Requiem for Michael Nelson, 2021
synthetic polymer paint, gouache on 110 canvasboards
251 x 388.5 cm

'Requiem for Michael Nelson' (2021) is Imants Tillers’ personal tribute to Michael Nelson Jagamara, who passed away in November 2020. Imants and Michael Nelson collaborated for 19 years from 2001–2020 and produced over 20 paintings together. 

This painting is, in a way, a meditation on Michael Nelson's dual spiritual heritage – his roots in Aboriginal culture and his connection to the Christian faith – a paradox that Imants found particularly striking. The incorporation of text from Michael Nelson’s Lutheran funeral service alongside a stylized version of his ‘lightening dreaming’ motif symbolises the coexistence of these seemingly contrasting belief systems, generating an intriguing dialogue on the complexities of cultural identity.

The underlying image is based on Arthur Streeton’s painting of a huge red gum tree from the Victorian western districts. The tiny details, which could be cattle, indicate that it is a very large and very old tree – perhaps centuries old. Streeton painted it in the 1920s, so this tree may even have predated the arrival of European settlers. Imants was drawn to the painting as a background for this work as it speaks to the ancientness of Aboriginal culture and the centrality of the landscape in Aboriginal dreamings and traditions.

The painting’s location is listed as ‘unknown’ in the recent Arthur Streeton catalogue published by the Art Gallery of NSW. Imants was intrigued by the idea that while this painting is ‘missing’, it reappears in 'Requiem for Michael Nelson’ in a different way, inviting viewers to contemplate the interconnectedness of art across time and space.