George Gittoes, a lively 66 year old artist, enthralled us with snippets from his life story in GOMA’s cinema on Saturday. Two qualities become clear as you listen to George, The first is that he is fearless and the second is his fierce advocacy of the arts as a force for positive change.
He credits his paternal grandfather who was a pub pugilist for his physical toughness. After teaching George to fight he paid two young thugs to waylay him on the way home. When his mother confronted the Grandfather he was unrepentant simply saying that “George needed to learn how to take a beating.”
George discovered the power of puppets when he was growing up in Rockdale. Post WWII Rockdale was a mix of migrant groups from Europe - he was particularly interested in the Maltese girls across the road. One Saturday afternoon his father came home to find 300 people in the backyard watching George’s puppet show. He decided to pass a bucket around, then sent the proceeds to the Red Cross. As this pattern continued the Red Cross was curious to find out more about this kid who was sending in regular donations. They made a trip to his house to talk to him about how their organisation worked and the way the money was spent. This early inculcation to altruism remained with George.
George is famous for his YELLOW HOUSES. These multi-arts centres are set up to champion social change. The Yellow House in Jalalabad, Afghanistan has amazingly been blessed by the Taliban – though George emphasises that Afghani Taliban are very different to Pakistani Taliban and thinks they should have different names. Their website describes their credo:
It was fascinating to experience how much vigour George has for his mission – he embodies the saying bursting with energy. He is next harnessing that energy to tell the story of marginalised black kids in Brown Sub, Miami. Though he released a documentary in 2006 called Rampage, his friends from Brown Sub have asked him to come back to help find ways to improve the situation.
As impressed as I was with George's adventures there was a part of me that wanted to ask how he could free himself from parental responsibilities to pursue these passions across the globe. To fund his many humanitarian projects George relies on sales of his art, donations and has released a beautifully illustrated new book called Blood Mystic. This chronicle of his life and art is waiting to be purchased at the GOMA shop. Buy Now!