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Iqbal Geoffrey

My first awareness of Iqbal Geoffrey was through The Odder Storey, his very own one-man-show retrospective temporary-museum, within Rasheed Aræen’s 1989 survey, The Other Story (Afro-Asian artists in postwar Britain), at the Hayward Gallery, on London’s South Bank Centre.  The Iqbal Geoffrey room was the 1stin the category, Taking The Bull By The Horns, devoted to pioneers of conceptual, experimental, political and art-life crossover work.  These bull’s horns were also taken by Iqbal Geoffrey’s contemporary peers: David Medalla, Li Yuan Chia and The Other Story’s originator, Rasheed Aræen.  I already knew work of David Medalla, Li Yuan Chia and Rasheed Aræen.  I had also met both David Medalla and Li Yuan Chia (although I was yet to meet Rasheed Aræen — and Iqbal Geoffrey himself).

I got struck on impact, then drawn in deeper by the Iqbal Geoffrey room and work.  All so new on me.  Years later, still impressive now.  The energy, charisma, humour and mystique became provocation, enforcement and hunger to find out and know more.  Still greater surprise followed upon consulting The Other Story accompanying catalog, as well as Iqbal Geoffrey’s article in a special number of Rasheed Aræen’s Third Text periodical.  After what I’d seen of his output, then insight I gleaned, I couldn’t help but be more than intrigued by the life of Iqbal Geoffrey: his other distinction as a lawyer; supporters and connections; awards; the sheer youth in relation to the early work and career — including his brief sojourn from the law — not forgetting fact I’d never even heard of him and his work before; whether connected to art, the historical avant garde, Non-Western artists, postwar history, the Indian subcontinent, Islamic cultures, United Kingdom, any other countries or subject-categories.

Iqbal Geoffrey’s paintings feature calligraphic gestures, made using various processes and substances.  They equal, rival and often outdo much of the better-known and more exposed Abstract Expressionism / Informele / Taschiste / Dau-Al-Set / Altamira / Cobra / Arte Matiere / Neo-Dada / Lettriste work.  What becomes even more astonishing is that Iqbal Geoffrey arrived at this independently of what others did elsewhere — and even predating much which came later.  As well as NOT being just some mere derivative follower of who and what ever.  Unlike way too many Westerners irrationally romanticizing about “exotic people”, these works are by a real person, from such a culture and society, armed with knowledge and expertise of the subject (and also much more else besides), as well as exercising realism and even critique.

Their highlight, always calculated, but spontaneous gestural outbursts, always with their very own, distinct and unique, strong, special and complex presence, image, quality, associations and power.

With hindsight, somehow predating the glorious and majestic, collapsing, shipwrecked, implosive and crumple-zone monochrome “products”, made by the tragi-heroic American, Steven Parrino.

Additionally, Iqbal Geoffrey has made humorous yet also serious idea and action based events and works, addressing and playing games with the realities of both art and society’s values, conventions, mechanisms and general status-quo.

Memorable Odder Storey exhibits were Letter to My Girlfriend, 1962.  Not long after Iqbal Geoffrey’s arrival in London in 1960, from Pakistan, 1stretrospective at Albert Brod Gallery in London, just before his departure for New York on a Huntington Hartford Fellowship.  Letter to My Girlfriend belongs to the Arts Council of England Collection.  Multilayered dry-transfer lettering palimpsest force-fields, appliquéd onto paper, with misty oil paints, gold powders and textural frottage rubbings.

Untitled, 1965.  From around the time of Iqbal Geoffrey’s being made a Biennale De Paris Laureate, then return back from the United States to the United Kingdom — only to be met with indifference — reacting by virtually abandoning paint on canvas and panel-board, in favour of other media.  A splashy and dribbled red sign (of what cause, meaning, message and purpose?), blossoming and aflame, over desert ground, amidst ghostly graffiti “tags” and signatures.    As well as solitary paintings on canvas, there were mixed-media graphics and drawings.  The Great American Landscape Part III and the sequences Seven Henry Series and In search of an Ideal Landscape, (the name of Iqbal Geoffrey’s native Pakistan is both Urdu and Persian for “The Land of the Pure”, meaning “The Best of All Places”).  All begun after Iqbal Geoffrey’s 1962 departure for New York on a Huntington Hartford Fellowship, around the time of being made a Biennale De Paris Laureate, then return back to the United Kingdom 1965 — only to be met with indifference — reacting by virtually abandoning oil on canvas and panel-board, in favour of other media.  These more modest size works-on-paper in groups seemed like some portrayal of or preparatory material towards ambitious monumental and vast creations.

The titles suggest blow-by-blow progress-report and gameplay-enactment, storytelling about some experimental and inventive attempt, exploratory quest, hunt and adventurous journey-of-discovery — or even actual ongoing process and experience in themselves; with or without being towards arrival at any approx’ / est’ diagnoses verdict findings or even happy-ending ever-afterwards; unclear, whether any desired target-goals came true, what they are, how that is, then if so what common laws-of-averages can be drawn as final-result, grand-score and quota-attainment.

Mentioning these works provides an opportunity to raise the issue of the interconnection between Iqbal Geoffrey’s legal profession and art / creative / cultural practice, when these supposedly separate and different selves, lives and worlds meet and hybrid.  Because, years later, Iqbal Geoffrey threatened legal action for compensation over grievances concerning these and other works in storage and transit.

Other artists have made works about the fates of their works, taking the form of accusatory and oppositional campaigns, exposure, protest and satire against such culprits and developments harming their work; as well as interpersonal arguments, disagreement, disputes, conflict, falling out, wreaked vengeance, insults, score and difference settling about artworks coming into the same and other works.  Billy Apple®, Rasheed Aræen, Artists Anonymous, Chris Burden, Sophie Calle, Guglielmo Achille Cavellini, Jake & Dinos Chapman, Simon Cutts, Danny Devos, Raymond Hains, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Mali, Robert Morris, Douglas Park (yes, that’s me, myself!), Richard Serra, Austin Osman Spare, Survival Research Laboratories etc.  Then theres some who consider and include as part of their work, run-ins and clashes with bureaucracy, officialdom, law-enforcement and criminal justice because of their work: Genpei Akasegawa & Hi-Red Centre, Rut Blees Luxemburg, Andre Cadere, Ian Hamilton Finlay, John Latham, George Maciunas, Jill Magid, Genesis P. Orridge & Coum Transmissions, Lawrence Weiner & Peter Gordon, Dan Wolgers etc.

Elegy for lamented deficit made good serving as gain (over missing work — whether or not they ever resurfaced) has also fueled works by Tacita Dean, Max Ernst, Robin Klassnik & Anthony Scott, Liliane Lijn, Heather Tweed, Erica Van Horn etc.  Damage, neglect, decay, deterioration, interruptions and attacks on work have been kept and used in the same work or led to others by Rasheed Aræen, Robert Barry, Ian Breakwell, Marcel Broodthærs (with Isi Fiszman), Richard Crow & The Institution of Rot, Simon Cutts, General Idea, Anne & Patrick Poirier, Daniel Spœrri, Elaine Sturtevant, Gavin Turk etc.  Conservation, repairs, reinforcement and replacement, as well as salvage and recycling have also sometimes become work in themselves, by artists such as: Laurence Burt, Jake & Dinos Chapman, Arshile Gorky, Derrick Greaves, Jiri Kolar, Man Ray, Marcel Marien, Juan Miro, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Ad Reinhardt, Jœ Tilson, Jeffrey Vallance etc.

Other Iqbal Geoffrey pictorial works were groups of collages and paintings on paper, some of which made early innovative usage of colour Xerox® photocopying of found imagery.  Archival and diary-like, whether charting Iqbal Geoffrey’s own experience, witnessing external events, both or none of those.  Always celebratory of the visual, but also a reminder, acknowledgement and critique of mechanics and politics of both representation and perception.  Forerunners of the late hedonistic German, Martin Kippenberger’s works on hotel headed stationery.  Iqbal Geoffrey offered these for sale, according to “ability to pay”.  Leading to 4 sales.

Servings as a symptom of the linkage between Iqbal Geoffrey’s paintings and more conceptual work, was The Ashes of 28 paintings (Burnt down March 1989), in a glass phial.  A case-study specimen of Iqbal Geoffrey’s practice (or “tradition”), started as early-on as the 1950’s, of burning most of his finalized works when they’re new, regardless of his and any other’s belief or interest in them, whether or not they were ever exhibited or published.  Yet another groundbreaking innovation of Iqbal Geoffrey “getting-there-1st-and-doing-that-before-any-of-the-others-did”.  This time around, for whatever motives, the artist destroys their own existing productions, as art and creativity in itself, whether in a private action or public event, with or without documentation, maybe with the remains and relics deemed as art or making new work out of the leftovers.  Apparent and even partial disregard or contempt, but also enhancing any specialness, as well as being creation and newness.  Positive destruction and unwasteful disposal towards catharsis, sacrifice, riddance, changed mind, clean break, rift with the past, fresh start, moving-on.  Iqbal Geoffrey’s co-exponents include: Brandon Anschultz, John Baldessari, Marcel Broodthærs, Guglielmo Achille Cavellini, Jake & Dinos Chapman, Jan Dibbets, Nico Dockx & Jan Mast, Jean Dupuy, Tracey Emin & Sarah Lucas, Susan Hiller, Martin Kippenberger, Jiri Kolar, Michæl Landy, Bruce Mclean, Tania Mouraud, Robert Rauschenberg, Jean-Pierre Raynaud, Sarkis, Penny Slinger etc.

It’s not only his own artworks which Iqbal Geoffrey has thus “transformed”, but also legal-tender currency as well, leading to certain American state and even national laws being changed or even introduced.

All over the Iqbal Geoffrey room were various IDEA PROCESS SYSTEMS: Art Y Facts, “Conceptual sculptural items” from throughout his career.  Some, housed in plastic leaflet holders, serving as vitrine cases.  An engraved tombstone declaring the death of art.  The Eyebrush (toothbrush, with razor-blade en lieu of bristles, improvised weaponry, used by prisoners and others), made as a personalised “gift” and “votive offering”, to a cultural “expert” (a lingual and visual play on “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”).  Sprung and set vermin-traps, baited with banknotes, each dedicated to a specific person.  A sinister and brutal market vendor’s birdcage — imprisoning a copy of Iqbal Geoffrey’s own book,Democracy in Pakistan.  A cow “piggy-bank” money-box, engraved as “The Sacred Calf”.

Amongst the Iqbal Geoffrey’s IDEA PROCESS SYSTEMS: Art Y Facts was a dispensing flask of a hybrid cross-between Trafalgar Square fountain water — and Iqbal Geoffrey’s urine — miracle formulæ solution from protest outside London’s National Gallery, after he was rejected for their “artist-in-residency” scheme in 1984 — despite his legal profession, no unfair dismissal tribunal action could be brought against the National Gallery — but media coverage and publicity ensued.

Although its more thanks to official or personal censorship than rejection, red-cards have also become red-flags, carte-blanche and go-ahead for Rasheed Aræen, Derek Boshier, Damien Bourdaud, Andre Cadere, Jake & Dinos Chapman, CRASS, Felhipe Ehrenberg, John Giorno & The Dial-A-Pœm Pœts, Douglas “Death In June” Pearce / Boyd “NON” Rice / Albin Julius “Der Blutharsch” Martinek / Ian “Fire + Ice” Read, Roland Penrose, Betty Tomkins etc.

Elsewhere, in the Hayward gallery premises, some perfume by Iqbal Geoffrey was supposedly offered for sale, as an editioned “multiple”.

With hindsight, 1 regrettable shame was, for whatever reasons, the absence of the even earlier, shadowy and somber, but mythology and spirituality laden and symbol rich, Epitaph, 1958, not being present and correct with the other selections on display.  A compact ploughed-field terrain impasto relief.  Although painted in Montgomery (since named “Sahiwal”), the dark mandala and orb motifs ofEpitaphcombine well with the fact that the name of Iqbal Geoffrey’s home-city, Chiniot, derives from Punjabi for “Behind the Moon Without Light”.  Donated by Iqbal Geoffrey’s supporter, A.S Alley to London’s Tate Gallery, as early as1962, A.S Alley having acquired the work direct from the artist’s studio in 1959.  Iqbal Geoffrey painted Epitaph during his teens, but already showing tremendous promise and advancement.  Also, fact that Epitaph is apparently1 of only 8 paintings surviving from that time, because even then the young Iqbal Geoffrey had started his practice (or “tradition”) of burning most of his finalized works when they’re new, regardless of his and any other’s belief or interest in them, whether or not they were ever exhibited or published.

Works by Iqbal Geoffrey are in many public, institutional, state and private collections, in the United Kingdom and worldwide.

At the time, another regret was the lack of still or moving image documentations of performances and other works mentioned elsewhere (in The Other Story accompanying catalog and Iqbal Geoffrey’s article for the special number of Third Text).  Same with any material for insight into Iqbal Geoffrey’s work.

However, it only takes a few examples of Iqbal Geoffrey’s prolific work and entries in his extensive “biobibliography” track-record of exhibitions, publications, awards and collections, to leave me (and doubtless others) with involuntary desire, urge and need for more; just some isn’t enough or too much.  That’s rare with any body, thing and where; not to be some instant or eventual turn-off or disappointment; instead to possess everlasting and addictive power, merit and worth.  A welcome, much-needed, enjoyable and beneficial infection and problem.

Much more recently, since my 1stencounter with Iqbal Geoffrey’s work (which happened during what otherwise ended up becoming, for myself, a lost, wasted and “blown” time, equally thanks to both my own fault and external factors), certain examples of Iqbal Geoffrey’s work and strategies occurred to me as belonging in some ongoing work-in-progress research survey into my most extensive “idioming” and genreficiation” of idioms and genres I identified.

Perhaps attempting to describe and explain that might help me say something about Iqbal Geoffrey’s work and also much art in general.  It is because of this, that I mentioned instances and examples, citing other artists, for being to some extent similar.

Namely, circumstances and even adversity as medium, æsthetic and context.  Not gone to waste; put to good use; all fair game; mill grist; better than nothing; the show must go on; blessings in disguise.” 1Or, in other words: fate striking work at any stage of production, exposure or whenever, only for drastically affected outcome to be kept by the authors, deliberately addressed and appearing as part of their output — as well as actually generating other work.  Existing, original, intentional and self-conscious meaning, expectations and plans can change beyond recognition, actually become further added to — or even lead to entirely new possibilities opening up.” 2 “What I mean is, the author’s inclusion of, action upon and usage of any such developments in the same work affected, other output somehow dealing with these episodes, sometimes resulting in sidelines, career-moves and life-changes.  Also challenged, is the effectiveness of any form of liberty and control, as well as limitations and even alternative.” 

I christened this research-project, By Accident.  Already 1 public version of a preliminary state.  Opportunities for more.  Curated by myself, with other input from Matthew Burbidge, Jean-Philippe Convert, David Evrard and David Garchey, presented by Sonia Dermience & co’s Komplot (Brussels) at Damien Airault’s Le Commissariat, Paris, 2009.

Also, my ‘Note from the Author’, ‘Foreword’ and ‘Artists and their Work’ (English / French, translated by Jean-Philippe Convert, Sonia Dermience and Constance Barrere Dangleterre), in By Accident, Komplot, Brussels / Le Commissariat, Paris, 2009, as well as my (and Jean-Philippe Convert’s) lectur-publique at the vernissage.  By Accident, got reviewed (by David Ellis), in Artforum.

All Text ©, Copyright, Douglas Park, 2011

1.)  Unpublished material, By Accident, the author

2.)  ‘Foreword’, the author, By Accident, catalog (English / French, translated by Jean-Philippe Convert, Sonia Dermience and Constance Barrere Dangleterre), Komplot, Brussels / Le Commissariat, Paris, 2009

3.)  ‘Memorised amnesia, lost & forgotten off by-heart, towards hard-copy & solid-product immortalisation’, the author, Year, almanac, edited by Komplot), Motto, Berlin, 2011

Douglas Park, U.K based and internationally active visual artist, author of literary prose and critical essays, also exhibition curator, as well all practices combined.

 

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