George Gittoes: I Witness
24 May 2014 - 27 Jul 2014
The first major survey in Australia of the work of leading Australian artist and filmmaker George Gittoes.
I Witness presented a chronological journey of Gittoes’ 40-year career with a body of work that included paintings, drawings, and artist diaries from the fields of war, as well as installation and film. The exhibition documented sites of cultural conflict including Nicaragua and the Philippines in the 1980s, Rwanda, Cambodia and the Middle East in the 1990s, and more recently Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
I Witness explored the capacity of figurative art to address issues of an ethical, if not spiritual, nature where the question of being human is starkly framed in the context of war and terrorism. Gittoes' images are stark, confronting, demanding and illuminating as they appeal to the viewer’s capacity for compassion and justice.
The curator Rod Pattenden said: “This is not idealist exhibition of art about art, but a record of an artist wild with vision for the capacity of art to create change in the real world of the viewer. It is sometimes shocking, always provocative and clearly a unique visual experience. Gittoes steps outside a safe role for an artist and creates images of stunning power in some of the most difficult places on earth.”
Gittoes career focuses not so much on war, but on the larger questions of the nature of peace making and human politics as well as the individual stories of the people he encounters. His films feature sharply drawn characters and his drawings and paintings, are alive with the grotesque and fantastic. He has an eye for transformation and hopeful change in the most appalling situations. He demonstrates art's capacity to address the conditions of human horror. Gittoes uses every means at his disposal to enable the viewer to become an eyewitness to this story. He is a unique and important Australian artist with an international profile. An impressive monograph that includes essays by the late Bernard Smith and David Ross, former Director of the Whitney Museum, New York accompanied the exhibition.
I Witness took the viewer on a journey that began in the late 1960s with Gittoes’ establishment of the Yellow House in Potts Point, Sydney. It then followed his studio around the globe over a 45 year period featuring over 90 works including 6 films. In 2011, the journey returned to the Yellow House, but this time to Jalalabad in the Pashtun-dominated region south of Afghanistan. Inspired by the original Yellow House it features a cinema, travelling tent circus, rainbow-painting studios, and Secret Garden Cafe and Rose Theatre outdoor stages. It was also the location for Gittoes recent return in 2014 to film Snow Monkey.
Image: George Gittoes, Congregation 2013, ink and digital print ion paper, 56 x 68.5cm.