William Tillyer Season
Part Three : The Watercolours

9 April to 15 May 2010

However beautiful they are, and many of them are extremely beautiful, almost painfully so, Tillyer’s watercolours never lead us away from the real world in favour of an Edenic vision. Rather, they bring us back to the here and now, to water and dirt, the basis of our existence… The artist’s re-envisioning of the characteristic qualities of watercolour is a unique contribution to both contemporary art and the tradition of English watercolour, as exemplified by artists such as John Sell Cotman, Alexander Cozens, John Constable and J.M.W. Turner.

John Yau, 2010

The third exhibition of our four-part William Tillyer Season will reveal the artist at his most lyrical and visually seductive. Following on the heels of our Print and Painting retrospectives, and charting the evolution of the artist’s watercolours from the early 1970s to today, the show constitutes the most extensive grouping to date of this crucially important area of William Tillyer’s practice. In utilising watercolour rather than linear drawings to explore his visual ideas, Tillyer has breathed fresh life into the historic material of English Landscape painting, making works of great sensual beauty and formal relevance.

Ranging from abstracted mediations on the organic flow of materials to large bodies of work made in response to Tillyer’s extensive travels (from Sweden to Australia; a European Grand Tour to the American West; the artist’s native Yorkshire to the coast of County Kerry), the show encompasses the wide ranging interests that characterise the artist’s approach in all media. In isolating his watercolour practice, however, the show highlights the specific vitality which Tillyer has brought to a historic tradition. As Peter Fuller observed, ‘in the medium of watercolours, and perhaps only in watercolours – the great cry of the romantic aesthetic (i.e. Truth to Nature), and the great cry of emergent Modernism (i.e. Truth to Materials) were, in fact, one and the same…I think it is this unique priority of this elusive medium that Tillyer seems to have understood so fully.’

The exhibition will trace the development of Tillyer’s approach from the tight luminescent lattices of the early 1970’s to the free-flowing washes of more recent years. Throughout, as Fuller had it ‘Tillyer’s watercolours invite us to share with him a tentative and tremulous sensation of physical and spiritual oneness with the natural world.’ Conforming to Fry’s description of ‘pure art – ‘[they] set up vibrations in the deepest levels of consciousness…these vibrations radiate in many directions, lighting up a vast system of correlated feelings and ideas’.

It is just such poetic evocations that these works bring to mind and that has accounted for their tremendous popularity over the years. To coincide with the exhibition, 21 Publishing will release a major monograph on the watercolours with a text by the renowned New York poet and art writer, John Yau.