Exhibition review: George Gittoes: Ukraine Guernica, Hazelhurst Arts Centre

The desolation and insanity of war is on stark display in this powerful exhibition.
Ukraine Guernica. Image is a painting of a wartorn destruction with a large teddy bear sitting in the middle and a skull floating in the right hand top corner.

To see celebrated Australian artist George Gittoes return to Hazelhurst Arts Centre with his newest exhibition has an air of the prodigal about it.

Over two decades ago, Gittoes was instrumental in lobbying the Sutherland Shire Council to establish a regional gallery to foster the region’s dynamic arts community. With Gittoes working together with the local community and other artists, as well as the Council, the Hazelhurst Arts Centre was created and launched in 2000. Now the artist has returned with his latest exhibition, Ukraine Guernica, which was developed during his time in Ukraine in 2022 and 2023.

Not long after Russian armed forces invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Gittoes and his partner, musician and performance artist Hellen Rose, left Australia for Kyiv. During two separate trips to Ukraine, they spent time with the residents there, as the cities were being bombed. The artists duly documented the devastated urban and rural landscapes through film, performance and painting.

Their venture into the country resulted in a powerful, topical and confronting narrative and reflection on the absolute brutality and futility of the war.

During this time, their film Ukraine Guernica was created, which features performance art by Rose and graphic collaborations with Ukrainian artist Ave Libertatemaveamor. This compelling documentary follows artists behind the frontline and displays the stark reality of the Russian invasion.

The exhibition centres on the significant nine-metre long canvas titled Supreme Evil and also includes drawings, artefacts and film.  

Ukraine Guerica showcases Gittoes’ belief in the power of art to counteract war and the vital role art plays as a medium for expression. The sheer scale and power of the paintings is so compelling that it drives viewers to read each plaque to fully understand every nuance and layer of the narration. 

The spectrum and variety of artist techniques and curation covers the large-scale, multilayered and colourful, and the simple and seemingly insignificant. Both types are equally striking.  

A small dress, almost abstractly hung, delivers a beacon of hope. It is replicated across Gittoes’ paintings.  

At the other end of the spectrum are large acrylic paintings, including the striking Russian Bear, 2022, a potent symbol of oppression and the insidious nature of war.

Read: Exhibition review: Africa Fashion, NGV

If you are not familiar with the works of Gittoes you need to be. Ukraine Guernica is truly an extraordinary exhibition.

George Gittoes: Ukraine Guernica will be exhibited until 23 June 2024 at Hazelhurst Arts Centre, NSW; free entry.

G has long been a connoisseur of the arts in all colours and flavours of expression. G has a strong admiration for the brilliance and commitment required to produce and showcase art.