Remembering Geoff Dyer

Here’s what’s happening…

No poetry – I’m stuck on a long ambitious poem entitled ‘The Bunker’. It’s about a grim, brutalist concrete ruin in the Tasmanian high country, the provenance of an obsessive American survivalist who, ironically, died of cancer before the apocalypse was anywhere in sight. To iterate, it is to be a poem about the monstrous, confrontational concrete artefact in the wild country, and not about the architect thereof. Too many tripwires to venture there.

But there are a couple of prose projects hove-to on the near horizon, each a series, and each intended for the website of Forty South – ten ruminative pieces on historical meaning in Tasmania (though not, of themselves, works of history); and ten fictional pieces very roughly bouncing off the plague stories of Boccacio’s Decameron, stories from one pandemic to another.

But here’s the thing. I’ve reached a stage in my life when people from my brave young days, people who rubbed against me heroically and dynamically, are dying in increasing numbers. And every time such a one dissolves into the shadows, a chunk of my own life vanishes with them. No wonder people become grumpier as they age. Right now several people who mean a very great deal to me are living with death sentences.

Howsoever, this is by way of preamble. One of these magnificent, larger-than-life (though not death) personages whose beings constructed my own died a few days ago. There was a wake, but I couldn’t get to it, and there was a funeral, but I couldn’t get to that either. So here is my tribute to Geoff Dyer, Archibald Prize winning artist, friend of the great and the lowly – and he who, more than anyone else, gave Salamanca Place it’s grace and colour.

At the time of his death Geoff was unquestionably Tasmania’s greatest living artist. Though an Archibald winner, his forte was landscape, and no visual artist has penetrated the elusive soul of the island as effectively as Geoff.

I knew his art well. He was dedicated to his vocation, worked at it hard and enthusiastically, and understood well the theories and histories of art. But I knew him best as a lovable ratbag. He was a cheerfully inveterate gambler who could happily blow a large commission at the casino before returning to Salamanca to roister on. He was, many years ago, a talented footballer, albeit one prone to white line fever. His conversation was outrageous, conspiratorial, intimate. He loved life with an undaunted passion, and in his company it was impossible not to love life, too. And now he’s gone, and he leaves a void that can’t be filled.

Around the traps people are telling their Geoff Dyer stories. Mostly they are ‘big’ stories. Here is a small story; small, but it gives the flavour of the man. I was walking along Salamanca and spotted Geoff in animated conversation with a group of people at an outside table. I was in the act of walking past when Geoff disengaged from the group and walked up to me, put his hands on my shoulders, looked meaningfully into my eyes, and said: ‘We’re fucked mate. We’re completely fucked’. Then he took his hands from my shoulders, turned around and walked back to his table. That’s all that was said. I said not a thing.

Geoff was a one-off. A brilliant artist, a brilliant person, irreplaceable. Hobart is the poorer for his passing.


Note: The feature image on this page is Geoff Dyer’s ‘Lake Repulse’, sourced from Despard Gallery. You can browse more of Geoff’s marvellous paintings here. Lake Repulse is from his last, apocalyptic, exhibition.