As one of Australia’s most important living artists, Imants Tillers has been at the forefront of conceptual painting for over four decades. Since his first solo exhibition in 1973, he has forged a reputation as a rigorously intellectual and sophisticated artist with a singular visual language. Tillers juxtaposes layers of complex art historical, political, literary, personal, and philosophical references to create thought- provoking works that explore themes relevant to contemporary culture, identity, displacement, assimilation, and distance.
In 'Joy Knows No Mercy', Tillers employs his signature modular formations of small canvas-boards to form a series of profound and expansive tableaux. The monumental 'Fiction of Place' (2018) is the centrepiece of the exhibition. It
is the culmination of the artist’s 'Metafisica Australe' series, an important chapter that explores the remarkable aesthetic connection between certain aspects of contemporary Western Desert painting and European art. Tillers has based this large 132 panel work on Francesco Guardi’s Venetian scene, 'Bucentaur Departing for the Lido' (c. 1775-80). However, what appears to be the sky is an appropriated section of Papunya Tula artist, Kenny Williams Tjampitjinpa’s, 'Kuniya Dreaming at Karriwarra' (2004) which denotes a Western Desert landscape in Central Australia. Simultaneously, the interrelation of the colours and stylised zigzag patterning here evokes a de Chirico-esque rendering of water or a Post- Impressionist sky. As Tillers asserts, 'Fiction of Place' “depicts the collision (or maybe the reconciliation) of the two worlds: the Aboriginal and the European.” This is a concept explored throughout much of this exhibition.
The sources of Tillers’ imagery are significant. In 'Joy Knows No Mercy', Tillers references European artists and writers such as Guardi, de Chirico, Odilon Redon, Hilma af Klint, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Phillip Otto Runge. He has then juxtaposed these references against works by Australian and New Zealander artists such as Arthur Streeton, John Glover, Colin McCahon, and Julian Daspher, acknowledging that distant, provincial cultures depend on imports from dominant cultures for much of their artistic inspiration and imagery. This layering of text and art references has become a powerful visual language for Tillers in his exploration of distance and issues of locality and identity, and constitutes a key feature of his practice, the ever unfolding 'Book of Power'.