Geoff Coleman Interview: Suburban Homes, Suburban Lives
With a touch of whimsy and humour, Melbourne artist Geoff Coleman explores the realities of everyday life for ordinary Australians. His detailed eye produces intricate works that pair people with the homes they inhabit, playing with perspective to illustrate how identity and place are intertwined. Over the years, Geoff has added numerous exhibitions to his crown and built up a body of work that is as much a testament to Australia’s suburbs as his own technical skill.
Since he was a young child, Geoff Coleman was captivated by the diverse expressions of art. He often sought refuge from family shopping trips in the museum, where he would spend hours “watching, looking and seeing art in it’s many ways”. Sign-writers in particular caught his eye during this time, with their precise brushstrokes and crisp lines. It was a natural progression to try his own hand at creative pursuits, starting with portraits of his family members.
Upon reaching adulthood, Geoff has continued his artistic passions. Working as an art teacher for many years, and transitioning into publishing for a while, Geoff has spent the last decade making art full-time. His Melbourne studio is set inside his bright, open-plan home. The space is a testament to all his passions, including an extensive wine collection, above which hangs a gallery-style selection of his paintings. This is a home that celebrates a life filled with enjoyment and achievement.
Much like the artists that inspire him, Geoff’s art aims to provoke thought. His whimsical depictions of suburban life play with surreal angles and elements to intrigue the viewer and elicit a moment of connection between subjects and their settings. Influenced by the work of painter John Brack and sculptor Robert Klippel, Geoff is drawn to pieces “that put together some intelligence behind the art piece itself… [these artists] always intrigued me, because there is a real thoughtfulness to their art. Lloyd Rees was also a great proponent of that thinking process that goes behind the great drafting works he did”.
Stylistically, the influence of famed Adelaide artist Jeffrey Smart is obvious. Geoff explains that this comparison “isn’t surprising as I’ve long enjoyed his work”. Both artists employ a highly-detailed style that focuses on symmetry, line and composition. The similarity doesn’t stop there – both artists favour a similar colour palette that accurately captures how spaces appear in everyday life.
Geoff’s work explores the realities of life in suburban settings, and how people relate to their homes. “When I was younger I wanted to be an architect. It wasn’t a dream that lasted long, but I can see why I now tend to do lots of works of buildings. I love the way that things are structured and built. The other interest is how people lives their lives.” Put them together, and you can see where Geoff’s suburban paintings have evolved from.
Often these works are commissioned by families, however when this isn’t the case, Geoff is drawn to classic architecture, particularly buildings with interesting lines and angles. The crossover between people and their homes is where his paintings find their intrigue – how do these people and these houses relate to each other?
However, Geoff’s subject matter is changing. Recent works that he has completed are still life paintings that focus in on smaller backyard and everyday scenes in a surreal manner. Figures have become incomplete parts, and faces are rare in newer paintings. Geoff’s style and approach to painting has also altered: “I’ve actually become more gestural in the way that I paint.” Whereas previous works were intricate throughout the entire piece, elements are now left loose and simple. Geoff’s appreciation of light and shadow remains unchanged.
Predominantly working in acrylic paint, Geoff has experimented in a range of mediums. Hidden in the nooks and crannies of his studio are charcoal drawings and pencil sketches. However, it’s the colour quality of acrylic paint that he often comes back to, especially when painting on a linen surface. “A good quality linen has a good tooth for the paint to grab onto” he says, explaining his preference for linen over canvas.
“Although there can be a great need to paint, which I have all the time,” explains Geoff, “it’s often difficult to start.” It requires a lot of discipline to sit down and actually do the work he’s dreaming up. “Often I’ll pour some paint out or mix up a colour so that I’m committed,” he says with a chuckle, “otherwise I’ll walk off and get a coffee!”
When the night falls, things get a bit easier for Geoff. He explains, “I’ve always been a night owl. Everything seems to work better when the sun goes down.”
Each painting takes many hours and preliminary sketches to complete. “I’m manic about making studies.” says Geoff. It’s no shock that he requires so much storage in his studio for this purpose – his drawers are teeming with studies and older works on paper. On his shelves he also keeps a small collection of art books, magazines and music to inspire him.
In the future, Geoff hopes to continue loosening up his style of painting. “I’d like to not be so pedantic about the work I do, and not be so concerned with detail.” Parting with his perfectionist side and determination to get every minute feature exact isn’t easy. For someone who greatly admires intricate works and has long practised this style, it’s proving difficult. Being detail-oriented is part of who Geoff is – “it seems to be the way I’m made.”
“It’s a dilemma I face. Where I try to marry detail and a passionate gestural approach it often does not quite work. But I think it can be done.”
Browse Geoff Coleman’s work here.