George Gittoes: Augustus Tower

Visualising History and the Terror of Now!

George Gittoes, exhibiting at Mitchell Fine Art, attempts to take on this time in history in vibrant and challenging new paintings.

George Gittoes, artist and filmmaker has his eye on the world. Rather than retire to the COVID-led comfort of studio isolation, Gittoes has with new vigour sought to address the difficult conditions of being human during these times of widespread anxiety around world politics, climate change, and the lack of moral leadership. In this new body of work, such big themes appear not as concepts, but as visceral creatures, fleshy, under states of transformation, morphing into insects or grotesque creatures. In peering into this theatre of shock we face the greater disturbance of recognising it as the conditions of our present world, and that we are utterly at home in it.

George Gittoes, Blindfolded, 2020, oil on linen, 183 x 214cm. Courtesy the artist and Mitchell Fine Art, Queensland

The narrative of these works present a compressed theatrical space inhabited by the tragedy of fools and errants. In Blindfolded (2020), a teetering parade of victims are being led to certain death, the only figure with eyes, being a young child. This all occurs at the apex of human achievement in a great city, against a pale sun in a dust-filled sky. The horror of this work echoes when we recognise that political leadership is flawed, unable to see the future. Pride and Prejudice (2020) centres in on the Proud Boys, disenfranchised white Americans, obsessively recording their actions on social media. They are surrounded by provocative yet vulnerable figures manipulated by a narrative directed by Trump from the comfort of mobile phone vision.

Gittoes is a rare artist who has a broad range of practices and life experience that enables him to take on such a vast and overwhelming subject – the history of now!  He is well known for his life-long commitment to making art in the face of war, having made his studio in some of the most dangerous conflict zones, such as Cambodia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and more recently in South Side Chicago, which has some of the highest numbers of gun deaths in the USA. Gittoes’ first-hand stories are hair raising, and these are recorded in his diaries, which crackle with the energy of what it is like to be there. His work demonstrates his interest in forming powerful visual responses to these places of disintegration. Gittoes is looking for ways to wake us up through the power of images. These are images that enable us to see the realities of our current world, and to then find the conditions of forming hope in the future.

George Gittoes, Pride and Prejudice, 2020, oil on linen, 60 x 90cm. Courtesy the artist and Mitchell Fine Art, Queensland

The current ‘Augustus Tower’ suite of works deals with the present, and graphically confirms Gittoes as an artist with an ability to tackle the big issues that tear at the edges of our comfortable beliefs. These visionary works stretch the surface of the canvas to touch the anxiety, fear and hopes we carry at this time, in response to climate change, political ineptitude, racial power, the pandemic, and constraints on personal freedoms. These works are a powerful cypher to understand these difficult times. They carry the visual commitment of an artist who, now in his 70s, has continued to create art in the face of war. These works have the character of mythic warning, a spell, or even prophecy. This is a rich and visually stunning exhibition prickling with ideas and feeling. These works remind us that we are ethical and moral beings who inhabit a world under threat. Gittoes wants us to truly see.

Dr Rod Pattenden is a curator and writer interested in the role of the arts in social justice, politics and spirituality.

Mitchell Fine Art
10 March to 1 April 2021