Gittoes a highlight of packed Casula Powerhouse program

George Gittoes pictured in "Yellow House – Southside Chicago" photograph (2018) by Wagar Alam. Image: supplied.

Conflict, migration, First Nations stories and an expansive George Gittoes exhibition are on the agenda for the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre’s autumn and winter program, writes John Moyle.

Leading off the Casula Powerhouse’s new program is George Gittoes’ latest show On Being There, and for many, ‘there’ is not a place for the faint-hearted. 

Gittoes is well known for his confrontational work inspired by his personal and close observations of the world’s most explosive situations of war and urban conflict. 

In the lates sixties, inspired by American art critic, essayist and promoter of abstract expressionism, Clement Greenberg, Gittoes waved goodbye to a promising career as a minimalist in Sydney and headed to New York City, a move that would map the future direction of his work. 

It would not be in the direction Greenberg wanted to steer him. 

“The world already had too many paintings, and seeing the show Family of Man, an exhibition of photojournalism looking at racism in America and war, among other subjects, painter Phillip Guston said, ‘Why do you want to create three stripes and place it on a wall next to the flowerpot in IBM?’,” Gittoes told the Sentinel

“I realised back then that abstract painting really suited the one percent, and that art had lost its political and human content, as it had just become decoration.” 

During his time in New York, Gittoes became heavily influenced by the words and actions of Martin Luther King, and after hooking up with Afro-American painter of the civil rights movement, Joe Delaney, his work became figurative again. 

Two worlds in Harmony (Sufi) by George Gittoes (2018). Image reproduced courtesy the artist and the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre/supplied.

Returning to Sydney in the early seventies, Gittoes was encouraged by artist Martin Sharp to join him in creating the Yellow House collective in Potts Point. 

A tribute to the arts of Van Gogh, Matisse, Mondrian and Magritte, the Yellow House concept would prove to be a recurring inspiration in Gittoes’ life as he and his wife Hellen Rose would open communal and collaborative arts centres under that name in some of the most conflicted places on earth, such as Jalalabad and Chicago’s South Side.

As important to him as his canvases, Gittoes and Rose use these art centres as safe places for the locals where they would be encouraged to add the extra dimension of art into their lives. 

It would also give them a chance to make documentaries, including Love City Jalalabad and White Light. Both are screening during the Casula run. 

Both films are part of a free program supporting his current exhibition, and with the recent conviction of George Floyd’s murderer, White Light, set in Chicago’s South Side, has even more resonance. 

“Since making White Light three of the characters in the film have been shot,” Gittoes said. “They would survive, but with lifelong injuries.”

Some of the paintings in Gittoes’ show were painted at the same time as he was filming both films.

“The paintings are all done from life and I am a traditional portrait painter,” Gittoes said. 

“For me, the most important art that is being done in the world is what I call ‘art in place of war’, and it is art addressing these huge issues, which now includes climate change.” 

Security by George Gittoes (2020). Image reproduced courtesy the artist and the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre/supplied.

Unlike most artists who have to chase gallerists for their show every two years, Gittoes is unrepresented and relies on galleries who have a strong social ethic, such as the Casula Powerhouse, to curate these non-commercial shows. 

For Sydneysiders, this is a rare opportunity to see a comprehensive collection of Gittoes’ work in the one space, watch two of his documentaries and hear the artist speak during his George Gittoes: In Conversation event at 11am on Friday, 28 May.

On Being There, which opened on Saturday, 24 April, continues through to Sunday, 27 June.

GINA

Gina Sinozich was a Casula local who painted in a naïve style to tell the story of her life’s struggles and triumphs. 

A native Croatian, Gina came to Australia as a refugee on the dissolution of Croatia at the end of Word War II and did not take up painting until she was 70. 

Her story is one of overcoming adversity by finding a safe haven in the Casula area that allowed her to reflect on her tumultuous past and the joys of her new life. 

Gina Sinozich will be the subject of the exhibition GINA, from Saturday, 15 May to Friday, 18 July.

Kerry Toomey – Munduhii

‘Munduhii’ means ‘shoes’ in the Gamilaraay language and is also the title for Kerry Toomey’s show featuring decorated shoes. 

For Toomey, the shoes represent the connection to the earth and culture, and are inspired by the stories of her family as she was growing up near the village of Pilliga, west of Narrabri. 

Munduhii launches on Saturday, 15 May and continues till Sunday, 13 June.

Casula Powerhouse Performing Arts Centre trailer. Video: Casula Powerhouse Performing Arts Centre/Facebook.

Loss

Loss is an exhibition by an unconnected group of Western Sydney artists who each explore the impacts of and reasons for leaving their homelands. 

Artists represented include Damon Amp, Miriam Cabello, Jagath Dheerasekara, Blak Douglas and Linda Sok. 

Loss is on now, running through to Sunday, 27 June.

Soul Crime x St Bedlam

At 8pm on Friday, 28 May, the aforementioned Hellen Rose, the first woman to sing in public to a mixed gender audience in Afghanistan in 80 years, is presenting her new band Soul Crime, an electronic ‘riot grrrl’ act, playing with classical musicians.

The support act for the night will be the quirky Sydney rapper St Bedlam.

Rose and co. aim to conjure up a united force of Goddesses as the 0.01 per cent of the world try to keep their control on our lives.

Further exhibitions and the Casula collection

Several other exhibitions will be held over the autumn/winter period, including Bush Country Voices – an immersive audiovisual experience exploring our relationship to local Darug and Gundungarra Country; Sensorium, a multi-sensory immersive exhibition aimed especially at kids; and Ken Done Paintings You Probably Haven’t Seen: Selected Works 2000 – 2020, a selection of Ken Done paintings largely from his private collection.

Bush Country Voices exhibition trailer. Video: Casula Powerhouse Performing Arts Centre/YouTube.

The exhibitions are in addition to the Powerhouse’s collection of over 1500 artworks, which reflect the diversity of Liverpool and the Western Sydney region. 215 of the artworks can currently be viewed online.

The Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre is located at 1 Powerhouse Road, Casula, adjacent to Casula Station. For more information, visit www.casulapowerhouse.com.