Geoff Pease and his family moved to the Island in 1997 for his freshman year of high school. It was a shock to the system moving from Dartmouth to the Vineyard, but as an already established skateboarder, Geoff had an in. He quickly flourished in the skate community, and earned his stripes as the younger guy showing up all the older kids.
Geoff frequently skated with his friend Marlon Grennan, and during their junior year of high school, Marlon’s father was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
“That was the first time Geoff encountered a real hardship,” Geoff’s younger brother Randy said in an interview in New York city this week.
It was also the first time Geoff turned to art to deal with pain.
“He went to the Granite store in Edgartown and bought those paints that are all connected together, like the hobby paints, and he painted a portrait of Marlon standing there with a big smile on his face,” Randy said. Geoff gave the painting to Marlon’s father, three days before the man died.
“And he never stopped after that,” Randy said. “It made him feel really good that the Island community was responding the same way to his skateboarding habit as they were his artwork. The painting took him a long time but he was very happy with the finished product and I think that was the most important thing — that he was confident.”
This confidence propelled Geoff to the Maine College of Art after graduating from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School in 2001. In college he continued to immerse himself in his art, but it was also during this time that he began to experience mental health issues.
“We see some of the story in Geoff’s artwork,” Randy said. “There’s a girl he painted a lot. I got the feeling that was his Daphne.”
Daphne was supposedly a new girlfriend, a former prostitute with a jealous ex-boyfriend, Geoff told his brother. But in reality, Daphne did not exist except in Geoff’s imagination.
“I’m sure that some aspects of what he was experiencing were real,” Randy said. “It could have been derived from a relationship he already had or maybe a picture in a book.”
With help from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Geoff was eventually checked into Pembroke Hospital in Boston. He then spent several years in outpatient care, but his mental status increasingly declined and he became more and more removed, Randy said. Geoff’s artwork also continued to get darker.
On March 3, 2004 Geoff lost his battle with paranoid schizophrenia. He was 21 years old.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of Geoff’s death, and Randy is curating a show of his brother’s work to celebrate his life. Beautiful Beast: The Life and Work of Geoff Pease is being held at Brooklyn Fire Proof in Brooklyn, N.Y., on March 14 through March 16. And all of his Vineyard friends are invited.
“He found a lot of happiness on the Vineyard, no matter what was going on,” Randy said. “I know that his friends had a really hard time seeing Geoff decline with every visit...that’s the predicament with mental illness. It’s really hard for any relationship to stand on its own when somebody is so far away from reality.”
Randy and his mother would visit Lucy Vincent Beach every year on the anniversary of Geoff’s death. It was during one of these visits that Randy thought up the idea for the retrospective.
“Last year my mom and I walked around until our feet got all numb,” he said. “We went to the Newes and had a big beer for him. That’s when I finally asked her, because this was just as important for me as it was for her.”
Randy found slides of Geoff’s entire college portfolio in a box in their mom’s basement. His work had “evolved steadily” from the portrait of Marlon through to his diagnosis and “struggle with his demons.” The images have been scanned and are being printed by Tisbury Printer.
Some of the pieces will be for sale and T-shirts with Geoff’s images will also be for sale. All proceeds will benefit the Martha’s Vineyard Skatepark for a new halfpipe.
“Maybe we can raise enough money to cement his name in the Vineyard skate community – how cool is that?” Randy said.
Randy took out one of Geoff’s paintings that includes a nautilus spiral of hair. Randy remembered talking to his brother about the work, one of the only times Geoff opened up about his illness. Geoff told Randy that the circular patterns represented his life spiraling inwards. This week, Randy felt the spiral was unwinding and coming full circle.
“When you’re 21 there’s only so much you can process, when someone is here and then they’re suddenly gone,” he said. “I’m sure there’s a lot of people on the Island who wondered where Geoff went, so for them this is going to be exactly where he went.”
Beautiful Beast: The Life & Work of Geoff Pease opens on March 14 at Brooklyn Fire Proof in Brooklyn, N.Y. The show runs through March 16. For more information visit the website here or send an email.