- Full circle: George Gittoes is back where it all began and eager to give something back to the community where he grew up. Picture: Chris Lane
- Picture: Chris Lane
- Picture: Chris Lane
GEORGE Gittoes is unabashedly a St George boy.
He grew up at Rockdale and went to school at Bexley Public School and later Kogarah High School.
It was at a high school reunion earlier this year that Gittoes found himself speaking with principal Virginia Pacey and discovered 90 percent of current students came from non-English speaking backgrounds, and most were refugees.
Gittoes offered to mentor art students from Kogarah and other high schools in the area, but in the weeks ahead started thinking about how else he could help.
‘‘I went away and for weeks thought deeply about what I could do,’’ Mr Gittoes said.
He spoke to his older sister, fellow artist Pamela Griffith, about his dream of opening an artist’s co-operative like The Yellow House he helped create in Potts Point in the 1960s, and more recently in Afghanistan, so young artists could hone their creative talents.
Since the death of their mother, ceramic artist Joyce Gittoes, last December, Ms Griffith had been asking her brother to move closer to her.
Meanwhile, he had been thinking of buying a factory where he could display his ‘‘life’s work’’.
‘‘[Pam] found this beautiful factory in Edward Street, Arncliffe,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s a very short walk from where I grew up. I was in Afghanistan and bought it sight-unseen.
‘‘I just love it. It is a place where school groups can come and I am going to give master classes.
‘‘It will be a lot like The Yellow House, which Brett Whitely, Martin Sharp and myself had in Kings Cross from 1969 to 1972.’’
Mr Gittoes said from next year he would run master classes for year 11 and 12 art students at the Rockdale Yellow House, starting with schools in the area, before expanding further afield and encompassing all the arts.
‘‘There will be print workshops, we will show avant garde films,’’ he said.
He envisages it will fill a gap in an area that lacks its own regional art gallery and has largely been left off the map when it comes to the arts.
‘‘I think [Rockdale] Yellow House is going to be incredibly good for Rockdale’s identity,’’ he said.
‘‘I love Rockdale; I grew up in Rockdale; I am proud of Rockdale.
‘‘Rockdale should be the centre of a cultural universe and I am in a unique position to do something here.’’
Mr Gittoes has been a regular visitor to the Middle East for more than 15 years, where he has documented its many conflicts.
While some long-time St George residents might be uncomfortable with the area’s changing demographics, Mr Gittoes embraces it and sees his role partly as building a bridge between the Islamic culture and traditional Australian life.
‘‘It is fascinating to be back here and see the changes,’’ he said.
‘‘I was meant to do this because I have spent most of my life in [the Middle East]. That is why people like me are needed; to be bridge builders.’’
Kogarah High School principal Virginia Pacey said it was exciting that Mr Gittoes was prepared to work so closely with students. She said many past students had gone on to great success in their chosen careers and the recent reunion had sparked a desire to ‘‘give something back’’. Ms Pacey said it was fitting Mr Gittoes was about to forge a stronger bond with the school as its students studied one of his artworks as part of the HSC: ‘‘I have spoken to teachers in my faculty and they were excited about it,’’ she said. ‘‘I thought it was a fabulous idea.’’
The Yellow House was an artists’ collective founded by Gittoes, Martin Sharp and Brett Whiteley in the late 1960s in Macleay Street, Potts Point. Members included Dick and Greg Weight, Bruce Goold, Ellis D. Fogg, Peter Kingston, Albie Thoms, Peter Weir and Georgia Kelso.
Almost every wall, floor and ceiling was soon covered with art as the house became a multi-media performance space.
Gittoes opened The Yellow House in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, two years ago. The ‘‘cultural oasis’’ is for artists, actors and musicians and is the headquarters of Gittoes’ production company Buraq Films, which has just completed its eighth movie.