Right on the outskirts of Bruckner Boulevard is an unassuming street in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx… a small creative enclave filled with artists who contribute the vibrancy of the borough. On the outside, the area appears dull, with an industrial atmosphere and dated buildings. Inside one of the apartment buildings, directly in the middle of the street has a narrow staircase, a frail service elevator, and a large freight. That’s where you’ll find artist, Geoff Rawling. On January 13, 2018, Geoff welcomed me to his studio apartment which also serves as his workspace filled with sculptures and paintings. Upon entering, it seemed as if I were walking through a museum full of esoteric masterpieces, some have yet to have be named.
Pieces of vivacious innovations decorated every corner of the studio. Many of these works were defined as “mixed media,” a combination of artwork in one project. Geoff stated that he is someone who is eco-friendly, thus, he incorporates recyclable items such as cans and bottles. One particular piece of mixed media that I found interesting was a portrait of a young lady who was one of Geoff’s models when he lived back in London. The portrait consisted of clay, wood, used sunglasses, and nails for hair.
In my opinion, his other pieces of mixed media were open to interpretation and did not have a specific subject or message. When asked how Geoff puts together a mixed media piece, he said that he takes two or three colors and tries to create a pattern.
Next to his bed, were a number of paintings. One of the first that I noticed was of former President Barack Obama and former First Lady, Michelle Obama facing each other with the Earth between them. Others included live paintings from sessions that he hosts at various restaurants…particularly the Mott Haven Bar & Grill located one block away from the studio.
Most houses have a centerpiece or a main attraction. Propped on an easel were three slabs of wooden boards painted with the New York City skyline. In red and black letters, they spelled, “gentrification,” and a bar code was painted at the bottom. “Genre,” Geoff said, ” means re-birth.” He went on to explain that although there are many new buildings and businesses on the rise in the South Bronx, the area is not seeing gentrification. The Bronx was once a borough home to people with big pockets. Today, residents claim that the revitalization streak will ultimately force those with lower incomes out of the area. Geoff’s argument is that people are re-living history…the Bronx will once again be home to the rich, hence he uses the term “generification” as opposed to gentrification.
As we prepared to close out the visit, I asked Geoff what art is. His response : ” For me, it’s the intuitive experience as us as people that then becomes the connection between everybody.”
Like art, this definition can be interpreted in different ways. Through my point of view, it means that our personal experiences are interconnected with everyone else; however, we all perceive things differently and thus, our personal interpretations are a form of art.
Being able to visit Geoff was a unique experience because I feel like I was able to go inside of a secret gallery. His extraordinary works can easily be featured in a museum, but Geoff wants to continue to contribute to the local community. Geoff is a great example of not being from the Bronx, but being part of the Bronx. He was born and raised in London and lived in various places throughout New York City including the Upper East Side and Far Rockaway before moving to the borough. He admits that he moved to the Bronx because it was one of the least expensive places to live in the city, but he admires the creativity and the architecture the Bronx has to offer. Like those who were born and raised in the Boogie Down, Geoff believes there is no place like the Bronx…a place he plans to continue to call home.
See full interview and photos of Geoff’s work below!