Imants Tillers: As soon as tomorrow

Imants Tillers’s poetic paintings have, for five decades, mined the co-constitutive relationship between person and place. The artist’s most recent body of work, “As soon as tomorrow,” finds both new, urgent troubles and sustaining connections in this entanglement, dwelling resolutely in a place of generous ambivalence.

In a statement accompanying the exhibition, Tillers notes that “It all began with the shock of a fire in 2019 which destroyed Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Could this have been a portent of the coming apocalypse? The devastating fires in Eastern Australia followed soon after, only to be eclipsed by a plague which is still with us.” Given such an introduction, you could be forgiven for thinking that a contemporary rhetoric of “crisis” as all around us, all the time, might fully “eclipse” (to borrow Tillers’s phrasing) the affective nuance of the show – but this isn’t the case. 

Indeed, the show seems to contend that our experiences of place and of landscape – bodily, emotional, intellectual, and cultural – remain informed both by a vibrant present and a rich array of historical traditions, even while the future remains deeply, and pressingly, uncertain. As Clare Fuery-Jones writes in the catalogue text for the show, “what Tillers’s paintings describe are the intricacies of our embodied relationship to landscape – our imbrication as part of its complex fabric, and the vital, soul-sustaining power of this living context that is fundamentally at stake now.” 

As audiences familiar with his work will have come to expect from Tillers, a resistance to the separation of the “natural” and the “mad-made” characterises much of this new work. Dissolution of these opposing categories – rather than their resolution –  is the order of the day. In Nature Speaks: HJ, 2021, for example, the power of the written word and the painted image to bring into being something truly real burns along the surface of Tillers’s canvas boards. Behind his characteristic all-caps, sans serif font proclaiming fragments like “THE PRESENCE OF THE POETIC ‘I’” and “SUNG INTO BEING,” rests a landscape marked by the human hand. Bare branches reach into a sky above a piece of ruined stonework; something in the foreground could be a path, or a river. 

Even amongst the anxiety of the bare branches, and the slight moments of misalignment that Tillers’s use of multiple boards create, a powerful and auratic sense of presentness, supported by a history – which, together, might amount to persistence –  ties the landscape and the “human” works of writing, painting, building, reading, and looking inextricably together. Looking at these works, we might feel the sense that to be “ALONE WITH OUR DESTINATION” is both to be in the place where we belong and to be in a place where the consequences of our actions, variously beautiful and catastrophic, are brought to bear around and upon us. 

This will be Tillers’s seventh exhibition with Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, where he has been represented since 2007. It is both a response to distinctly contemporary fears, questions, and doubts, and an essential new strand in a body of work from one of this continent’s most revered artists.

Imants Tillers: As soon as tomorrow
26 November – 18 December 2021
Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

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