I am thinking about what happens when I start the next painting, although at a metre square some of these drawings almost have the stature of paintings themselves.

I fell reenergised. All I need now is the complete all clear from the medics….

The Art of Remembrance

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, wants the poppy installation around the Tower of London to remain. Currently, as I write on the 6th November, it has had over 4 million visitors. My images were  taken a week or so back, and the whole work will not be finished until, symbolically the 11th hour of the 11th day on the 11th month – the time the armistice was declared to end the First World War.

Moat of blood

Moat of blood

Three of my relations died in France, and one of my partners. Grandad, I was told, suffered the after effects from a gas attack until his death in the 1960’s. OH and I have bought one of the ceramic poppies in memory primarily of her Australian antecedent. Emigrating from Laughton in Sussex to Australia in pre-war years he returned with an Australian gun battery in 1916 to be buried in France.

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This amazing piece of memorial art fills the moat with hand-made ceramic poppies. As the Tower was used as an initial training centre for WW1 recruits from the City of London this location is appropriate. Given the rȏle of the moat as the defensive work of William the Conquerors great castle it is entirely appropriate too that the red of the poppies symbolically fills it with blood.

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There will be a poppy representing each man killed from British and colonial forces – a total of 888,246. Each evening the Yeoman Warders of the Tower, the Beefeaters, play the Last Post and read names of some of the dead from what is now the Commonwealth, a ceremony that is listened to in silence and sometimes with tears.

Ceramic poppies

Ceramic poppies

This ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ is an intensely emotive art installation. The symbolism and effect magnified by its location it seems to me to represent not just the victims of WW1 but all those who died in the Tower since construction in 1089, and the many who have died since WW1. In the years since WW2 apparently  there has only been one year when a British Soldier has not been killed in action somewhere on the globe – 1968.

This memorial is moving and unforgettable. It has to be seen to be believed. Walk all around the Tower. Go see it.

Poppies are not just for Remembrance


Wear your poppy with pride

Originally posted on

The wearing of a poppy has stood as a symbol of remembrance in Britain and the Commonwealth since its introduction by the British Legion in 1921.


Flanders poppies alongside a French canal

It owes its place in symbology of war to poet  and Canadian medic John McCrea, himself buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Wimereux. His evocative lines became the best know poem of WW1. They read:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie

In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe;

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If you…

View original 422 more words

NYNY WTC remembered

Manhattan skyline in 1976

Manhattan skyline in 1976

Its ironic that having put in new lighting into the studio I have only been able to spend one afternoon in there. I went on a road trip to look at hotels for  which helps to pay the bills for all the renovation and new lighting. Unfortunately I displayed some symptoms which the docs though might be cancer before I started out, but went anyway. On my return I was delighted the tests showed they were wrong, but my leap of delight turned into agony when I twisted my back. So I am lying around trying sporadicly to work whilst under the influence of strong painkillers and anti-inflammatories, a situation that I’m told could last another month!

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The slides are nearly 40 years old , all scanned and as originally photographed in 1976

I have taken the opportunity to start sorting through my enormous library of old photographs, many of them reflecting travels when I was teaching art college. In 1976 I took advantage of Laker Skytrain to fly to the USA to see the celebrations of the bicentenary of their independence. New York was the destination and for three weeks I walked the city with a camera photographing anything that caught my eye, predominantly architecture and sculpture. Of course I went to all the galleries too, even took slides of my paintings with me, although without succeeding a getting show (London first they said).


One of the twin towers

One of the new buildings that drew me like a magnet was the World Trade Centre. I took some photographs of the interior as well as the outside. It dominated the city skyline, and stood almost right on the waterfront, adjacent to an area being reclaimed from the river. It was a glorious piece of architecture, from the top of which(it was said) you could see nearly 200 miles on a clear day. As architecture it was peerless, much more interesting than many more modern buildings, certainly better than some of the preposterous offerings we are inflicted with some 40 years later.

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I offer these images not just to be enjoyed as a great piece of architecture, or as a testament to the vandalism of the heathens that destroyed them, but also as a memorial to those who died in them.  As well as the people, remember the buildings too, a testament to American creativity

All images are ©Copyright Patrick Goff

Weaveing Lobby World Trade Centre

The wall hanging in the lobby. I was impressed by the scale of the art in American buildings – was huge (see the same hanging in the lobby image above)

Snow white?

When a student in the 60’s I had a series of lectures on colour and perception. One in particular sticks in my mind. A series of panels of white paint were placed under the light from a slide projector, in front of a black background. As each panel was added it made the previous panel look grey. The simultaneous contrast with the black had made the first look white but 8 panels later it was clearly a grey. (see my experiments with colour in the 60’s at  Use and abuse of colour )

The old lighting was flush with the ceiling but crap

The old lighting was flush with the ceiling but crap

Most galleries show work under artificial light, and the constancy of electric light compared to daylight has made me try to create controlled white light in studios I have worked in over the years. This has meant trying daylight adjusted neon tubes (work in the blue spectrum), photofloods (expensive, throw out too much heat, and yellow) and halogen lights.

It lit the canvases very unevenly and colour rendition was pretty awful - as well as cooking my head

It lit the canvases very unevenly and colour rendition was pretty awful – as well as cooking my head

When my new studio was built at the bottom of the garden the lights were halogen. Because planning restricts height, the internal ceiling at 6,200 was pretty low, and the lighting was pretty crap as well as cooking the top of my head whilst I worked. I remember a conversation with an hotel chain about energy use at which they revealed they had been working with Philips to create lighting that was both energy efficient, and whose output could be colour tuned for different areas of the hotel. Their lighting was LED.

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When we had the house rewired (an ongoing process) we had LED down lighters added. Their light was warm (slightly yellow I think) but a good white and not only energy efficient (less than 205 of normal energy consumption) but cool too.  So I went to a couple of local electrical installers and asked advice. Given a couple of options I have had flat panels LED’s fitted. They reduce head height under the fitting itself slightly but they emit no noticeable heat and the light is brilliant.

New lighting much more even, and will be far better for working under. Brighter and whiter

New lighting much more even, and will be far better for working under. Brighter and whiter

The results are stunning. Not only do they consume far less energy but the output gives almost a flat lighting across the whole area of the studio, and it appears to be a good flat white. I found under previous lighting (admittedly poorly designed, I had to accept what was in the building package) I could not see properly where I was priming the canvas. Now everywhere is lit. Colour rendering looks brutally honest. It is a delight to work under.

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I think I’ll be able to dispense with the desk lamp too

If only the winter flu jab hadn’t laid me up for a couple for days I would be by now able to give results of experience in working in this lighting – but next time. Meanwhile I give you these images and from experience so far, unreservedly recommend that you consider these panels for you own studio lighting

Cyprus Notes

The holiday makers lie broiling in the Mediterranean sun. Bronzed bald headed muscle men stride past mounds of bright reddening flabby granddads; slender brown bikini clad beauties strut their flat stomachs past roly-poly grandmas sunbathing topless like obscene beached whales; jolly families initiate their children in the  delights of  swimming pools a brilliant turquoise in contrast with the greyer blue of the warm sea. Around them the smiling staffs of the four and five star hotels fronting the beaches serve endless gallons of drink and mountains of fine food.

Sun worshippers, sea bathers, Cyprus is a Mediterranean crossroads and mixing pot

Sun worshippers, sea bathers, Cyprus is a Mediterranean crossroads and mixing pot

Behind this frontage of Gerald Scarfianesque indulgence lie cheery shops selling sun cream and car hire, holiday homes and retirement villages. They are but a mask for the malls behind are empty, shops littered with sun-bleached ageing pictures of unsold dreams, façades over empty windows advertising gold for sale, speciality leather ware and unwanted digital cameras.

At night the cafes are busy and families stroll along the front, but the dark windows of the newly built apartments reveal unlet and empty properties. A drive into the surrounding landscape, rapidly becoming an urban sprawl, reveals handwritten for sale signs, half-finished buildings with the dust of ages forming on their uncovered skeletons. Weeds grow around bleached signs advertising retirement villas that may never now be built.

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The walk along the shore is lit as people stroll enjoying the balmy nights

Many development signs are in Chinese, as the island, desperate for investors to bail out its largely bankrupt construction sector, offers any Chinese moneyman with half a million Euros to blow, Cyprus citizenship if he buys a villa. Is this perhaps an entree into a Euro passport?

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Empty shops and apartments for sale…

Some hotel groups, perhaps more cautiously run in the past, are growing and investing, but development sites right on the seafront are surrounded by forlorn decaying hoardings carrying sun faded  images of turquoise pools, advertisements for never to be built spas whilst some hotels operate with loans that can never now be serviced. The television is filled with solemn faces talking about new insolvency laws as Eurocrats dictate terms for the slow crisis recovery the island struggles to achieve.

For many in the hinterland life continues as before, rooted in the land and self-contained. Newcomers fleeing crisis in Greece do not find unequivocal welcome and I hear of Greek incomers being victimised – a far cry from the post-independence ENOSIS (Union with Greece) politics that perhaps contributed to the destructive Turkish invasion and the continuing illegal occupation of the northern half of this partitioned island jewel.

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Broken dreams

I was in part brought up on the island and my return was a holiday my partner insisted I take. She has watched me working away without a real holiday, and saw taking me back down memory lane as a way of forcing a pause in my working life. So for a week I have watched the package tourists in this popular destination, meals and entertainment included, as in a close encounter with aliens. Despite staying in over 200 hotels in the last ten years I have never been a packaged guest before and the days I have enjoyed have been those driving away into the mountains, and indeed seeking my own past.

Cyprus has all the ingredients that could make it a jewel holiday destination. Invaders have left their marks – Phoenicians, Hellenes, Romans, Crusaders all left castles and colonnades, tombs and tessatiles whilst a kind nature has given grapes and bananas, melons and honey, warm seas and sandy beaches. Man is the corrupting influence, one religion against another (with the same god too perhaps?), greed and selfishness overcoming and destroying community, dividing  perhaps irreparably, what once was an island that inspired poets and writers, film makers and dreamers.

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The lights of bars and cafes light up the Paphos seafront

I didn’t find much of my past. Changed and ‘developed’ away, only a few indicators remain of my childhood images, crumbling into dust. Later today I will fly home to a UK that seems slowly to be breaking apart riven by fools and conmen, where guilty men live wealthy lives unpunished for the pain they have inflicted on many. Cyprus may be a sad remnant of my own remembered past, but I gain no joy of my own country as I look forward to its continuing decline at the hands of unworthy men and women.

Perhaps I shouldn’t take holidays…

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Sunset at days end