Tim Goffe was shortlisted for the Jackson’s Painting Prize this year with his work Petrol Station Nocturne. The atmospheric painting describes a lone petrol station, suspended in the deep dark blue of the night sky, forecourt aglow with the carefully observed effects of fluorescent light. Here, Tim shares how this study of light guides his practice, some practical studio techniques and how he spent the early days of lockdown looking for reassurance in the familiar.
Above image: Empty Charity Shop, 2019, Tim Goffe, Oil on panel, 60 x 50 cm
Clare: Can you tell us about your artistic background/education?
Tim: I was encouraged to draw and paint early on by my art-teacher mother and illustrator/painter father — often on the floor of their gallery. So the die was cast.
I took a two-year foundation and enjoyed using all the different media and didn’t really want to give that up, so I chose a degree course that enabled me to use all the resources: I made videos, took photographs and painted on the Expressive Arts BA at Brighton. I followed that with a move to London and a part-time degree in photography, whilst photo-assisting and shooting stills for record companies on pop promos (an exciting new thing at the time!) where I learnt about lighting from the top cinematographers of the day.
A career in photography followed; although I continued to draw, I effectively took a 20-year break from painting before revisiting the idea. I took classes and studied with artists and I exhibited wherever I could.
Clare: Where does a painting begin for you? Can you take us through your process?
Tim: My subject matter comes from observed situations. It’s a response to my environment, and often to the light that falls upon it. Usually fleeting moments, capturing something that has interested me. I’m not prescriptive about it. I try to let the subconscious take the lead. But themes inevitably develop. Put simply, I’m just showing the world what I see. I sometimes use the nom de plume @i_see_this to illustrate the point.
Back in the studio filtering through the thousands of photos I’ve taken, I will make some rough prints and cut-out assemblies, sketch out alternative compositions, make some decisions about the colour palette, and paint some small studies. Then the challenge is to try and keep the freshness of these sketches and studies when scaling up.
I pin my oversized canvas to the wall, so that I can use rollers and scratch and scrape without fear of damaging it. I also like the freedom to reframe the image or extend it, before I crop it and put it on a stretcher.
I like very fine portrait canvas, which I cover with gesso a few times and block in with ground colour that is the spectrum opposite of the image in hand.
For transposing the image onto the canvas, I’ve recently been experimenting with the lazy grid or the doodle griding technique that mural artists often use, it works well for certain images.
I cover the bare canvas with marks where the image is more detailed, take a photo of the canvas and using Procreate on an iPad I’ll superimpose another level on the reference photo say 50% opacity and then use the combined image to scale up the reference.
Clare: The light in your work is so familiar and descriptive to me. Is your subject matter recorded on camera and then painted in the studio or do you paint en plein air? Do you ever create paint swatches to reference on site? Can you tell us about how you translate light in your work?
Tim: In my painting I like to rejoice in the artefacts and the optics of a photographic image. I make purposeful references to the photograph, but not in a photorealist way; I like to keep it as painterly as possible.
I use the things that we unconsciously register with our own set of lenses — our eyes. The way a small shadow will describe a doorway, or the graduating reflection in a window that lets you know how wide the road is behind you. The tonal difference in refracted light in a puddle. Things I wouldn’t necessarily register in a single outdoor session.
As far as translating light into the painted work, I’m not sure I have an informative answer for that. Its all in my sub-conscious. Light is something I’ve always been interested in as a photographer and painter. It’s a case of familiarising yourself with the subject, as well as studying how great painters have tackled it, and trial and error with various techniques. You have to be willing to experiment and treat failures as lessons learnt. I have a lot of lessons learnt waiting to be painted over.
Clare: From a technical/materials perspective, what do you find are the main differences or similarities when painting synthetic light at night and natural daylight?
Tim: I like including lights, and they can be a great device to play with in a composition. Unnatural lighting at night can be more intense in colour; it has hot spots and more complicated shadows and reflections. It’s about creating atmosphere, of course, but also controlling the travel of the viewer’s gaze. And flare is interesting to paint. From a materials perspective, I use unnatural colours in a more intense way, including carefully chosen unmixed chroma-rich paints.
Clare: Do you have a practice of drawing? If so, what materials do you prefer for drawing? Where and how often do you draw?
Tim: Drawing is very important. It’s a muscle that needs exercising, like press-ups for artists. Before Covid I did enjoy life drawing, using charcoal as the most versatile medium. For ideas and observations, I always carry a little sketch book, a propelling pencil and a couple of light grey Winsor & Newton Pro-Markers for quick toning just to note something that has amused or intrigued me. This is quite often people, which is odd as they rarely feature in my paintings.
Clare: Can you tell us about your approach to colour, how you arrange your palette and what colours you could not do without?
Tim: My palette usually has Titanium White, Prussian Blue, Cobalt Blue, Raw Umber, Yellow Ochre, Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Red, Alizarin Crimson, and some muddy mix from the previous day’s leftovers. I also use Winsor & Newton Liquin to keep it all flowing.
Clare: What are your most important artist’s tools? Do you have any favourites?
Tim: I have lots of tools and bits and pieces I’ve collected for scraping and rolling paint all over the shop. To aid drawing, I’m fond of a pair of callipers for measuring and transferring angles. An iPad can get you out of a hole. I deconstructed an easel and mounted it on a wall to save space, which gets a lot of use. I also have a large mechanic’s tool chest on wheels, which has everything in it, and a big sheet of glass as a palette on the top. With its big shallow drawers, I can see everything at a glance. I like anything that saves time and helps me keep tidy. I am not tidy.
Clare: How has the lockdown of the last few months affected your practice?
Tim: At the beginning of lockdown I took to cycling into central London for my exercise hour. It was totally deserted — shuttered shops, no cars, no people. London looked empty and very grey.
Subconsciously I must have been searching for some reassurance in a new and uncertain environment. Then I noticed accents of red, standing out amongst the greys — post boxes and phone boxes. They became symbols of more familiar times, with systems set up by benevolent governments that cared for everyone and invested in infrastructure. I found comfort in their presence.
With help from the Artist Support Pledge (thank you, Matthew Burrows) I made a series of small paintings using these red symbols of a past more reliable world. I’m still uncertain if this is a new longterm line of work. It’s been strange taking an inspirational lead from a colour.
Clare: What are your art influences? Who are your favourite contemporary or historical artists and why?
Tim: Too numerous to name them all but, historically Turner obviously. He is to painting what the Beatles are to pop music. With his output and dedication to the vocation not to mention the length of his career.
I find an affinity with many contemporary west coasters in the US that paint their environment with a similar approach, but they have the Californian sunshine and great landscapes and interesting old cars and motels and Americana to paint as well so I have inspiration, admiration AND jealousy.
Clare: What makes a good day in the studio for you?
Tim: I usually start my day by getting admin and anything ‘computery’ done before I leave home, so I can just deal with painting at the studio.
I’m not a one-at-a-time sort of painter. I like to have several paintings going at once. So a good day would include getting all the material together and starting a new image. If I feel there is a possibility that it will work as a painting — if it’s in the bag, as it were — then it’s OK to move on and put a good shift in on a previously started work or finishing off a commission.
I’ll usually listen to music Fip radio (no news) to get me in the zone. The “zone” is in another time dimension, and before you know it all the hours have disappeared. A beer and a chat with fellow studio artists at the finish of play would be a good day.
Clare: Can you tell us where we can see more of your work online or in the flesh?
Tim: I have been very lucky with the RA Summer Exhibition the past three years and although this year is a very different affair with the Covid restrictions I’m very pleased to be showing again. It’s great that the Academy have managed to keep the unbroken run of 252 consecutive years.
I am also having a show at Gallery East in Suffolk starting 9th October with Mari French.
I’m also taking part in the South London Art Sale, an instagram version of a charity art show that had to be cancelled, raising money to reduce loneliness and isolation with the charity @southlondoncares between the 12th and 23rd October 2020. You can find works for sale using #southlondonartsale
I can be followed on Instagram @timgoffeart and will add you to my personal newsletter list if you contact me through my website www.timgoffestudio.com