Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Dwij Will, aka David Gittens, Inventor & Musician, Tells His Story

Inspiration, focus, and visioning clearly have been the foundation and stepping stones on my creative walkabout . . . so ‘tis fun to reflect on the journey.

In this moment, traversing the whirl of an elder, my creative canvas explores the calling of music . . . a calling to this neophyte that is soulful and has no defined goal other than the nurturing and deep felt gift of its own unfolding journey. My brief introduction to classical Indian music at the Ali Akbar College of Music inspired me, some years later, to create Dwijveena (shown above), a 23-string fretless guitar strung like a sarode, as a vehicle for meditation and relaxation. I am deeply grateful when its enchanting resonance awakens in me, when I learn that its voice touches others, and when my playing merges with the voices/instruments of other creators. My joy and truth is that there is a depth in this unfolding musical canvas that echoes of a soulful center and homecoming.

My earliest recollection of a creative awareness, or an initiation into a world of amazing depth and mystery, was that familiar and welcoming vista called daydreaming. For me, this domain was a rich and infinite realm of imagery and imagination, stories and music with beings and creatures that were guides into a magical world far beyond the boundaries of our Brooklyn, New York neighborhood. It was a world that was enhanced by the stories coming from the big Philco upright radio that our family gathered around every Sunday after dinner; rhythmic Caribbean music from the crank-to-play Victrola, my first books, which had mostly monotone images, or from exploring the fascinating worlds that one could experience when visiting the great New York City museums we frequented.

However, daydreaming was harshly frowned upon and in a sense it set in me the foundation for an ongoing confrontation with the world of defined structure, rules, and pre-conditioned limitations that dulled my spirit with boredom and suppressed the imagination. This daydream gift connected me to realms of wonder, information, communication, and possibilities that grew to be my source of “universal attunement”—my definition for an evolving construct that links past and future in this moment—a fulcrum in my maturing process that I’ll simply refer to as soulful . . . in a spiritual and not in a religious construct. The greatest gift of radio, for me, was that it had “no cultural face”; I could imagine self in any of the characters whose accomplishments were inspiring, heroic, and future-linked.

Mataji: Watercolor, brush and airbrush, 16x20 reproduction

Our Brooklyn neighborhood was safe enough in the late 1940s that my best friend Peter Bobbitt and I, at age nine, could take the trolley car for a nickel to the Saturday art classes at the Brooklyn Museum where, for many years, we could explore art and music in an always exciting and changing environment; and where chamber, orchestral and symphony music were often our backdrop . . . his heart/art with sculpture and music and mine with drawing and painting.

Phoenix Rising, 1982: Limited edition of 125, 22x28, pen and ink/pointillism, is in a number of collections

Since those formative and memorable times, creative exploration in one form or another held my interest and eventually led to my acceptance as a photography major at the High School of Industrial Arts. This was an awesome and endearing experience, attending school in mid-town Manhattan, although it sometimes seemed perplexingly out-of-touch with reality as a camera smaller than 4x5 format was prohibited and our Photo Chemistry class required us to know how to make flash powder and film emulsion . . . neither of which was of use in my soon-to-blossom world of professional photography.

Often times I have bobbed and weaved to evade the “title” of painter or illustrator, sculptor or designer, playground creator or photographer, videographer or playwright-embraced-by-mythology, which have been my many canvases of exploration on a round-the-world walkabout over the years. Instead, I embrace my center as a wellspring of unlimited and untapped psychic and intuitive possibilities, perhaps akin to the disc of a sunflower . . . and I vision its petals as the individual expressions of the core, which every creative being may explore as vehicles for creative expression; some for a few moments and others for a lifetime.

My creativity has flourished in many cultures and has manifested as photography in New York and Europe, automobile design/building in Europe, connections of heart with Mayan villagers drawing on shells that were exchanged for food and shelter in Yucatan, the design and creation of a solar-heated community shower system for UNICEF that was built close to the shore of Lake Atitlan in the highlands of Guatemala, and the concept, design and construction of the stage set in the General Assembly for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations in New York, the latter underwritten by the MTA, New York Port Authority and NYC businesses. 

Tapping in to different aspects of my creativity enabled me to create award-winning rotary wing aircraft in New Mexico, present a workshop on creativity for researchers at Mitsui’s Advanced Technology Center in Chiba, Japan, and for middle school teachers and students at the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. It is especially fulfilling to design and present community events that merge the arts community, the wellness community and the spiritual community.

Whilst my creative process is one that is often nurtured in solitude, a place of balance, learning, and humility that is meaningful to me is visioning and embarking on projects that flourish with the input of others . . . having the experience of artistic, engineering, and production collaboration has oftentimes created magic and in many instances I have discovered that co-creation and rule-bending leads to the most astonishing and inventive discoveries.

Ikenga GT Automobiles: Concept/Design, London 1966 to 1969*

A mantra I often sang when beginning challenging projects, especially those that later achieved successes beyond my imagining, was to “jump off the cliff and learn to fly before I hit the ground.”  My Ikenga automobile projects of the 1960s, culminating with the 1969 MK-III GT being the most acclaimed British entry in the 1969 Italian International Auto Show, were a success because of this and reflected the close collaboration with my guide and friend, British coach builder Charles Williams, and many other technology wizards and sponsors. 

The prototype 23-foot Ikenga catamaran kit, built of recycled materials in Mendocino, California, was strikingly futuristic, whilst the Scootboard, a hand portable and collapsible 35mph scooter developed initially as my emergency transportation in the face of a NYC transit strike, was later manufactured in New Mexico as a minimal structure inner urban vehicle.  The award-winning Ikenga autogiro aircraft projects of the 1980s (the Ikenga 530Z resides in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC) was also a successful manifestation of my mantra and exemplified how grassroots teamwork can morph into a project or process that surpasses one’s original goal. Most importantly, I honor these projects, and other creations of mine, as being Spirit-guided.

Ikenga Aircraft: Concept/Design/Construction. Santa Fe, NM 1985 to 1992**

My life is the canvas and my various creative exhalations are the mechanism and vehicles for the very survival of my spirit . . . and perhaps my humanity. I am in awe of the vast creative ability that resides in each of us . . . and I grok how the harsh challenges and obligation of life can cruelly diminish one’s creative flame. Our creativity, yours and mine, may be small, whilst also being a catalyzing and life-affirming spark that resonates in ways that can alter the world-stage beyond our imagining.  And should we cross paths on the journey, share in a project, or motivate each other from a distance, may the exchange/experience be one of shared inspiration, brightening each other’s path as the talisman that ushers us towards our greatest possibility and potential.

This is surely the spirited diamond that we all can nurture and share with each other on the journey towards self-realization during this brief walkabout on spaceship earth.

Way Station Earth: Watercolor, brush and airbrush. Limited edition of 150, 24x30 GiclĂ©e

Richard M. DeVos wrote: “The only thing that stands between a person and what they want from life is often merely the will to attempt it and the faith to believe that it is possible.”

May our success on the creativity journey be the celebration of the manifested possible.

—dwij/David Gittens

This is Week 6 of 52 Artists in 52 Weeks. Thank you for reading and sharing David's story today. To see more of David's work and to connect with him, please see the following links:


Inspirational/Visionary Art:

Music on my 23-string creation with soundscape artist Edward Cosla:

Aircraft design segment:

Rare first flight film: The 1988 Ikenga 530Z Autogiro:

Automobile design segment:

Rare film: The 1968 Ikenga MK II GT:

My old webzine created in 2000 may interest you:

Projects page:

Exhibited in London, Paris, Turin and Stockholm, the 1969 Ikenga MK III was a feature of the Manx Motor Museum in England for many years and is now in an automobile collection on the Arabian Peninsula

** The award winning 1988 Ikenga 530Z autogiro resides in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

No comments:

Post a Comment