18 October – 10 November 2012

Tabula Rasa is the 10th and final work in the series of monumental paintings that began with the work Diaspora in 1992 (collection: Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington). This work was a direct response to the dramatic political events in 1990 in Latvia, my parents’ original home country, and it signalled a complete change in direction for my work from the ‘postmodern’ 1980s to what might be called my post-colonial or rather more precisely ‘post soviet’ phase. The catalyst for this change was the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the Baltic States regaining independence after more than 40 years of political repression. The well-founded fears and a nxieties of my parents (about the fate of their homeland), who arrived in Australia in 1949 as refugees, were the ever-present backdrop to my childhood.

In Tabula Rasa the central image is based on one of Fred Williams’ paintings of the Pilbara region in Western Australia - his Karratha Landscape. Tabula Rasa is a companion to the 9th painting in the Diaspora series that was titled Lacrimae Rerum (2007) and was dedicated to my mother. This painting is for my father who passed away in 2001 – he was also named Imants Tillers. When I was growing up, my father, who became a talented mechanical engineer working for the company Macdonald, Wagner & Priddle, travelled to remote parts of Australia. He went to places like Kwinana, Port Hedland in the west, Weipa, Gladstone to the north – places where he was designing coal loaders, gantries and other materials handling infrastructure. He was even involved in the design of the Siding Springs telescope at Coonabarabran in NSW and the first off-shore oil drilling platforms off the Western Australian coast. In this work I wonder what he thought of the vast, barren Australian landscape he was compelled to traverse – having grown up in the gentle, intimate landscape of Latvia.

Also in this work – Williams’ Karratha hill contour becomes in my mind, a kind of fading heartbeat. As a text in Tabula Rasa (from Martin Heidegger) suggests:


Recently the Australian Composer Rosalind Page composed a piece for the virtuoso pianist, Zubin Kanga based on a close reading of Tabula Rasa both in terms of its text and imagery. Its world premiere was performed at the Melbourne’s Recital Centre in August this year.

—Imants Tillers, September 2012

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