Joe Tilson, one of the pioneering figures of British Pop art in the early 1960s has a new exhibition, in Henley-on-Thames Oxfordshire. Tilson was famous long before the Beatles and David Hockney. He studied at St. Martin’s School of Art and then at the Royal College of Art. In 1955 he won the much coveted Rome Prize, which took him to live in Italy where he continues to live and work today. He is a Royal Academician and his artistic career was celebrated at the Royal Academy in a retrospective exhibition in 2002. Despite his success and perhaps due to his relocation to Italy, his work remains one of the most affordable artists of his generation.
A lifelong dedicated printmaker, Joe Tilson has gained a reputation as one of Britain’s foremost artists producing prints, multiples, constructions, paintings and reliefs. His enduring appeal relies on his consistent refusal to recognise the artificial divisions between the unique and the editioned artwork. Many of his prints are largely hand-painted and his ‘paintings’ are based around print-making techniques. His early work embraced the hedonism and optimism of the 1960s and he became a natural exponent of the ‘Pop Art’ era.
The Prints of 1963-73:
In the late 1950s, Tilson was teaching at St. Martin’s School of Art and mixing socially with Frank Auerbach, David Hockney, Richard Hamilton and Peter Blake. Their ideas and techniques were beginning to mirror, unbeknownst to them at the time, what was being formulated by Andy Warhol in the USA. They were experimenting in new mediums and were lucky to form a relationship with the commercial printer Chris Prater who helped this group of artists to realise the potential of mixing photography, printmaking, drawing and found objects.
In 1965, Tilson was invited to teach in New York and the prints from this period offer a ‘window’ in to his personal journey during this period. The very early work displays an optimism and exuberance but a dissatisfaction with the consumerist society begins to creep in. These early screen prints reflect many of the political and social ideologies which shaped Western Society during the 1970s.
The 1970s saw a shift in Joe Tilson’s work when he moved to Italy and began to reflect on the Five Elements and Greek and Roman mythology. Italy remains a strong focus in his work and some of his most recent imagery is inspired by the artist’s passion for Mediterranean civilisations as the foundation for European culture. This fascination continues to shape much of his printmaking today.
The Wood Constructions:
Having worked as carpenter and joiner for two years from the age of 16, Tilson has continued to find exposed wood alluring and uses it as a container for disparate objects. Taking his cue from functional objects such as bookshelves and ladders, he created wooden constructions whose compartments were filled with items that served as small scale-sculpture and individual artworks in their own right. This also reflects the early ‘Pop’ Art preoccupation with displaying ephemera and found objects.
Tilson’s most recent work is directed towards Venice. Many of the churches memorialised in Tilson’s latest paintings and silkscreens are located in the Dorsoduro in Venice. He takes in to account the complex histories and the successive alterations layering each building and produces a sense of accumulated time. Tilson focusses on the main entrance and contrasts it with a bold, child-like design inspired by the geometric patterns of the stone floors from the churches. The title of the series The Stones of Venice makes reference to John Ruskin’s Venetian architectural critique of 1851.
‘Goldfinch’ and ‘Melagrano’ refer back to his Conjunction paintings of the late ’90s. Tilson took inspiration from the heraldic depictions of animals associated with Siena’s 17 districts. The principle in each was the two separate conjoined panels which bore an image of an object or animal and a design from a church floor in that region. They all combine to show an intimacy in detail and a delight in decorative mark making. Over its 40 Year history, Bohun Gallery has had the opportunity to work with some of Britain’s greatest printmakers and we are delighted to introduce the work of Joe Tilson RA and to celebrate his achievements in this long-overdue solo show.
Joe Tilson – 1st February to 22nd February 2014 – Bohun Gallery – 15 Reading Road Henley-on-Thames Oxfordshire