George Gittoes

G e o r g e   G i t t o e s   A M

We’re the Monkeys

There is a role for contemporary art to challenge rather than entertain. My work is confronting humanity with the darker side of itself.

An artist, photographer and filmmaker, Gittoes was born 1949 in Brighton-Le-Sands, New South Wales, and grew up in nearby Rockdale in the southern suburbs of Sydney. After completing his secondary education at Kingsgrove North High School, he began an Arts degree at Sydney University. However, an encounter with the visiting American art critic, Clement Greenberg, impelled Gittoes to abandon his studies in order to spend time in America. While studying at the Art Students League of New York, he was profoundly influenced by the social realist artist, Joseph Delaney, whose work was derived from his involvement in the civil rights movement. Gittoes’ art became similarly politically oriented with his seminal Hotel Kennedy Suite, inspired by opposition to the Vietnam War, and Kent State Suite, a response to the shootings at Kent State University, Ohio.

Returning to Australia in 1969, Gittoes was co-founder with artist, Martin Sharp, of the Yellow House cooperative in Macleay Street, Potts Point, Sydney, as a homage to van Gogh’s unrealised dream of establishing a centre for artists to live, work and exhibit at his house in Arles, France.

Since then, for nearly four decades, Gittoes has documented many of the world’s most notorious conflicts. Acclaimed as one of Australia’s most important artists, his works have typically reflected his social, political and humanitarian observations of man’s treatment of his fellow man. In his work, he has pictorially and cinematically documented his experiences in Nicaragua, the Philippines, Somalia, Sinai, Southern Lebanon, Israel, Gaza, Western Sahara, Cambodia, Laos, Mozambique, South Africa, the Congo, Rwanda, Yemen, Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Russia, the UK, Bougainville, China, Tibet, Timor, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

As an internationally renowned filmmaker, he worked alongside Marie Guevara in Nicaragua in Bullets of The Poets and travelled to Iraq to make Sound Track to War and Rampage. Miscreants of Taliwood saw his first meeting with extreme Islam in Pakistan. In Snow Monkey, he ventured deep into the world of the street gangs of Jalalabad.

Gittoes has exhibited extensively in solo and group shows throughout Australia and internationally.

Among his numerous wards are the Fisher’s Ghost Art Prize (1974, 1989); the Blake Prize (1992, 1995) and the Wynne Prize, Art Gallery of New South Wales (1993). He has also been a frequent finalist in art competitions, including the Sulman Prize, Art Gallery of New South Wales (1988, 1989, 2016); the Wynne Prize, Art Gallery of New South Wales (1989, 1992); and the Archibald Prize (1993, 1994, 1997).

He has also been awarded a number of artist-in-residencies, including Tennant creek, Northern Territory (1983); Wollongong City Art Gallery (1989); Newcastle Art Gallery (1989); Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery (1989); Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing (1998) and Light Work, Syracuse, New York (2013).

He is represented in public, corporate and private collections in Australia and abroad, including the National Gallery of Australia; the Queensland Art Gallery; the Art Gallery of New South Wales; the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory; the Powerhouse Museum and regional galleries throughout Australia.

In 1997, Gittoes received the award of member of the Order of Australia (AM) ‘for service to art and international relations as an artist and photographer portraying the effects on the environment of war, international disasters and heavy industry.’ He was awarded the Centenary Medal (2001) ‘for service as an internationally renowned artist’ and an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by the University of New South Wales (2009). Other honours include the Bassel Shehade Award for Social Justice (2013) and the Sydney Peace Prize (2015) in recognition of his life’s work in contributing to the peacemaking process.

George Gittoes was elected a member of the Australian Watercolour Institute in 2016.

Copyright © Australian Watercolour Institute