Ron’s Place: Outsider Art Home Given Grade II Listed Status 2

Ron’s Place: Outsider Art Home Given Grade II Listed Status

Ron’s Place: Outsider Art Home Given Grade II Listed Status

From the outside, Ron’s Place looks like any other Victorian red-brick semi-detached villa in the Merseyside town of Birkenhead. However, the interior reveals a unique artistic creation that was the vision of the flat’s late tenant, Ron Gittens, who lived there for four decades. The unique wonderland was only fully discovered after his death in 2019. 

The rented ground floor flat was due to go up for auction in 2022, but following an enthusiastic campaign to save the artwork, the property has been granted Grade II listing on the advice of Historic England. The murals and sculptures are thought to have been inspired by a visit to Pompei when Ron was a young man. 

The entire flat is decorated with artwork inspired by ancient Greece and ancient Egypt, with floor to ceiling murals and an elaborate fireplace sculpture in the form of a lion’s head. The kitchen features a Roman altar, and there is another fireplace sculpture of a minotaur’s head.  

Sarah Charlesworth from Historic England commented: “Ron’s Place is testament to the unique artistic achievements and vision of Ron Gittins over four decades.”

She added: “The extent to which Ron’s creations have inspired action from people in the local area to raise funds to purchase the building and secure the survival of his legacy demonstrates the value of this remarkable project and why it has earned its place on the National Heritage List for England.”

A campaign was launched to try and save the property from redevelopment, and last year an anonymous benefactor put up a loan for the £335,000 asking price. BBC News reports that the property will now be used for creative arts programmes run by Wirral Arts and Culture Community Land Trust to support mental health awareness in the area. 

The campaign was supported by the Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker, who said: “A small number of people on this planet have known for a while that Ron’s Place is a very special place – but from now on it is official. The work of one unique gentleman in the north of England has been recognised nationally. Globally even. Hallelujah!!”

Cocker has previously spoken about his interest in outsider art, which is defined as art created by individuals who rely on their strong inner vision, with no reference to mainstream art history or any formal artistic training. The phrase was first coined in 1972 by Roger Cardinal, but it has its roots in the French concept of art brut, or ‘raw art.’

The exact definition of who is classed as an ‘outsider artist’ can be the subject of some debate. At one time the term was used to describe people who had become isolated from mainstream society in some way, such as residents of psychiatric hospitals or very isolated communities.

However, it is almost impossible for anyone to operate without any knowledge of the wider cultural landscape in the modern world, as access to information has never been more freely available. Therefore, the term is now often applied to untrained artists who are driven by their own compulsion to make art rather than a desire for public recognition or wealth. 

Some people dislike the term ‘outsider art’ because it sets up barriers and labels artists who may already be vulnerable in some way as somehow other or on the very fringes of acceptability in mainstream society. Recognising and writing about outsider art can itself be problematic, because it works against the very nature of its creation. 

However, the example of Ron Gittens’ legacy is perhaps proof that some effort should be made to conserve such artwork and share it with a wider audience. The campaign to save the flat was supported by the Twentieth Century Society, who work to conserve outstanding examples of British building and design created since 1914.  

C20 Director, Catherine Croft, commented: “This is twentieth century heritage unlike any other, the first example of Outsider Art to be nationally listed – and about time! At Ron’s Place, one man’s extraordinary creative vision summoned creatures from Greek mythology and the architecture of ancient Roman to a humble ground-floor flat in Birkenhead.”

She added: “Proof, if needed, that great art isn’t confined just to established galleries and collections. C20 strongly supported listing of this wonderful place, an utterly unexpected burst of mind-blowing creativity hidden behind a conventional façade.”

It is hoped that the flat will one day be open to the public for guided tours. 

If you are inspired to bring some more creativity to your own place, drop into our framing shop in east London.