‘Painting is a science and should be pursued as an inquiry into the laws of nature. Why, then, may not a landscape be considered as a branch of natural philosophy, of which pictures are but experiments?’
‘The sky is the source of light in Nature and it governs everything’.
The concluding exhibition of our four-part William Tillyer Season will give first airing to the artist’s latest body of work. Inspired by his return to North Yorkshire after a residency in Spain, and executed over the last eighteen months, the works see Tillyer revisit his enduring preoccupation with the English landscape. Following on the heels of our three retrospectives, the show reveals the undiminished ambition with which Tillyer continues to bring fresh insight to the underlying obsessions of his experimental oeuvre.
Centred upon a cloud study motif derived from John Constable’s quasi-scientific attempts to map the construction of the skies, (as well as Tillyer’s own long-running obsession with clouds as a symbol of interconnectivity within the material realm), these are works that demand to be seen in relation to the historic English landscape tradition even as they push towards a new conception of the genre.
Unfolding across both plane surface and Tillyer’s trademark Open Surface lattices, the works see the artist push his control of paint as an allusive tool. In the plane surface Flatford Chart Paintings nine gesso panels, arranged in a chart structure, utilise the interrelation of differently diluted paints to recapture a sense of the material flux embodied in our skies. The viewer hovers between the panels and the accumulations of thicker and thinner paint - suspended in their mysterious interrelations, as they might be staring into the ethereal expanses of sky on a summer’s day. The latticed Helmsley Sky Study pieces meanwhile see Tillyer control the movement of paint about and through a regular perforated lattice, suspended some two inches from a white background. Here the focus becomes the paint’s conditioning as it weaves through the lattice. The viewer is caught up in the struggle of image and materials, paint and support, rationalising human form and motive, organic paint.
Throughout the works, therefore, Tillyer succeeds in creating new affinities between materials and subject matter, forcing reflection upon man’s interrelation to nature, arts relation to the world. As Mel Gooding has observed, ‘they serve to remind us that the landscape is made by man and that great Nature itself is shaped by the symbolic imagination, known and recognised in our diverse picturings of it’.
The exhibition reveals an artist in full-flight, building upon the accumulated experiences of half a century of committed practice to make works which drive towards a novel conception of the landscape tradition and painting in general.
A fully illustrated catalogue with a text by Ben Wiedel-Kaufmann, placing the new work within the context of Tillyer’s wider oeuvre and evolving philosophy, will be released to coincide with the exhibition.