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Toni Goffe

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From the London jazz to the Boston maritime scene, via Hampshire landscapes, curious cats, startled cows and much high kicking and black belt-achieving, hugely popular contemporary animal humourist, landscape and various other genres artist, Toni Goffe is a well-travelled exponent of the paint in more ways than one as we’re about to discover for ourselves. As a double bass player with an equal passion for another creative art, painting, Goffe elected to play and paint his way through Southampton College of Art’s National Diploma course in Design in the latter part of the 1950s, on completion of which he swiftly moved to the bright lights of the big city. No disrespect to Hampshire’s unofficial capital, but London was the place to be just ahead of the swinging 60s.

Once holed up in the big smoke, Goffe launched himself as a freelance illustrator, with a particular visual emphasis on children’s literature title. Yet this alone didn’t pay the bills, as he was also dividing his London time between illustration and gaining further private tutoring in painting per se from established artists themselves. So to support his standard of living Goffe rediscovered his passion/dormant talent for playing percussion instruments and carved out a separate niche for himself by performing bass in a succession of jazz bands during this period. Incidentally, Goffe also penned many of the original stories in the children’s books he illustrated too, just for the record.

After tying the knot with fellow Southampton art school alumni, Jill, Goffe moved back to his native Hampshire – along with his two young sons, now – with a plan to set up an art gallery and a judo club. Yes, Goffe has remained passionate about his love for many a martial art which first manifest itself in his youth, acquiring a collection of black belts in the process, whilst also becoming a Tai Chi instructor with his own video to boot. But back to the art. And music, etc. despite the demands of his freelance illustrating, Goffe had grown steadily more interested in painting, especially on opening the gallery with his wife, which provided a bricks and mortar platform and commercial shop window for not just Goffe’s own art, but that of aspiring painters locally.

At this same time, Goffe was introduced to John Stobart, himself a painter of the marine genre who was about to emigrate to America’s east coast to set up a gallery of his own. 12 months after Stobart relocated due west, Goffe himself followed his new creative acquaintance, after being invited to run Stobart’s Boston-based gallery for him, while also furthering his own oil painting skills under the watchful eye of a renowned master in his illustrative field. Goffe remained in Massachusetts for the next four years, all the time extending his own skillset and knowledge, along with regularly getting to showcase his own work in galleries dotted along America’s eastern seaboard.

In the mid-1980s, Goffe returned home to Hampshire soil and continued his oils, and first caught the public’s attention back here when his painting entitled, ‘Small Cat in Large Dog’s Bed’ was awarded ‘Best Painting’ at one of the first exhibitions he submitted work to thereafter. With numerous potential buyers having clamoured to get their hands on the aforementioned composition, Goffe decided to produce a limited edition print of the original piece, to essentially supply the unprecedented demand for the painting. It was this example of his art that Goffe chose to show Washington Green – arguably the UK’s largest fine art publishers – who were so impressed by what they saw they asked Goffe to sign up with their successful portfolio of artists then and there. A working relationship which was soon established and bore fruits of his labours ever since.

Goffe’s painting process is a familiar one to many contemporary artists, and will effectively begin with either a simplistic sketch of a subject matter which Goffe’s just borne witness to. Often in Goffe’s case one of his cats sitting in a doorway or peering back at him through the kitchen window. Nine times out of ten a scenario that just presents itself to the artist, which will then act as the starting point. Once he’s comprised the bones of the potential study on layers of layout paper, Goffe will transfer his initial, roughed out concept onto watercolour paper, which he secures to his drawing board, before starting the outlining process in pencil.

Only once this is done will Goffe reach for the watercolours (he does frequent oils too we hasten to add), building up individual layers until such time as Goffe feels that he’s struck the right tonal balance. At this juncture he may well introduce a spot of gouache or pastel to the heady mix if things have gone to plan, otherwise Goffe looks to his acrylics to rectify any outstanding graphic issues. On this note Goffe comments; “Some paintings I have to abandon altogether because they have gone out of control and have to be thrown away”, adding; “There is an unhealthily large pile of these!” Once the illustrative mood is set, Goffe presents the piece to his wife (and cats) and awaits constructive criticism, before putting the finishing touches to his next masterpiece.