Joe Tilson

Biography

Born in London in 1928. Trained as a carpenter and a joiner, before going to study at St Martin’s School of Art (1949-52) and the Royal College of Art (1952-55), at the same time as Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff, Peter Blake and Richard Smith. After graduating from the Royal College, he was awarded the Rome Prize for a year in Italy, which introduced him to classical history and culture, which would become important to his art in later decades. He went on to teach at St Martin’s, the Slade School of Fine Art, and also at the School of Visual Arts, New York and the Hochschule fuer bildende Kuenste in Hamburg.

Early work in a realist vein was followed by Arte Povera, seen in Italy, before finding his style with the emerging Pop Art generation in London, with his bold and often humorous carpented, painted and collaged constructions and reliefs, which freely incorporated photography, plastics and textiles. In the later 60s he began to move away from celebrating contemporary fashions and issues of the decade towards, first, Greek mythology and, after his move to the countryside in Wiltshire, seeking ‘the sacred in Nature’, in ancient cultures such as those of the American Indian and Australian Aborigine. Since the early 60’s his work had consistently taken several forms. He has been a prolific printmaker, often with large works on paper using every known print technique and carborundum relief. His unique works might be conventional painted canvases or panels, or works in wood, ceramic or stone, with other natural materials such as straw or rope, and be in the form of ladders, boxes, standing totems or other objects.

After winning the Gulbenkian Foundation Award in 1960, he represented Britain at the 32nd Venice Biennale in 1964. His first retrospective was held at the Boymans van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam (1971), and others followed at the Vancouver Art Gallery (1979), the Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol (1984), the Royal Academy (2002) and the Palazzo Doria, Loano, Savona (2007), and there have been numerous exhibitions in Italy since he acquired a house and studio in the vicinity of Cortona in the early 1970s, and recently also a studio in Venice.