Thursday, April 21, 2011

George Gittoes Wields Perseus' Shield at the Station

by Dean Liscum
(Thanks to Station Museum curator Timothy Gonzalez for identifying all the images in this review.)

On the back wall of the Station Museum next to the gigantic oil canvas Assumption (approximately 78' x 118') is a quote by Dr. Sasha Grishin from her Lives in the Balance. It reads,
"...(Gittoes) conceives his art like the shield of Perseus,  by placing a mirror to reflect the evil in the world  and all of the ugliness, through this act of exposure,  by reflecting evil upon itself, he hopes to destroy it.  By creating a relevant pictorial language, that will be  accessible to a broad cross-section of society, he  seeks to expose evil so people will wish to change it." 
That is the essences of  "Witness To War" by George Gittoes at the Station Museum.

George Gittoes, Assumption (detail)
Gittoes doesn't simple show the acts and results of war. As a film-maker and photojournalist, he realized that "none of the mediums available to (him) were adequate to communicate the experience of being there." After all, there's no shortage of news footage on current and past atrocities on BBC and Al Jazera or any number of news and human rights internet sites. To capture the essence of the conflicts he experienced in Cambodia, Rwanda, Nicaragua, Northern Ireland, Phillipines, Bosnia, East Timor, Palestine, Congo, South Africa, Lebanon, Russia, Wester Sahara, Yemen, and Iraq, he turned to art. Utilizing the many mediums (photograph, video, installation, oil painting, water color, pencil sketch) and styles (realism, surrealism, caricature, fauvism, post-impressionism, abstraction, tessellation) of Art, he seeks to cut through the seeming indifference of a media savvy and media saturated audience.

This shows spans over 30 years of Gittoes' career. In it, Gittoes mixes and matches to communicate his message. Here are just a few examples of the many subjects and diverse styles that are represented in the show.

He plays off Soviet and Nazi propoganda, mixes in a good dose of symbolism,  and finishes off a piece with a comic flair worthy of R. Crumb.

A Place In History, 2003
  oil on canvas
American violence, Bollywood videos, and Taliban propaganda unite in his parody of the worst of Afghanistan film-making to emerge from the occupation.

Video Store Installation, Untitled
He employs the palette of Fauvism to imbue the beastly crimes committed in Rwanda and the toll they take on victim and perpetrator.

Blood and Tears, 1997
  oil on canvas
Even the Dalai Lama gets a makeover that blends the other Dali and the evil eye of the Ajanta, Rajasthani and Pahari paintings.

Sneeze, 1997
 oil on canvas
Tessellation and abstraction create an awkward sense of harmony in an installation about the bombing of a mosque.

Mosque Installation, Untitled
Van Gogh's brush work (or De Koonig's) blended with boar tusk straight from an illustration of a Grimm's Fairy tale to capture the nightmarish quality of a perpetrator. 

Taliban, 2009
  oil on canvas
According to Gittoes, he uses his diaries to think through what he has witnessed, to come to terms with what he has read and heard in the media, to put in context the many worlds torn apart by the actions of dictators and politicians.

Iraq; Atlanta; Miami, 2006
Of the video installations, mural size paintings, and large oil canvases that compose this exhibition, I find the diary entries with their simple pencil drawings and textual descriptions the most powerful. In them, both the visual and literary depictions weave fact and impression into a narrative of a day, a scene, a moment that is more immediate, more palpable than straight photojournalism or video camera footage. It's no wonder that the Station's brochure for the show states that "The diaries, without question, are the central cog of his creative work and life-journey as an artist."

clockwise left to right:
Somalia, March 1993
Somalia, 27 March 1993
Kibeho, Rwanda, 1995-96
Moscow, Russia, December 2000

Many artists have delved into the human misery of war:  Picasso with Guernica, Goya with Disasters of War and Black Painting series, David with Intervention of the Sabine Women, and countless others. Few if any have dedicated their entire oeuvre to the subject. In doing so on almost every continent, Grittoes has proved that the proliferation of atrocities and human rights abuses is not an African problem or an Asian problem or a Central American problem or an Eastern European problem or a Middle-Eastern problem. It's a human problem. One that we all too humanly try to deny or ignore or forget.

If you feel up to a little truth-through-art, visit the Station. Look into Gittoes' mirror.


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