Puppet, bird, from Gittoes Yellow House Puppet Theatre collection, canvas / oil paints, designed and made by George Gittoes, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1969-1972
The Yellow House, was one of Australia's most colourful contributions to the hippy / psychedelic era of the late 1960s and early 1970s. It opened to the public on April's Fools Day 1970.
The Powerhouse Museum holds a reconstructed Yellow House puppet theatre, along with an original puppet storage chest, photographs, artworks and other material relating to the puppet theatre created for the Yellow House between 1969-1970. Together, these puppets and artworks were used and seen on a daily basis in the Yellow House Puppet Theatre, Stone Room and other areas of this artist residence, gallery and live performance space during it's heyday from 1970 through to 1971. The Magritte-inspired surrealist ceramics were used as props while the artworks hung on the outer walls of the Theatre.
The puppet plays were written and/or presented by George Gittoes. They include both ancient works based on classical Greek and Persian mythology and contemporary plays (eg Eug√®ne Ionesco), and a suite of puppet plays on the story of the wives of great artists eg Mondrian's [wife], Picasso's wife Olga Khokhlova with son Paolo, and Albert Tucker's wife Joy Hester, who like Gittoes' girlfriend had tragically committed suicide.
Importantly, the puppet plays reflect Gittoes emerging interest in tragedy and conflict and his deep rooted interest in Greek and Persian mythology. Today George Gittoes is a leading and international award winning Australian documentary filmmaker.
Anne-Marie Van de Ven, Curator 2008
Made by George Gittoes, Sydney, New South Wales.
Gittoes' polystyrene carving technique developed out of his work in the surfing industry.
Gittoes has described how he came to develop his distinctive polystyrene foam puppets in an interview with curator Anne-Marie Van de Ven on the 15th of September 2009:
Gittoes' was a keen surfer in the 1960s. He and his friends used balsa surf boards, which were heavy and cumbersome, and he says they coveted the more light weight foam boards. He couldn't buy the foam surf boards, so he bought the chemicals to make his own. He says that the moulds were badly made and he would see the foam ooze out from the moulds and this inspired him to play with the material in a creative way.
He made a cylinder out of cardboard and formed a 'fairy floss' shape out of the ooze. He became skilled at working with the foam and bought a glass blower, which enabled him to flow in the way he wanted. He would shape the head and the hair of the puppet and would then carve eyes and a mouth from the dried foam.
Joyce Gittoes, artist / craftsperson, mother of George Gittoes, helped George make the puppet costumes.
Biography, Joyce Gittoes (1915-2011)
Ceramic artist who was trained by Mollie Douglas in the 1950s during the Arts and Crafts Movement in Australia. After completing her course she then built a studio at her home. Joyce was a member of the St George potters society and exhibited with the group collection of Ikebana flower vases in the 1960s. Joyce had many achievements during her career, winning a first prize at the Royal Agricultural show in 1962 and again in 1966. Her main exhibition gallery during the 1980s was the Barry Stern gallery in Paddington. Her most recognised piece of public art was commissioned by the Northern Territory Police force in 1985. The commission was for a mural to be displayed in the foyer of the newly built Darwin Police centre at Berrimah.
Joyce has two children Pamela Griffiths and George Gittoes who are both successful practising artists. Joyce has followed their careers closely and was involved with George's Yellow House puppet theatre from 1970-72. In this period many artists were looking at international artists for their inspiration and style. Joyce's work during this time includes several ceramic sculptures, ¬?toe heels' and ¬?toe boots', ¬?hand- cup' also ¬?Peg-leg Pete', which capture the surreal-hippy atmosphere of the renowned gallery and were inspired by the surrealist artist Rene Magritte.
The artworks that Joyce made during the Yellow House period are in contrast to her later work from the late 70s and 80s which developed a distinct ¬?Australian style' Joyce began to make ceramic owls, lizards, koala bears, kookaburras, echidnas and possums among others. In a traditional form founded in the 1920-30s between the wars when Australia's cultural identity was being re-invented from a colony to a country with its own significant wealth of native flora and fauna. Artist's such as Grace Seccombe, John Castle Harris and Margeritta Mahood, pioneered the Australiana theme in their work from 1920-60s. Joyce's own style is whimsical and expressive she was often told by her patrons that, ¬?each one (of her animals) appears to have a soul¬? (Quote, Joyce Gittoes, Artist Statement, 1986).
Sarah Heenan, intern, July 2011
Conversation with Pamela Griffiths, daughter of Joyce Gittoes. 21/4/2011
Joyce Gittoes archive material. Artist statement
Correspondence with the Royal Easter Show. Re: Joyce Gittoes exhibition entries.
http://www.bdm.nsw.gov.au/ - Births, deaths and marriages website.
http://www.daao.org.au/bio/joyce-gittoes/ -Design and Art Australia online. Biography of Joyce Gittoes by Joanna Mendelssohn
Puppets used to work using two sticks attached to the bird' s wings and head. This puppet was given to George's niece Selena in 1976, for her fith birthday, and hung for many years in her bedroom.
Gittoes created the puppet theatre in 1969 and performed shows in the Yellow House in 1969, 1970, 1971 and at the beginning of 1972. He remembers its peak as being during 1971. At one point Gittoes was performing three shows a day. He would repeat certain, classic, plays. Gittoes had been performing Greek mythology puppet shows before the Yellow House was founded. He was fascinated by Greek mythology at school - the Perseus myth holds a real importance for him. He read Islamic poetry at school, and studied Islamic art. He was influenced by the poets ar-Rumi and Attach and his plays reflect his delight in the Sufi teaching traditions, including their use of puppetry.