Published: 5th May, 2011
GEOFF Evans, who has died aged 66, used his artistic talents to further a burning belief in social justice and progressive politics.
He is best known in Camden and Islington for establishing Pentonville Gallery, but his life was rich and varied.
Born in Cardiff, the son of doctors, Tom and Mary, he was privately educated – something that helped cement a deeply held belief in state schools and equality of access for all, as he recognised the divisive nature of private education.
He went on to win a place at Cambridge to study economics but took up another offer to study music at the Guildhall. An accomplished guitarist and pianist, as well as having a typically Welsh male choir voice, he graduated with honours.
After Guildhall he performed in the West End, appearing in Cabaret with Judi Dench, who would become a lifelong friend. He also spent time as a roadie for Leonard Cohen, and would perform at The Engineer pub in Primrose Hill.
One of the defining aspects of his life was the sheer breadth and scale of his involvement in the arts. He produced a number of films, and had a spell at the British Film Institute.
Geoff worked on Bill Douglas’s My Childhood in 1972, part of a groundbreaking trilogy about life in a Scottish mining village during the war.
Then, in the late 1970s, he founded Pentonville Gallery in Amwell Street, Islington.
His mission was to use art to promote political discussion, as a starting point for polemics. Friends recall that he believed the power of art and music was to transform, educate and inspire.
He also saw his role as a facilitator for others’ careers. Scores of artists were given their first break by Geoff, who encouraged them to pursue their ideas.
In the political cauldron of the Thatcher years, his was a voice of cultured reason in opposition to the excesses of neo-Conservatism.
He moved the Pentonville to Whitfield Street in Fitzrovia in the late 1980s. It is now in the safe keeping of the Tate Library.
Geoff would later establish Welsh Contemporaries, a stable of Welsh artists he would promote tirelessly, with an annual show that would start on St David’s Day and run for six weeks. It was seen by critics as a touchstone for what was happening outside metropolitan London’s art scene.
In the late 1980s he moved to Laugharne in Wales and set up a bookshop and wine bar. The call of his homeland had always been strong and he had a particular interest in Celtic culture. Later, he would move to Hay-on-Wye, where he established another gallery in a former chapel, which is still going strong.
He will be remembered as someone who never had any interest in money – whose reward was in helping to make things happen.
Above all, Geoff will be remembered as a true Renaissance man – a genuine polymath as comfortable discussing science and economics as much as art, music and literature.
He was passionate about rugby and was a celebrated cook. Friends and relatives enjoyed his eye for fresh produce, which he would then turn into feasts for those invited to stay for dinner.
Geoff is survived by his former wife, Alma, two sons, Patrick and Tom, and his mother, Mary Mills.