Imants Tillers

Precinct (vu2), (No.40752-40760), 1994
gouache, oilstick, synthetic polymer paint on 9 canvas boards
114.3 x 76.2 cm
each board is stamped with the artists' number

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Sherman Galleries, Sydney
Private collection, Melbourne
Private collection, Sydney

'Imants Tillers: Jump', Sherman Galleries, Sydney, 12 May - 11 June 1994, cat. 3

Along with Juan Davila, Imants Tillers is Australia's most interesting and important Post-modernist artist. Recontextualising images by Australian and international artists, in 'Precinct (vu2)' we see him appropriating from New Zealand artist Colin McCahon's 'Number' paintings, while drawing upon the overlayering of numbers from American artist Jasper Johns 1963 series of the same name. The work of both McCahon and Johns has been central to Tillers work, and it is with this work that the two image-makers work unites.

'Precinct (vu2)' consists of ten pieces of board that feature a large numeral two. The fragmentation of the picture plane visible in 'Precinct (vu2)' is a considered conceptual strategy that runs throughout Tiller's entire body of work. When viewing the work, the eye may move between and beyond the highly textured surfaces, or to the numerical and alphabetic forms that Tillers has painted onto the surface. This fragmentation of the image does not confine the viewer to a single pictorial space, but moves the eye around the work in a non-linear way. Thus, Tillers decentralises the art object in its own reading, allowing the viewer to make their own journey through the symbolic aspects of the work.

  • Precinct (vu2), (No.40752-40760)

Courtesy of the artist

View artist profile

Famous for his pioneering use of appropriation in his paintings, Imants Tillers is one of Australia’s leading postmodern artists. Born in Sydney in 1950 into a Latvian family, Tillers’ work often centres upon a sense of place and the meaning of home to migrants, the displaced and the place of the ‘other’ in a multicultural society. The appropriation of other artists’ work, the dialogue between text and image in his paintings, and the monumental scale of his compositions all combine to produce an oeuvre that is both distinctive and highly resonant with Australian and international audiences.

A conflicted sense of home and identity manifests itself in Tillers’ practice. Since 1981, the artist has produced paintings comprised of small numbered canvasboards. Known collectively as ‘The Book of Power’, the works frequently appropriate other artists, especially canonical works of Australian landscape painting. In borrowing the original sense of place felt by colonial artists like Eugène von Guérard and John Glover, Tillers is able to challenge those initial impressions of Australia by juxtaposing their famous paintings with extracts of text that carry contemporary political and spiritual messages. Derived from the French Symbolist poet Stephané Mallarmé’s line that ‘Everything in the world exists to end up in a book’, Tillers has defined the project as follows: 

"The panels have been numbered right from the start and the panel count is continuous from 1 to ∞. All modes of art can be accommodated within this book, and all modes of expression: from the trivial to the serious, banal to the profound, the pious to the blasphemous, etc. My intention is the exhaustion of all possible categories and I’ll spend the rest of my life working towards achieving this goal."

Tillers has been exhibiting for five decades in Australia and overseas, including representing Australia at the 42nd Venice Biennale. He won the Wynne Prize, Art Gallery of New South Wales, in 2012 and 2013, and has won prizes at the 1992, 1994, 1996 and 2001 Osaka Print and Painting Triennials. In 2006, the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, held the first survey of Tillers’ work in Australia, Imants Tillers: one world many visions. Most recently, in 2018, a major solo exhibition of his work, Journey to Nowhere, was staged at the Latvian National Museum of Art. Imants Tillers lives and works in Cooma in southern New South Wales.