He has been and continues to be by turns involved with both civic and structural engineering, aeronautics, and art. Engineering has been his livelihood, aeronautics an abiding passion and art his raison d’etre. I use the word art advisedly as his creativity comprises photography not merely for recording but as a means of expression, mark making in various media, which one might call drawing and the construction of “paintings” which use many materials other than simply paint.
Before embarking on a discussion of the works which are the reason for this little book, it will be rewarding to look at all these facets of a complex life, as revealing their interconnectedness will make much more sense of the enigmatic and multilayered nature of the photographs, drawings and paintings.
Drawing as a recording activity has been part of Lefever’s life since his teens, becoming more important during his National Service in the early fifties. Although he was dedicated to the pursuit of becoming a painter, he admits that at the time he was not aware of much that was going on in the art world. In spite of his serious interest in making drawings and paintings, he needed a career, so he articled himself to a Civil and Structural engineer, completing his studies in 1955. Later this gave him the means to support a wife and child, but his commitment to painting, particularly from industrial and natural landscape eu plein air increased and became central to his existence.
In 1965 he joined the Norwich 20 Group and after a sellout show in Kings Lynn in 1969, he gave up engineering to concentrate on his work. 1969 also saw him spend time in Arles in France, but on his return financial difficulties meant he had to resort once again to his engineering skills. He took up a post in Hertfordshire, which gave him access to London and life drawing at the Central School, and throughout the seventies he attended life-drawing classes with Leslie Davenport at Norwich School of Art.
In 1973 he returned to Arles and had an exhibition there in 1974. Also in that year he showed at Betty Jewson’s Pottergate Gallery in Norwich. In 1975 until 1980 he worked with Broadland District Council and virtually gave up serious work on his painting. However he continued with his life studies at Norwich School of Art with help from John Wonnacott and John Lessore in the Life Room and seriousness returned when he was accepted by the School to study painting under Edward Middleditch in 1980.
Throughout the period from 1969 when he first visited Arles until 1980, Lefever’s artistic horizons had been widening substantially and he had been looking a great deal at European art, particularly the Expressionists and Frank Auerbach. It is significant that he also discovered the American painter, Richard Diebenkorn, who introduced him to an almost abstract formal structure of landscape, and it was American painting that was to have the most far-reaching influence upon his developing oeuvre during his time at Norwich.
He describes his experience there as being the most seminal of his life, completely changing attitudes to working, and discovering many new unknown artists and the magic of oriental calligraphy. Much of this was a self-motivated journey. Ed Middleditch had thought him already too formed to teach, but later during the three year course acknowledged the developing work and became quite complimentary. Dick James proved to be a beneficial tutor and Ian Starsmore from Complimentary Studies was most helpful in pointing out precedents and routes to follow.
Needing once again to make a living post Art School, he set up a one man engineering consultancy which gavehim the freedom to be his own man, and to be selective about when and what to take on as work. A new means of expression also followed, medium format photography, which he has exhibited regularly since 1995.
Two other important experiences supporting the development of Lefever’s mature work occurred early in the new millennium. In 2002, he went on a three-week trip to Nepal recording his trip with many photos. He also made non-topographical drawings influenced by the calligraphy that he saw everywhere. In 2004, he undertook a part time MA at Nottingham Trent University capitalizing on the powerful visual stimuli he had received in Nepal. After a while there he further extended his range of media by studying printmaking. In addition, in recent years, the 20 Group cooperation with artists in Rouen and Novi Sad has been a rich experience and led to shared exhibitions in both cities and a “3 plus 1” show for Lefever at St Etienne du Rouvray.
Earlier, I mentioned Lefever’s life long association with aeronautics. He is a very experienced glider pilot and also a passionate maker and flyer of the most exquisite ultra lightweight smallscale aeroplanes. Although he regards both activities as in some respects hobbies and as means of escaping the responsible rigours of engineering and the even tougher business of trying to make good art, I consider his interest in these singular activities to be not disconnected from the impulses that guide his approach to his art. Gliders and mini flying machines deal with very specialized structures to enable them to stay aloft with minimum power. Also they inhabit real “physical” space and by their movement through it they define it’s palpable reality. They are also entities that rely on very specific materials to maintain their structural integrity. You may say to yourself how different is this from structural engineering? Not a great deal. Interestingly the artist suggested to me that the engineering part of his life was irrelevant to his artistic activities. On the surface this might be seen to be the case, but there seems to be an intellectual consistency between these apparently disparate involvements which come I believe from deep rooted emotional concerns related to Lefever’s responses to the material world. As we come to examine both his drawings and paintings these same concerns will become self evident as underpinning to the methodology of their construction.
Before I come to the paintings and drawings, I must mention Lefever’s photography that forms a not inconsiderable part of his oeuvre. It is sufficiently accomplished and pertinent to his interests to be, if required, the central part of his artistic career, and in other hands this could well have been the case. Indeed, in 1997, when he showed photographs at the King of Hearts in Norwich, he considered them to be as important as the paintings he was making at the time. But such is the breadth of Lefever’s vision; in the end he realized that they only deal with some aspects of the visual world which so captivates him. His chosen means is medium format photography that demands great technical knowledge and skill (cf. engineering and flying). Materiality and physicality found in both the natural and manmade world are his subjects as he carefully selects details that are enlarged until they take on an almost abstract identity. Their main concerns are with the underlying structure of the motif as it can be manipulated to become pictorial structure and therefore able to dispense with reality and become a new self-contained image.
Derek Morris has been very generous in his overview of my beginnings, influences and development as a painter. The works made within the period 2000 to 2010 are, I feel, a logical extension of my practice since Art School in Norwich.
The works made within the period 2000 to 2010 are, I feel, a logical extension of my practice since Art School in Norwich. However, Derek is correct in stating that my exposure to Himalayan culture in Nepal had a very significant affect on me and this resulted in an enriched output of work. Initially the work was of workbook dimensions and much influenced by ‘marni’imagary, Tibetan script seen in rock carvings and stone tablets throughout the Khumbu valleys. Although the Sherpa peoples are devoutly Buddhist, spirituality was for me a combination of peoples and spirit of place. It was an experience outside of anything I had previously known. In the year before my visit to Nepal, my daughter Jane [on completion of a Foundation Course at Leeds] was looking to continue in art education at degree level. We travelled from Newcastle to Falmouth and she eventually chose Nottingham Trent for her studies. I too found the environment stimulating and the staff totally committed and enthusiastic. And so it was that a year later, when Jane was already established on the Hons BA Fine Art course, that I applied for entry onto the MA course. I was accepted on the basis of recent work books and a commitment to develop into larger works. My degree was an MA in Fine Art by Registered Project and I opted for my degree to be assessed on a final exhibition. This was held in the Bonnington Building at the University at the end of the two years. I would like to acknowledge the level of support I received from my tutor Derek Sprawson throughout the two year course.
Since the completion of my MA in 2004 other areas of diverse ‘spirituality’ have extended and influenced my work. For many years I had known a small hamlet set in the chestnut woods of south west France. Working in the silence of these woods in the heat of summer with ink and paper, using seed heads and sticks rather than brushes, resulted in new abstract imagery.
Later still, the austere winter landscape of North Norfolk resulted in larger works using paper painted flat on a concrete hard standing
high above the surrounding fields. I was once again working in the Norfolk landscape. Now the works were totally non-representational and informed by the sounds, smells and the wind off the sea.
Other works too large for my car were made in the orchard behind Petersons House. Multiple layers of open weave Indian paper with acrylic medium and paint were used directly onto unprimed canvas.
This small book is to compliment an exhibition to be held in the ‘Stew’ Gallery, Fishergate, Norwich, in June 2010.
Geoffrey Lefever Walnut Tree Cottage, FengateBack to top of page