It all began with the shock of a fire in 2019 which destroyed Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Could this have been a portent of the coming apocalypse?
The devastating fires in Eastern Australia followed soon after, only to be eclipsed by a plague which is still with us. How to navigate the end times? Tormented as we are by a deluge of strident and chaotic opinion.
Where are today’s philosophers? Keeping vigil? Keeping us sane? Giving us wise counsel? Revelation? As Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote about his honourable and now underrated calling: “WE, WHOSE TASK IS PRECISELY TO BE AWAKE”.
—Imants Tillers, 11 November 2021
In As Soon as Tomorrow Imants Tillers continues his explorations of landscape, which has been a major tenet of his work for over two decades. Yet, currently, at the close of 2021, the urgency and existential anxiety associated with this landscape context has reached fever pitch as we continue to experience the realities of climate crisis, pandemic, and social rupture. In works like Terra Nullius, As Soon as Tomorrow and Prayer for Rain, Tillers uses quotations from poetic and literary sources to variously mourn, give thanks, and insist upon the significance of the landscape which surrounds us and bears us: our collective histories, that is, and our present that toys nauseatingly with disaster.
Embedded as part of Tillers’ images, text invites an alternative sort of engagement, emphasising how our cognitive and intellectual understanding of landscape is intractably related to its materiality and our tactile, sensory means of interacting with it. Tillers’ synthesis of text and visual form manifests this dual way that landscape matters to us: as something both physical and metaphysical, which constitutes the material context in which we exist and the immaterial context in which we find, store, and make meaning. In looking at Tillers’ landscape paintings our sense of what landscape is, and how we are, or exist, in terms of landscape, is re-oriented, deepened and expanded. Understanding and feeling landscape in this nuanced way goes far beyond the stark threat posed by its frightening ill-health consistently voiced in headlines. The latter are hard scientific facts; what Tillers’ paintings describe are the intricacies of our embodied relationship to landscape – our imbrication as part of its complex fabric, and the vital, soul-sustaining power of this living context that is fundamentally at stake now.
—Clare Fuery-Jones, Phd Candidate Melbourne University
Imants Tillers is an internationally renowned postmodern artist whose practice includes conceptual paintings, installations, sculptures, prints and drawings. His signature works are comprised of many small painted canvas boards, which create impressive large format works when arranged together.
Tillers’ paintings touch on philosophical, historical, and personal themes, often incorporating images from the work of other artists and reflections on his Latvian ethnicity. His parents – Imants and Dzidra – left Latvia at the end of World War II, spending several years as refugees in a Displaced Persons camp in Germany. Tillers was born in Sydney in 1950, soon after the arrival of his parents in their new home country. He was the first of four children and spoke only Latvian until he went to school.
Tillers has exhibited his work throughout the world since 1975, and a crucial turning point was showing in New York in the 1980s. “One of my career highlights was when I held regular exhibitions in New York. I stayed with Christo and Jeanne-Claude in 1979, then later met people like Vija Celmins (who has remained a close friend), and atists such as Julian Schnabel, Sherrie Levine, Mike Bidlo and Philip Taaffe visited my exhibitions. It was like connecting to a larger art world other than just the Australian art world.” Recently, another significant moment in Tillers’ career was an extensive solo exhibition Celojums uz Nekurieni [Journey to Nowhere] held at the Latvian National Museum of Art in Riga in 2018. To coincide with this exhibition, film director Antra Cilinska made a feature-length documentary about Tillers’ life and work, titled Iemesti passaule [Thrown into the World].
Tillers has received many prestigious international and Australian awards, including the Osaka Triennale Prize (Gold in 1993, Bronze in 1996, and Silver in 2001), the inaugural Beijing Biennale Award for Excellence in 2003, and the Wynne Prize for Landscape Painting in 2012 and 2013. In 2005 he was awarded a Doctor of Letters (Honoris Causa) by the University of New South Wales, Sydney.
Today, Tillers lives and works in the Snowy Mountains in south-eastern New South Wales. He and his wife Jennifer Slatyer were drawn to the region because of its four distinct seasons, similar to those in Europe: “We quite consciously planted a birch grove 20 years ago, as is Latvian tradition, and now they are large trees. We pretend we are in Europe, while in fact we are in Cooma!”
Imants Tillers has been represented by Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery since 2007. As soon as tomorrow will be Tillers' seventh solo exhibition at Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney.