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Imants Alfred Tillers was born in Sydney in 1950 and today lives with his family in Cooma, NSW. Their colonial homestead, Blairgowrie, with its magnificent gardens, allows his wife, Jenny Slatyer, to indulge her passion for gardening, while the artist draws inspiration for his latest works from the rural surrounds.
Although he pursued architectural studies at Sydney University and did not undertake any formal art training, Tillers quickly rose to become acknowledged as one of Australia’s most internationally acclaimed sculptors and painters. In 1969, the world was treated to the stunning artistic spectacle of Sydney’s Little Bay coastline being wrapped up by Christo. As one of 10 volunteer architecture students, Imants Tiller worked alongside Christo on the Little Bay project that signified in a new era in Australian contemporary art.
Tillers explained the personal impact of the project to Sydney Morning Herald arts writer, Clara laccarino. "It was pushing the boundaries of what constituted art," Tillers said. "I found it an exciting antidote to Brett Whiteley and what was fashionable at that moment. [Christo] helped me decide to become an artist myself. It was such a thrilling experience."
Since 1980 Tillers has composed his large grid paintings using the same small prepared canvas boards favoured by amateur artists. He replaced the oil sticks that he used in the 1980s, and now works primarily with acrylics. Sequentially numbered, each work connects with the others and becomes a part of the greater whole. Tillers’ imagery has characteristically been borrowed from other artists, both historic and contemporary, exploring the idea that influences of local culture are fashioned by external dominant cultures and ideas geographical and spiritual dislodgment. Born to Latvian émigré parents, Tillers was preoccupied with the displacement of peoples and cultures from the old world to the new, and the changes this engenders.
In the early 1990s Tillers finished four large-scale paintings as part of the Diaspora series, combining themes and ideas relating to the global dispersion of peoples. “In the early eighties,” Tillers says, “I was interested in quotation and appropriation as processes of empowerment. It had quite a lot to do with the idea of Australian artists being seen as provincial and derivative. I wanted to use that aspect of Australian art and turn it into something original … I still use the processes of quotation and appropriation, but in a much more fragmented way. Nowadays I don’t want the end result to resemble anything except my own work.”
According to art critic, John McDonald, Tillers’ personality is reflected in his paintings, which are complex and multi-layered. “They are filled with erudite references, but nurture a latent Romanticism that keeps finding its way to the surface through the maze of allusions.” An important element of Tiller’s creative process is the choice of words to be laid over the painting using homemade stencils. A single work may contain quotations from several different sources, each adding extra meaning to the final result. Tiller emphasizes that these words are not meant to be decoded, but “to generate allusions and sensations in the viewer.”
Since 1973, Imants Tillers has held numerous exhibitions in all Australian states, won several awards and his work is represented in the Australian National Gallery and most state galleries. He was appointed a Trustee of the Art Gallery of New South Wales and in 2006, was one of only six Australian artists included in the Sydney Biennale.
Tillers’ work has been included in numerous important exhibitions including representing Australia in the XIII Bienal de Sao Paulo and the 1986 Venice Biennale. Several surveys of the artist’s work have been presented internationally, including, Imants Tillers: Works 1979-1988 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London in 1988 and Towards Infinity: Works by Imants Tillers, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Monterrey, Mexico in 1999-2000. His work has also been included in the international exhibition, Empathy: Beyond the Horizon, at the Pori Art Museum in Finland in 2001, which Tillers also co-curated and Art After Art, at the Neues Museum Weserburg in Bremen in 2002. In 2006, National Gallery of Australia held a comprehensive survey exhibition of Tillers.
Imants Tiller’s recent works reflect his fascination with capturing the silver and gold tones of the arid, barren landscape around his home in Cooma. As Tiller says, “When you’re driving in and out of Cooma you’re traversing an uninhabited landscape for a lot of the time, and this makes you much more aware of landscape,” he says. “I’d like to engage with the landscape tradition, but in a unique way. I don’t want to be out there painting views, even if it might be fun.”
Tillers continues to exhibit extensively, with solo and group exhibitions held throughout Australia and on the international art stage, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, Finland, Spain, Mexico, China, Japan and Southeast Asia.