Late British Artist’s Whimsical Home Granted Protective Status

On March 19, a late British artist’s museum-like apartment was given a new Grade II protection status through the United Kingdom’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). The immersive home of artist Ron Gittins, whose clandestine creativity was discovered after he passed away at age 80 in 2019, is currently being prepped for public enjoyment with the help of his family and Historic England, DCMS’s public branch for cultural preservation.

Dubbed “Ron’s Place” by his niece Jan Williams and her partner Chris Teasdale during their journey to preserve it, the apartment where Gittens resided from 1986 until his death is on the ground floor of a Victorian-style building in Birkenhead, England. The artist had express permission from the landlord to decorate the space as he pleased — a privilege he made the most of, though he rarely allowed guests to visit. With Shakespearean theater and Ancient Roman and Egyptian history as his primary inspirations, he indulged his imagination through murals, sculptures, and mixed-media artwork across his flat.

In one room, a large sculpted Minotaur head engulfs the fireplace as paintings of Greek philosophers look down from their perch beneath the cornices. Another room boasts a lion’s head as its fireplace, intricate paintings on every wall, and various papier-mâché figures slouching in chairs. Gittins painted Ancient Egyptian motifs from floor to ceiling in the apartment’s main hallway, and the bathroom is aquatic-themed with large fish, stingrays, dragonflies, and other critters painted on the blue walls and ceiling. In addition to artwork, the apartment is also chock-full of paraphernalia, costumes, collected materials, and musical instruments.

Gittins is remembered as both overtly flamboyant and largely private, and he lived with some mental health problems that resulted in on-and-off estrangement from his family. After his passing, his family was astounded to find his flat stuffed with over 30 years’ worth of hoarded belongings, from memorabilia and art supplies to trash and recyclables he couldn’t part with. Williams and Teasdale, both artists themselves, knew that beneath the clutter was a treasure worth preserving. They worked to clean the space and continued to rent it through 2020 so the landlord could make necessary repairs.

With support from several patrons and heritage groups, the pair embarked on a crowdfunding campaign to get Ron’s Place both protected and appreciated as a vital example of Outsider Art, later assembling the Wirral Arts and Culture Community Land Trust (WACCLT) to purchase the three-unit building where the apartment is located.

Now that the WACCLT and Gittins’s family members can rest assured that Ron’s Place isn’t going anywhere, they have begun essential restorations to prepare the apartment for public view and foster a creative community around the artist’s legacy.

“I believe Ron would be made up and very proud at all the attention he’s receiving, and thrilled his work is being recognised and appreciated,” Williams said in a statement. “He only kept it secret because you’re not really supposed to turn your rented flat into a Roman villa complete with epic concrete fireplaces, are you?”

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