George Gittoes has been working in regions of war and strife for over 30 years. On site he works in various media: back in Australia, he works drawings into paintings, often on a monumental scale. Stylistically they are handled with expressionist vigour and the content is usually packed with explosive incident and multifarious detail.
In his studio, after looking at dozens of works, we had a break and, over a cup of tea, a selection - in this case a single subject - floated to the surface: the human face. Thus this exhibition fell into place. Whilst we began with no pre-conception, it turned out to be no accident that all the works chosen derived from his time with the Australian Contingent in Rwanda in 1994-5. All the works focus on the retaliatory massacre at Kibeho Cathedral and School.
These are haunting portrayals of humans in extremis. Gittoes chose to paint not the dead but the living – these battered survivors return our gaze in silence. These young men we are looking at came perilously close to losing their lives, but they certainly didn't lose their minds. There’s pain and fear, there’s resignation and disbelief - but (to my eye) their sense of awareness is almost palpable. As for their silence, it marks the boundary of language and human verbal expression; even the most poignant and heartfelt expressions of pity, grief or outrage can soon start sounding hollow and stilted. Words are so inadequate that they slip to the level of babble, at which point silence is the only option; body language takes over and the artist’s visual image communicates directly – one to one and face to face.