I recently had the privilege to undertake a 20 day internship at the Powerhouse Museum under the supervision of curator, Paul Donnelly. I was given the task of documenting an acquisition consisting of a series of ceramic pieces by Joyce Gittoes (b.1915). Researching the life of Joyce has been an immense honour as she has had an amazing journey, dedicating her life to her family and her art. The ceramic art by Joyce is unique, firstly in its dedication to the ceramic medium, and then in its focused subject matter. The evolution of her own artistic style is evident in the Museum’s collection which has work from her early career and her later works which are dedicated to the native fauna, the landscape and the cultural history of Australia. This recent acquisition complements the Museum’s earlier acquisition of Yellow House artworks.
Joyce studied ceramics during the Arts and Crafts movement in Australia in the 1950s under Mollie Douglas. All of Joyce’s work has been produced with great technique and skill. Her individual style is bold and expressive breaking away from the Japanese aesthetic style that was popular with her contemporaries. Joyce’s sculptures in the Museum’s collection from her early career were designed to be exhibited in the Yellow House. ‘Peg Leg Pete’ (1970-72) is a work that was inspired by the Surrealist artist Rene Magritte. The half-fish half-man sculpture was often placed in the fish pond at the Yellow House.
The Yellow House was an artist collective established in the early 1970s in Sydney. It was organised by artists Martin Sharp, Brett Whitely, Greg Waite and Joyce’s son, George Gittoes. This period of contemporary art during the early 1970s is heralded as the hippy era in Australia’s art scene. The Yellow House in Macleay St, Potts Point in Sydney, was named after Van Gough’s studio in the south of France which he used as an escape from the stress of life in Paris. Van Gough wrote in a letter to his brother that he wanted to one day turn the studio into an artist’s boarding house, with live performance ‘happenings’, exhibition space and installations. George Gittoes was the creator of the Yellow House Puppet theatre. A re-creation of this room with the original puppets along with selected ceramics by Joyce Gittoes was acquired by the Museum prior to the ceramic acquisition which I have been working on for my internship. This work is almost in direct contrast to her later work which took on an Australiana theme, focusing on native animals and the landscape. These animal sculptures were exhibited during the 1980s in galleries around NSW and the Northern Territory and were made through the love that Joyce had for the native animals and native culture of Australia. They are unique in the detail that Joyce gave each one.
The owls, which are a personal favourite of many collectors, have individual characteristics; the barn owl, Boobook owls and the Barking owl have been made life-sized and with a great amount of detail given to the individual species. Joyce was often told by her patrons that, “each one (of her animals) appears to have a soul”. Quote, Joyce Gittoes, Artist Statement, 1986.
Post by Sarah Heenan, Curatorial intern with Dr Paul Donnelly, Curator, design & society.