// Ron Gittins 1939 - 2019 //
As is so often the case with artists' work, Ron's world of elaborate murals and sculptures remained undiscovered until after his death, and now time is of the essence to save them from being lost to developers.
The front door to Ron's rented home in Oxton may seem, at first glance, like many others on the street, but what hides behind it is anything but ordinary. Step inside and be transported to ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece and beyond, through Ron's vibrant floor to ceiling murals, a myriad of papier mâché body parts seemingly not belonging to each other and a wardrobe bursting with handmade costumes. A well used frying pan sits in the mouth of an ornate, lion's head fireplace where Ron cooked simple pancakes, evidence of a life lived in relative poverty, but abundant creativity. Due to be auctioned on the first of March, this life's work which may serve to inspire future generations, could be lost forever.
On closer inspection, even the front door itself has succumbed to Ron’s creative hand. Having been covered in what appears to be hessian like fabric, the surface texture is now more like a bag of potatoes than a solid, wood door. Entering a small vestibule which leads to the hallway, although time has clearly taken its toll on the walls, evidence remains of soft paintings from days gone by, warm colours washing into each other, now peeling unceremoniously away from the plaster.
It is then that the hallway opens up to a vivid Egyptian mural, the bright walls laden with pharaohs and hieroglyphs, the pink-toned floor painstakingly painted in a diamond pattern, perhaps to mimic an ornate tiled floor.
The hall is flanked by five further rooms, each adorned with artistic imagery painted in various styles and techniques, barely a surface left untouched. Roman emperors and Grecian gods in various stages of completion are partially covered with what remains of a life lived in a whirlwind of chaos and creativity; rolled up paintings on canvas next to crumpled newspapers, paint brushes housed in beetroot jars with a lone hoop earring hooked over, perhaps for storage, perhaps for decoration.
Most striking are the fireplaces in each space, sculpted, moulded, carved and decorated to become the overriding feature in each room. An open-mouthed minotaur stares agape, the remnants of a coal fire still lying in its toothy jaws. The story goes that Ron would walk with a vintage style doll’s pram to the nearest building merchants, buy a single bag of cement and wheel his dusty baby home, ready to add the next layer onto the minotaur’s face. A roaring lion bares its teeth imposingly into the opposing room, its eyes subtly glinting with shards of glass, purported to be fragments of a smashed bus stop which Ron had collected whilst out.
Although on the surface Ron’s aquatic themed bathroom may seem less historically and intellectually leaning than his other rooms, it perhaps tells more of a compelling story. The walls and ceiling are painted entirely in an engulfing underwater scene of giant fish and other sea life, but it’s the initially unassuming wooden cabinet which reveals more about his avant-garde lifestyle than the painted walls. Pushing the border of eccentricity into the realm of mental ill health, Ron’s bathroom highlights the realities of living as a hoarder. Bottles of cough mixture sit directly beside an age-old tin of Borax and upwards of thirty disposable razors, stored in a broken plastic tub, sit alongside a multitude of empty lightbulb boxes. The cabinet remains in unsafe disarray, with most noticeably, a container of oven cleaner on the top shelf.
Even if his paintings and sculptures don't appeal to one's own artistic tastes, the cultural significance of Ron's Place as a catalyst for creativity and imagination can't be denied. As Ron's niece, Jan Williams states, the refurbished property would become "a powerful source of healing, inspiration and wellbeing in the community" and would give permission to explore and make art without the boundaries of perceived societal norms.
Ron made art for art's sake; he made art for himself. He painted and sculpted based on his own interests in historical and mythological subjects. He didn't use the fanciest materials or the most expensive paint brushes, yet he filled his home with the art he wanted to make, simply because he could. Not with the intention to make lots of money, for notoriety or adoration, but for his own pleasure and satisfaction, although a little adoration wouldn't go amiss of course!
With an injection of much needed funds which would allow for sympathetic restoration, Ron's Place could become a source of inspiration and a great public asset used for art related education, with community building events and activities which celebrate our diversities and individual creative modes of expression.
Plaster, Tile, Paint Chips, Slate, Sandstone,
Coal, Rust Print, Found Fabric
During the arduous process of sifting through Ron's belongings, his family unearthed handwritten notes, often of a contentious nature, signed off with the words 'without prejudice', a statement with legal origins encouraging all parties to speak freely in order to settle their disputes. Although included in his letters thanks to a penchant for complaining, the words hold value in a much wider sense and in today's cultural realm, speak of equality, an acceptance of diversity and an allowance for others' uniqueness and differences.
Made from raw materials found in and around Ron's Place, our forthcoming painting will not only commemorate his extraordinary life and work but will also serve as a reminder to live with authenticity, to involve yourself wholeheartedly in your creative endeavours, to explore your interests and passions with intent and to build a life which fills you with both joy and fulfilment.
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