Exhibition date: 12 February — 19 April 2009
In a series of large, multi-layered and compelling paintings Imants Tillers has established himself as one of the most important Australian artists of the last three decades.
From early works in this exhibition, such as White aborigines (from 1983), through to his great 2007 painting Lacrimae Rerum (for Dzidra) Imants Tillers’ paintings are demanding, intense and seductive.
Imants Tillers is the child of Latvian refugees who arrived in Australia in the late 1940s, exiled from their homeland by war and political turmoil, part of the great post-war European diaspora. It is this experience of being displaced to a new land, isolated from cultural and personal histories, which has become a central component of Tillers’ work.
While he was born in Australia, in 1950, the questions he asks in his work are informed by the diasporic experience and longing—about place, relationships to the past and the self, of locality and identity. Together, the more than 80,000 canvasboards in Tillers’ paintings form a long poem with many verses. They are informed, as Tillers said of Colin McCahon, by “a constant tension between the search for meaning, the desire for transcendence and a pervasive, immovable scepticism.”
His landscapes are made up of fragments of borrowed images and of language—marks, words, phrases and names used to create the country, to give it form and place oneself within it. Using simple means—hundreds of small canvasboards combined into huge gridded paintings—they exist as part of a long, continuing series, or like a poem in many, fragmented verses.
He draws on poetry, on the rhythm of spoken language and flow of voice and text—from Virgil’s Aeneid through to Stephane Mallarmé and on to late 20th century poets like John Anderson and Wisława Szymborska—and on images sourced from the work of a host of other artists.
The list of references in this exhibition includes the great New Zealand artist Colin McCahon, Shusaku Arakawa, Michael Nelson Jagamara, Joseph Beuys, Emily Kngwarreye, Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, Peter Skipper, Georg Baselitz, Rosalie Gascoigne, Gabriel Orozco and many others.
Tillers’ works map a space of influence, combining, quoting and knitting together words, images and ideas, ghosts and other associations, with source material contributing fragments to his continuing, multi-part epic. The connections he draws together are at once his own and connections to a wider dialogue.
Imants Tillers has been on a long journey through the complex web of culture and influence that surrounds us now, creating works that are both intellectually and conceptually rigorous as well as enormously pleasurable. While he has strongly influenced Australian art since the early 1980s, this is the first significant exhibition of his work to be held in Western Australia.