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 1st in 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. It was all very new to me and still ceases to amaze me. The energy and mystique became provocation 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, I couldn’t help but be more intrigued by the life of Iqbal Geoffrey. His other distinction as a lawyer, his awards, the sheer youth in relation to the early work and career — including his brief sojourn from the law — not forgetting the fact that I’d never even heard of him or of his work before; whether connected to art, the 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 work. What becomes even more astonishing is that Iqbal Geoffrey arrived at this independently of what others did elsewhere, predating much which came later as well as not being just some mere derivative follower. 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, calculated but with spontaneous gestural outbursts, always with their very own distinct and complex presence. With hindsight, somehow predating the glorious and crumple-zone, monochrome “products”, made by the tragi-heroic American, Steven Parrino. Additionally, Iqbal Geoffrey has made humorous, yet also serious, ideas and action based events or works, addressing the realities of both art and society’s values and the general status-quo.
Memorable Odder Storey exhibits were Letter to My Girlfriend, 1962. Letter to My Girlfriend belongs to the Arts Council of England Collection, Multilayered dry-transfer lettering palimpsest force-fields, and 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 his 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, 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 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 a 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 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. 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 and differences 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 there’s 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 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.”
Servings as a symptom of the linkage between Iqbal Geoffrey’s paintings and more conceptual work, The Ashes of 28 paintings (Burnt down March 1989) in a glass phial, was 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’s: “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. Positive destruction and un-wasteful 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 a certain American state and 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”.
Furthermore, there 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.
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.