Born in 1969 in St. Mary's Ontario, Geoff Slater has lived in New Brunswick since September 2000. His artistic career began in the mid 1990s, after studies at Georgian College in Barrie, ON.
Acceptance into the Tom Thomson Memorial Art Gallery Annual Juried Exhibition in Owen Sound several years in a row was pivotal. From there he was introduced to art dealer Ben Goedhart of Circle Arts Gallery in Tobermory. Ben took Geoff under his wing and provided him with a place to paint in the Bruce Peninsula. This is when Geoff adopted the method of painting outdoors - hiking into the wilderness with watercolours, later developing sketches into larger pieces in the studio.
In 2000, a family move to New Brunswick brought Geoff to St. Andrews where he continued painting outdoors. A mountain bike ride up Chamcook Mountain, brought inspiration – and along with it - the idea to paint images with a single line.
In St. Andrews, Geoff, his wife and mother-in-law opened up a studio/gallery where he began to work publicly, receiving feedback from visitors to the studio. This differed greatly from the experience of being represented by a dealer, never meeting those who collected his work.
Soon, young people began to congregate at the studio. Geoff’s reputation as a “pied piper” of youth resulted in his first mural project – painting a water tower with the help of local students in 2003.
The experience of working with youth led Geoff to a job as an art instructor at the Kiwanis Community School - a place for dropouts.
When it closed and at-risk students were moved back into regular schools, he migrated to Sir James Dunn Academy where he worked as an intervention worker to replace Ritalin with paintbrushes – teaching students how to express their anger and frustrations in creative, constructive ways including a mural in the gymnasium titled, "Everybody Belongs in School".
He later became interim director of the St. Andrews Youth Activity Centre –facilitating its design and construction – through collaborations with youth.
In 2005, a television producer took an interest in Geoff’s artistic family. He was fascinated with the line paintings, which prompted Geoff to focus more on developing this style of painting. The culmination of this work was a 2007 exhibit at the Saint John Arts Centre.
Then, opportunity knocked with two public mural commissions depicting the history of St. Andrews, including one of how the town appeared in 1907 and another showing the 1604 landing on St. Croix Island. During this period Geoff became increasingly interested in highlighting the people and events in his community.
In 2010 he exhibited a series of graphites inspired by the stories of Charlotte County.
Today, Geoff continues to work with youth, helping to facilitate creative thinking through project-based learning while his artistic focus is line paintings of people who inspire him – prompted in part by the birth of his daughter and the sudden loss of his father-in-law.
His latest allegorical portraits involve line as a both metaphor and as a way of connecting individuals with their environment and circumstances.
My late father-in-law Hank used to always remind me to follow my instincts. He believed my most successful work was created when I didn’t give it too much thought, relying instead on my gut.
By definition, I am a realist in that I have always been concerned with expressing the distinctive nature of the area or subject depicted. However, my inner voice - when heeded – leads me on a journey where mood is as important as method.
The work I am doing today has evolved since the beginning of my artistic career. Initially, I was very drawn to place as I aimed to capture specific locations I had visited or heard about from others. Today my inspiration comes from the human condition and the people who have touched my life and shaped my community. I never met an art medium I didn’t like.
As a young artist, I was most comfortable with watercolours. I first used gouache in art school and from there, it was a natural transition to the vibrant colour of thick acrylic paint. I’ve sketched with graphite since childhood as well, though in recent years I began injecting an impulsive shot of colour (red) into all my pencil drawings.
Painting in a single line, using both watercolours and acrylics, has for the past ten years been a strong focus of my work. What began as a concept that came to me, literally overnight - a method of creating an image with a single line that never touches or crosses itself - has progressed from being strictly a technique, to a way of introducing metaphor into my work.
As I have moved from painting places to people, the line has allowed me to tie many concepts together. In my portraits, an unbroken, narrative line links individuals with their environments.
My murals provide another way of telling stories but what I enjoy most about these large-scale works, is the process. The sheer size of a mural requires constructing supports, moving staging and climbing to great heights, so they are huge physical undertakings.
Murals are also appealing in that they can be collaborations. My first involved a number of teenagers who had never painted before and that rewarding experience opened the door for me to work with youth, specifically those who were labeled “at-risk”.
Where murals require prior planning, line paintings are truly instinctual. They are painted using one single line and although it changes colour, the line never touches, or crosses itself. The colour is the continuous line - the white is the canvas.
When I paint with line, I sketch a basic image on the canvas, however, that is where the surface preparation ends. My brush moves and the line appears as I paint it, with no prior planning or drawing. Intellectually, the line is one of the most basic elements of art. Spiritually, the line represents connectedness.
I paint with line to symbolize the thread of life, but mostly, I paint with line because it just feels right.