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Yellow Submarine to Taliwood: Reflections on David Gulpilil

Writing from Peshawar, George Gittoes reflects on the life of revered artist and beloved friend David Gulpilil.

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Portrait of David Gulpilil by George Gittoes, 2018

I first met David Gulpilil  when we were both in our twenties, at Mataranka Caravan Park. David was dancing with a troupe from Bamyili Station to entertain the tourists.

We went swimming together in the rainbow pool and David invited me to visit his traditional Country. Later, when he was famous I would often bump into David at Martin Sharp’s home where Martin painted his wonderful portrait in blue. That blue belonged to David’s aura and flickered around him when he sat for my 2018 painting [pictured].  I heard that David was unwell and flew to South Australia where I painted his portrait, from life, and in the same blue. I asked him to tilt  his head as if he was swimming with me, again, in our favourite rainbow pool, warmed by a thermal spring. It was one of the happiest moments of my life and sharing it with David made it extra special.

For a few days, before I heard of David’s demise, I felt a sad presence creeping into my soul. I could not understand where it was coming from and mentioned this to my wife, Hellen. Now, I know  it was David’s spirit, reaching out. Today, I am mourning the loss of a great friend and artist. Australia has lost its most talented actor and I hope his contribution to culture will be honoured at the level it deserves. 

Since the 2018 visit I have been working on a large painting of David and I am sorry he will not see it finished. It is my tribute to his greatness. I have him swimming in the rainbow pool like a portal between this world and the Dreamtime. The fish of his totem are swimming with him. He looks happy there with his head bobbing up between the water lily pads. I am lucky to own David’s last painting and hope to exhibit them together, some day. 

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