After an enforced break of 18 months due to the Covid 19 pandemic we finally restarted our Saturday Talks programme with an entertaining talk by Geoff Tristram. Geoff is a successful artist with a career spanning more than 4 decades. He is also a natural story teller and entertained us with an often hilarious journey through his very varied career.

Geoff started with his early years growing up in the Black Country. He showed artistic talent at an early age, making an infamous plywood sheep for the primary school nativity play and drawing a portrait of his grandad when he was 11. He progressed through Tipton Grammar School to Wolverhampton College of Art. It was there that he got his formal training in art and his first experience of life drawing.

On leaving art college he started as a commercial illustrator. He worked on brochures for Porsche cars and many other brands. He was fortunate to have the ability to do work in many different styles. This was important as it gave him more chance to earn money. He noted that working as a commercial illustrator meant that he painted what he was told to paint and not what he wanted. His range of work was staggering and included postage stamps, adverts, packaging materials, book covers and many others. He had worked out that he had produced over 33,000 paintings over his career. A feature of his work was the need to produce work on a defined and often very short timescale. For many commissions he needed to take photographs to work from and highlighted the need for good reference material, including models. He described how he had used a range of friends, family, borrowed children and professional models to create the scenes he needed for his commissions. He entertained us with stories from photography sessions that didn’t quite go to plan!

Geoff had become a ‘famous cat painter’ by accident after doing a commission for Wedgwood. This was so successful that they asked him to do a set of 12 cat paintings and these ended up and many different products. Another big customer was the Ravensburger jigsaw puzzle company for whom he had designed hundreds of jigsaws.

For 25 years Geoff has been doing portraits and caricatures of all sorts of famous people. These included Dawn Niven who brought along a portrait Geoff had done of her a few years ago. His work also included attending the snooker championships at the Crucible and doing portraits of all the players, including doing some of these on live TV. He also did many private commissions for fine art family portraits in oils. This included going to Italy to paint the daughters of an Italian businessman and scenes reminiscent of Robert de Niro in the Godfather!

As part of the celebrations for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death Geoff was contacted by Stratford on Avon town council and commissioned to do a painting of Shakespeare’s face. This was used to produce over 15,000 cardboard masks, so that the whole population of Stratford could wear them and all look like Shakespeare!

The range of Geoff’s work was truly amazing encompassing fine art (call me the Black Country Vermeer), illustrations, cartoons, caricatures, captions for greeting cards and even comedy novels.

It is impossible to capture Geoff’s humour and enthusiasm in a note like this, but it was certainly a great way to re-start our talks.

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