GEOFF Latz’s studio doesn’t look much from the outside. There is a wooden door and a window you cannot see through. Once inside, two things become apparent. One: it is just as cold inside as out. And two: this utilitarian space is full of surprises, not least the artist himself. Geoff is virtually self-educated and approaches art, as he approaches most things, from an unusual angle. His sculptures and artworks are made from scrap metal and discarded wire and bolts and nuts, and they are lined up neatly in here, ships and galleons and totem poles.
Geoff is 57 and shares this unit on the Hillam Road Industrial Estate in Bradford with his partner in art Angela Boyce, who works in stained glass and acts as his PA. Tea is made and I am offered the chair next to a portable radiator.
Geoff’s scrap art often has a historical or political theme. Sometimes there are aliens involved. He has a fascination with aliens.
It has been an unconventional journey towards art. Geoff is the 12th youngest of 13 children. One of his brothers died, but there are still a dozen Latz siblings. “Eight guys living and four sisters,” he says.
He had a nomadic childhood. “I never got an education when I were a kid because we were always moving,” he says.
Geoff reckons he went to 12 different schools in as many years thanks to parents who couldn’t stay put. His mother “was an ’uddersfield lass” and his father was a German Jew who arrived in Britain in 1938.
“There was a restlessness in him because of what had happened to him in Germany, and he couldn’t settle in one place,” says Geoff.
The older siblings departed, leaving the younger ones to follow their peripatetic parents. “We ended up in these bloody two caravans going all over the country,” says Geoff.
For a while they lived in an old barracks in Kent which had been set up for people displaced by the war. “Tough times,” says Geoff, who got little from school. “I never got a chance to learn, so I taught myself a lot of stuff. I gave myself an education. I had an insatiable appetite to learn and I’ve still got that today.”
His parents rolled to a halt in Wales and Geoff moved to Bradford, where other members of the family had settled. He worked at Fields Printers for 25 years until he was made redundant in the spring of 2015.
As a child, he didn’t have many toys and improvised, making do with his imagination and whatever came to hand. “It sounds the old poor tale, but it really was: we had nothing. I’d find my own world and make things out of whatever I could get my hands on. My family thought I was a bit eccentric.”
Geoff was always creative, always making things. “I can’t help it, it’s just something I need to do. I am always trying to say something when I am making stuff. It’s like storytelling.”
While he was still at Fields, he began work on a ship he calls Anne Galleon, a striking creation named in honour of his wife. He and Anne live in Eccleshill and the couple have two daughters, aged 19 and 21.
The ship was inspired by a sermon given by his pastor friend Paul Hubbard. “He’s a massive influence on my life, we’ve been friends for 26 years,” says Geoff, who attends the Christian Life Church in Shipley.
“He was giving a talk about setting sail and what your vision is and I got this vision in my head of a ship, but not any ship but a 16th century Spanish galleon, as I love history.”
Geoff had no idea how to begin, but set sail anyway, calling on his engineering know-how. The task took 1,000 hours over 18 months while he was still working full time. “Anne used to call it my other mistress,” Geoff says.
His galleon has copper piping for cannons (they roll in and out), a copper hull and myriad nuts and bolts.
Being an artist hasn’t been easy, but Geoff’s work has been exhibited in and around Bradford at Cartwright Hall, Bradford Industrial Museum, the Kala Sangam Centre, the Fabric Gallery and the South Square Gallery in Thornton. He also had a solo exhibition at Leeds Industrial Museum in 2013 and four years ago, he was a guest exhibitor at the Brick Lane Gallery in London. More recently, Geoff and Angela took part in the Saltaire Open Houses trail.
A First World War piece is touring Bradford libraries at present. This was inspired in part by his grandfather’s experiences in the war. “In those days, he was German first and Jewish second,” says Geoff.
Geoff turned to the Battle of Verdun for his 3D trench scene, in part because of its gruesome nickname. The battle was so bloody men called it the Meat Grinder, and this title forms part of the piece.
His commemorative work has a cupboard base for ease of transport. The cenotaph is made from old china tiles and the sandbags are cut from the handles of Angela’s hessian bags, with wording in pins and wires.
The uniforms are made from the pockets of Angela’s cargo trousers. “I have to suffer for my art,” she says. The helmets are made from copper, and twigs, stones and “all sorts” go into the trenches.
Pieces on show in the studio include a Mayan totem pole with an inscription on the back in Geoff’s own Cuneiform script (the buyer will receive a translation, but only after he dies) and a Fat Cats’ Bank, a hollowed-out feline structure made of wire and old chrome, and containing a political message about banking.
Recently, Geoff worked with Angela to produce a striking portrait of Jimi Heselden, the Yorkshire businessman who died when his Segway went over a cliff. The image combines a painting with a filigree arrangement of pins and wires.
Geoff is surrounded by art made from what others would dismiss as junk. In that vein, he is still trying to upscale himself into a full-time artist, while looking for every-day work. “It’s hard work but that’s nothing new,” he says.
With that I leave the indoor cold for the outdoor cold. The heating in the car is turned to full as I head home.
Geoff Latz’s Verdun memorial is currently on display at Ilkley Library. Find out more at latzart.com