In February, a small herd of life-sized goat sculptures, each hand-painted by a different Tampa Bay artist, were auctioned to benefit the human trafficking charity Project GOAT (Global Offensive Against Trafficking). The colorful creatures brought in $200,000, and immediately organizer Rob Canton began casting about for artists to willing contribute for a second round.
Then he met Geff Strik.
A Frenchman whose bold, passionate brushstrokes match his joie de vivre, Strik – known locally for his enormous canvases painted to pair up onstage with live music by The Florida Orchestra – accepted the challenge. And then some.
Telling Canton “I cannot be passive,” Strik at first requested a whole squadron of goats. He and Canton settled on five.
“The idea,” Strik recalls, “was to show some goats, and I said ‘If you do something, we have to go all the way. I will not show only five goats, because there is no purpose in it, for me. It’s fun but, what are you gonna make for that?”
The artist thoughtfully and creatively designed each goat in the style of an iconic painter – Picasso, Dali, Van Gogh, Pollack and Warhol. But he wasn’t finished.
Strik, whose commissioned work commands two- and even three-digit figures, donated dozens of paintings for the April 15 (World Day of Art) event at Tampa’s Hotel Haya. Canton estimates their total value at $1 million.
Born in Montceau-Les-Mines, Burgundy, Geff Strik graduated from the French Beaux-Arts Institute and worked as an art teacher and designer. He emigrated to New York City, and settled in St. Petersburg 20 years ago.
“The first painting I did in my life, I was 9 years old,” Strik recalls. “I painted it for a friend of my father. When he came to our house, and he saw the painting in the kitchen, he started to cry. And he wanted to buy it.
“I said to my father, how much? And he said I don’t know, I never sold a painting. And because he was a good friend of my father, I gave it to him. Because I didn’t want to sell it, I give it. And he cried.
“That’s more important than anything.”
Even today, Strik is reluctant to assign a dollar value to his work. “In America, a piece of art can have any value,” he says. “Because everybody has their own opinion of the value of a piece of art.” He doesn’t put a lot of stock in appraisers or dealers, who, he points out, are generally in it for their percentages.
“We artists should control the value of what we do,” he firmly believes. “Because no matter what, with Covid all the galleries shut down. All the collectors are looking for something new that they will not find.
“All the museums are struggling. They became mausoleums. And we see dead artists showing dead paintings in museums, but we see nothing new. There is nothing alive. And nobody wants to go to museums now to see paintings done 200 years ago. By a dead artist.”
His commissions, which come in from all over the world, pay the bills. “Of course, I like to sell my painting and make some money on it. But what, really do I need? What makes me happy to be here?”
Case in point, the oversized Florida Orchestra canvases he has donated to the Project GOAT auction, Verklarte Nacht, Don Quixote, Ma mere l’Oye and the Pulcinella Collection.
Inspired by the music, Strik was carefully video-recorded painting every scene, creating an image rife with symbolism for each new one, on top of the one before, resulting in one final 10-by-5-foot canvas thick with paint. The video was then screened behind the TFO musicians as they performed live.
“In my opinion, they are emotionally extremely valuable,” Strik says. “The Florida Orchestra gave me the opportunity to create images – and movies – that had never been done before. So how can you put a value on that? Do I have to curate the 45 years of painting that I have behind me?”
The answer was right in front of him, in the person of Rob Canton. In his travels, Strik says, “I saw by my own eyes what is trafficking. I witnessed it. In Haiti, I saw kids murdered. So I said OK, how can I help? And how can I give back to America?”
He’s also in a generous mood because he recently came out the other side of a bad case of Covid-19; he expresses gratitude for the “fantastic” team at St. Anthony’s Hospital that, he feels strongly, saved his life.
Strik first “gave back” to his adopted city in 2017 when he painted a series of dog statues, with differing designs, for a pet project of Mayor Rick Kriseman’s, the nonprofit Southeastern Guide Dogs.
“OK, I paint a dog, I paint a goat,” he laughs heartily. “Maybe I’m gonna paint a duck next time!”