This print by Joe Tilson is one from the portfolio, Artists’ Choice, a series of 48 works by artists all of whom were graduates from the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London. The portfolio was produced in 1987 to celebrate the RCA’s 150th anniversary. With contributions from many of the leading British printmakers at the time, the stylistic range of the prints ranged from lively figuration to the pure abstraction of the prints featured here.
Since the late 1940s, the RCA’s printmaking department has developed a renowned reputation for the teaching and encouragement of innovative printmaking techniques, from etching and aquatinting to screenprinting. Other artists featured in Artists’ Choice included Peter Blake, Anthony Caro, Elisabeth Frink, Eduardo Paolozzi, Gillian Ayres, Stephen Buckley, Paula Rego, Zandra Rhodes, Carel Weight and Tim Mara.
A concern with myth is central to an understanding of Tilson’s art, as Andrew Lambirth remarked in a catalogue essay in 2004:
Myth is the eternal present… it signifies rather a deeper truth; it is a way of thinking about reality, a way of rediscovering one’s relation to the world.
According to ancient Greek belief, the 'liknon' was a winnowing fan that was used to separate chaff from wheat, by throwing grain into the air. In this work Tilson places a still life of fruits of the earth at the centre of the composition, surrounded by panels inspired by painted imitations of marble.
Coinciding with a move away from London to Wiltshire in the early 1970s, Tilson became increasingly interested in nature, astrology, ancient mysticism and symbolism. Before studying art in the mid-1950s, he had trained as a carpenter and many of his works have elements of collage or construction to them. In the 1960s he was associated with the development of the Pop Art movement but he later moved from using cultural and mass-media sources to more spiritual subject matter, such as classical mythology.
Joe Tilson is known for his paintings, prints and constructions. He was born in London in 1928 and began his working life as a carpenter, before serving in the Royal Air Force between 1946 and 1949. He studied in London at St Martin’s School of Art (1949–1952) and at the Royal College of Art (1952–1955), where Peter Blake was a fellow student. He was awarded the Rome Prize and lived in Italy from 1955 to 1957. On his return to Britain he taught at St Martin’s from 1958 to 1963 and also at the Slade School of Art in London, the School of Visual Arts in New York, and the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg.
His first solo exhibitions were held in the early 1960s and his work attracted international attention when it was shown at the Venice Biennale in 1964. He was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1985 and was made a full Academician in 1991. More recently, he has exhibited THE FLAGS, a site-specific installation for the Swatch Pavilion at the 2019 Venice Biennale, combining images from Venetian church facades, geometric patterns on stone flooring, and written inscriptions. His works can be found in a large number of collections around the world, including Tate and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. He divides his time between Britain and Tuscany.
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