Monday, 3 August 2009

Softened by evil

(This replaces a previous post. I didn't see enough traffic to that, so I thought a more 'eye catching' title might get people reading about this man who has something to say that we should all hear. It’s a good deal more important than what the Presiding Bishop of TEC has to say in her video. The new title comes from a line you can just hear at the beginning of the second video, "You don't get hardened, you actually get softened by doing this." To understand the 'this', you need to play the rest.)


Looking for something else on YouTube, I came across this documentary about Afghanistan featuring the Australian painter and documentary film-maker, George Gittoes, whose painting The Preacher features on the cover of my book Revelation Unwrapped. Be warned, it is quite hard to watch.

Shortly before the book was published (initially by me paying for its printing and distribution) I saw a black-and-white version of The Preacher in the Sydney Diocesan newspaper, Southern Cross, after it had won a prize for religious art. It was based on a photo George took during the Kibeho massacre in Rwanda (see here for an account), and it showed a man in a distinctive yellow jacket whom George saw preaching hope to those facing death.

I knew it was ideal for the book, but I also knew we couldn’t pay much for the rights to use it, so I asked a friend in Australia to write and ask (a) whether he’d let us use it, and (b) what he would charge. The answers were (a) yes — provided he could see the cover first — and (b) nothing. Since then, the book has sold several thousand copies, but George not only let us use the picture for nothing, he lent us several other pictures and came along with his artist friends to the book launch at St Andrew’s Cathedral in Sydney (where he called me a crazy Pom).

I found George Gittoes to be one of the most fascinating — and scarey — people I’ve come across. He is a deeply spiritual man. In an earlier documentary for ABC he said words to the effect that if you work for God you wouldn’t earn much — you’d have a great time, but there was no money in it. At the same time, this is a man who has seen more death and destruction than most of us could imagine existed, let alone cope with. You need to watch this video below. The phrase “That’s what they’ll kill you for ... they want to kill the judgement in your eyes,” has got to be one of the most profound things you’ll ever hear. Try to turn up the beginning and listening to that as well.

George is a man doing something astonishing, combining art, faith and passionate commitment. He deserves more attention, but there aren’t many of his paintings you’d ever be able to hang on your walls. (I do wish he’d get his hair cut again, though.)

If I were to sum up what I think George’s art expresses, it is that where the human spirit meets true evil then people either turn into demons or become Christ-like. The terrible reality, though, is that any of us could go either way.

John Richardson
2 August 2009

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  1. That's profoundly frightening.

  2. "If I were to sum up what I think George’s art expresses, it is that where the human spirit meets true evil then people either turn into demons or become Christ-like..."

    This sounds similar to a theme one of my favorite authors, Flannery O'Connor uses in many of her stories. She puts it this way: “I have found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace.” O'Connor uses this theme in stories such as "A Good Man is Hard to Find," and "Good Country People," both of which have bizarre somewhat incomprehensible endings unless O'Connor's religious beliefs and intended meaning are recognized, because she leaves the characters' "moment of grace" implied. There is no aha! narrative intrusion after the violence where we are told the outcome--that is left merely implied.