Ron Gittens lived in Birkenhead, across The Mersey from Liverpool in a rented flat from 1986 until his death, at the age of 79, in 2019.
Ron was an artist who created a world in his home that reflected his obsession with ancient Roman, Greek and Egyptian culture. He covered the surfaces of his flat with sculptural, patterned storied motifs.
Walking through this extraordinary house, the gas fires are transformed into the mouths of giant wild beasts, the bathroom is an underwater magical kingdom, beautiful women and powerful men stare out of frames painted directly onto the walls. Every surface is covered with Ron’s vision.
Jan Williams (Ron’s niece) and Chris Teasdale of The Caravan Gallery are working with a team of people who understand the national importance of Ron’s Place and see the international significance of Ron’s creation as uniquely British outsider art.
I have been wanting to visit Ron’s Place since Jan and Chris first told me about it and it often comes into my conversations with other people. Ron’s Place keeps crossing my path.
I have worked with The Caravan Gallery as my portrait studio Saturday Girl. We have a shared sense of the ways photography can tell stories about our culture through playful collaborative adventures. There is also a shared performance in The Caravan Gallery and Saturday Girl through our travelling projects where folks meet, where photography explores community and the reimagining of high street spaces through the transformation of empty shops.
Where we meet is YELLOW. It is hard to emphasise this enough, this yellow connection, the energy of the colour yellow as integral to the art making, to the open positive connecting possibilities of art, of communication, of yellow. I love the way their yellow caravan has been housing their documentary photography of British life and landscape with warmth and humour for over 20 years.
We see each other, we are yellow allies, collaborators.
I think of them as Liverpool folks although I know they live in Portsmouth. I see us as yellow dots on a Northern map. In between us is the utterly singular and powerful Matthanee Nilavongse, Landlady at The Golden Lion, the YELLOW independent community hub that is also an international live music and DJ destination in the semi-rural town of Todmorden. Matthanee and I take pictures together, she speaks the language of metaphor, of imagery. We explore ideas through our conversations.
A visit to Ron’s Place is called. We join the dots and in a pool of yellow energy, of yellow collaboration, we meet on the yellowest day of Summer 2022, Summer Solstice.
The sun has been up since 4:35 and Ron’s Place is warmed.
‘Here Comes The Sun’ plays as we enter his magical world. Lead by Jan, we move through each room, dancing and making music, with tambourine, smoke and feather. Yellow sunlight enters through windows and doorways; a gentle and loving release of any difficulty and loneliness that must have held Ron here where few people ever visited. Jan is his family, he is hers. She sees the wild creativity here and the power of Ron’s visionary space and wants to share this. She washes all else away with loving sunlight.
Unrequited love-made material is everywhere through figure, through paint. Power and authority, images of order and civilisation; art as process for trying to figure out ‘Who am I?’ ‘What is this life for?’
Lion and Bull, having only spoken their fiery breathy flames to Ron, are spoken back to as Jan puts her head into their mouths. She is brave, trusting. Let go, let go and feel the warmth of the sun on your fiery beastly tongues!
The asking permission, of ritual, the crossing of threshold gives way to play, to abandon – our shared practices of making pictures with cameras spill into each other while the morning sunlight turns into the blazing yellow light of midday.
How many women have been here? Actual alive women? There is a longing in the papier-mache bodies, sat around the rooms, man-made women and babies, legs and heads. We dive in, with our flesh and bones, our women heads full of pumping blood, alive and able, with our female, free-will noses, smelling the dust which swirls through the shafts of sunlight.
We hold Ron’s things, we pose and play, and eventually rummage through his closet and wear his clothes. Objects held, arms holding legs, arms through hand-made sleeves, bones wrapped inside felt and wool, stitched and altered for another; power dressing, becoming other.
We leave, out into the daylight again, full of the aching joy of uncertainty, the wisdom of play, of intuition. There is nothing left but possibility. This is what Ron’s Place can give us – a bursting, transforming and singular exploration of art and energy. We want to share this place, show it to the world, bring it to life again.
JOIN US AT IMAGINATE FESTIVAL! To find out more about Ron’s Place and to support the work being done to turn this important visionary art space into a community asset where creatives can make art within this community please visit: