Artist Interview: Geoff Diego Litherland
Made in a style of “post-apocalyptic romanticism”, Geoff Diego Litherland’s landscape works show a dual-world.
In pieces such as The Future is Binding and Goodbye Enemy Starship, an enclosed portal reveals a different reality. Geoff describes these octagonal shapes as “window[s] from a spaceship looking back” towards Earth. These openings are often looking back into a long-gone and idyllic, untouched land.
In his work, sublime, epic wildernesses are paired with space-age technologies and architecture. The artist creates these clashes to question our perceptions. Despite drastic changes in his portfolio throughout his career, Geoff’s driving force (exploring man’s relationship to nature) has stayed the same.
“I believe that technology, as well as being a problem, can be the cure and salvation for us because there is really very little else.”
The artist works large-scale to give his paintings impact. He wants us to get lost in his work, be “overwhelmed by them”, and to bring us closer to the natural world.
We spoke to Geoff about his artistic background, his artistic intentions, and the power in directly confronting our troubled relationship with the earth.
How would you best describe your style?
I would describe it as post-apocalyptic romanticism, it is a real mixed-bag using the traditions of western abstraction, together with surrealism and figuration. Much of the work combines a vision of an idyllic landscape with the fantasy world of science fiction with an aim to question our perception of nature and the role that art has played in creating that perception.
Octagonal shapes often appear in the works, which were initially meant to be a window from a spaceship looking back down on Earth, what I want to portray is either nature in a distant past before humans changed it, or in a post apocalyptic sci-fi world.
Has this always been your style?
My work visually is always evolving and changing, and drifting between figuration and abstraction. These works which range roughly from 2011 – 2017 are very much in the figurative camp, although there are a lot of process and abstract ways of building the layers and imagery together. These are often only encountered on close inspection and make the work different and critical of the source material they are referencing.
Previous work has been more and often completely abstract and my current work is drifting towards more abstract and process led realms. The question that my work tries to address is always the same however and that is trying to understand my relationship and connection to the natural world, which I still find a total mystery.
I’m particularly interested in the duel-worlds you seem to create in your work, can you tell me more about that?
My intention is really to suggest connections between the way that we think of nature and landscape in the past, present and future. This future includes the fused retro-futurism of seventies space technology, science fiction movies and the technological optimism of American visionary architect R Buckminster Fuller, designer of the geodesic dome in the fifties. Fuller saw his domes as quick, energy-efficient shelters. Such domes, attached to massive space freighters, housed Earth’s last forests in Silent Running, and the same shapes can be seen in some of my paintings.
In some of these paintings the technology can seem to be binding or imprisoning ‘nature’ in others it’s a support mechanism. I’m definitely interested in how technology can be used for positive purposes.
Do you feel that your works are addressing a topic, theme, or problem? What is the driving force behind your work?
Like I’ve said before all my work in one way or another addresses ideas around my / our relationship to nature. I’m happy for that to be a loose fit and try not to be too political or ecological about it, it needs to ask a question to me, rather than provide an answer.
The writer and critic Richard Davey has written some very nice things about my work so here it is, I think this ties in well with the question.
“Geoff Diego Litherland draws us into a future of both hope and anxiety. Weaving together disparate cultural references into portraits, maps and landscapes, he creates an overarching narrative, an invitation to journey into the unknown as explorers of what might be. In these works of fluid beauty and technical bravado Litherland constructs the future from the past, fiction from fact. He sends us out into the stars as settlers of new worlds, where in the face of impending environmental disaster we can start again.
These paintings are not only held together by their underlying narrative of future hope, they are also united through Litherland's exuberant delight in the possibilities of paint. Like the worlds he portrays that are pregnant with possibility, these paintings reveal paint as a vibrant medium, full of dynamic potential. As abstract marks coalesce into figurative forms before falling away again into luscious layers glinting with light, Litherland gives the viewer an invitation. Come and follow - the future awaits. Dr Richard Davey”
I do love it when an audience member gets really close to the surface and starts to imagine the journey or process of how the layers have been applied and the intentionality of the marks. It’s something that I admire very much in the work of Peter Doig, Nigel Cooke and Daniel Richter and if I feel that I’ve done something similar then I’d be very happy.
Have any specific artists or movements inspired your work?
I did an MFA at Goldsmiths a few years ago now, and I thought it would be very theory based but it wasn’t, it was critical. I was very stuck at one point and a tutor asked me what I would like my work to be about? I said the sublime, relationships to nature, romanticism and science fiction. He looked at me, didn’t mock me and said ‘that’s great, go and do some work around that and we’ll have another chat’ and that’s what started the ball rolling. I realised I could bring in all the things I was interested in and make work from it. So I think it was one of the best things anyone’s said to me. But it was an ambitious step to take in terms of my painting, including the scale, because until then I had been working quite small. I had to make these paintings bigger so people would get lost in them, get overwhelmed by them. I had to dedicate myself to them and improve my technique.
These works are rooted in nineteenth century landscape paintings and, in particular, the Hudson River school artists who romantically portrayed the epic wildernesses of the American west around the time conservationists were calling for these landscapes to be protected as national parks. The reason I keep coming back to those paintings, and the landscapes of the Hudson River school, is because of the way painting historically has sculpted our ideas and relationships with nature and our lineage to that, as well as looking back, these paintings are looking forward into a possibly dystopian place. They’re not hopeless – there is hope within them. I believe that technology, as well as being a problem, can be the cure and salvation for us because there is really very little else.