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Latvian National Museum of Art opens a major exhibition of works by Imants Tillers
Imants Tillers, Pataphysical Man, 1984. Synthetic polymer paint, charcoal and pencil on 168 canvas boards. 304 x 532 cm. Collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.

by Elita Ansone

RIGA.- Journey to Nowhere, a major exhibition of works by Imants Tillers dedicated to the centennial of the Republic of Latvia is on view at the main building of the Latvian National Museum of Art in Riga from 7 July to 30 September 2018.

Imants Tillers (1950) is one of Australia’s leading contemporary artists. Born in a Latvian émigré family in Sydney, he was awarded a Bachelor of Architecture degree from University of Sydney (1972). His interest in contemporary art emerged during his study years, when as a volunteer he became involved in the Christo and Jeanne-Claude project Wrapped Coast, the shrouding of Little Bay in Sydney (1969).

Imants Tillers represented Australia at the São Paulo Art Biennial (1975), Documenta 7 (1982) and the 42nd Venice Biennale (1986). Author has held solo shows at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London (1988), National Art Gallery in Wellington (1989), and National Gallery of Australia in Canberra (2006). Tillers’ international reputation was consolidated through participation in group exhibitions at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, Osaka Painting Triennial (1990), Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Artist regularly takes part in the Sydney Art Biennials (1979, 1986, 1988, 2006). Recipient of notable art awards – Osaka Triennial Prizes (Gold in 1993, Bronze in 1996, Silver in 2001), Beijing International Art Biennale (2003), and the top Australian art award for landscape painting, the Wynne Prize (2012, 2013).

Imants Tillers is referred to as a ‘thought-provoking’ artist and his style is considered to be the quintessence of Postmodernism. The art of Tillers is intellectual, incorporating references to world cultures, the history of Western art, 20th century European literature and philosophy, indigenous Australian culture. Master has always chosen for his works topics that would stimulate meaningful discussions.

In 1981 Imants Tillers began using small-scale rectangular cartons covered in canvas for his painting, these are often combined into works of impressive scale. These ‘canvasboards’ have become a distinguishing feature and conceptual solution of author’s work. Tillers has opted for the appropriation method – his paintings incorporate images found in works by other artists. By quoting them and using many such images in the one composition, the world is revealed as a system of mutually interlinked occurrences. Text is also an ever-present constituent part of Tillers’s oeuvres – sentences taken from works by philosophers, writers, poets, and thinkers which like conceptual narratives are carried over from one painting to another. The focus of artist’s ‘big questions’ is the individual, place and identity, exile, migration and affiliation.

In Latvia the first contact with the art of Imants Tillers took place in 1993, when a painting from his series Diaspora was shown at the Latvian National Museum of Art. This series was inspired by the political events of 1990 in Latvia. Tillers started an epic narrative of people who have been torn away from their homelands, scattered all over the world and who then search for their identity in a foreign country. It is a story not only about the Latvian diaspora, because the works also bring up the problem of the aboriginal Australians who were displaced from their traditional areas.

Sixty-four works have been selected for Imants Tillers’s wide retrospective Journey to Nowhere at the Latvian National Museum of Art, taken from the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia in Sydney, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki in New Zealand, the Eleonora and Michael Triguboff, Lynette and Terrence Fern, Will Baillieu collections in Australia, as well as from the artist’s private collection. The works chosen demonstrate the development of master’s creative oeuvre over a period of more than forty years – from 1975 to 2017. From the legendary installation of 1975 inspired by Marcel Duchamp and immediately selected to represent Australia at the São Paulo Art Biennial, to paintings using the appropriation method and in particular quotations from aboriginal art which caused such controversy in Australia in the 1980s. Two of the works on show were created in collaboration with the indigenous Australian artist Michael Nelson Tjakamarra.

In the context of the project the Latvian National Museum of Art in cooperation with Power Publications in Sydney issued an extensive bilingual book Imants Tillers. Journey to Nowhere which includes a complete catalogue of exhibition works and artist’s biography. With contributions from Dr. art. Elita Ansone, Dr. Graham Coulter-Smith, Prof. Mark Ledbury, Dr. Ian McLean, and Imants Tillers himself, this publication traces the painter’s career through his most formative journeys – be they geographical, collaborative or philosophical. As the work crosses vast physical, metaphysical and mytho-poetic terrain, the authors find themselves in Karosta, Papunya, Cooma, and many distant art-historical shores along the way. From this complex odyssey emerges a distinct and creative vision, that of a visual philosopher who identifies as an outsider in the city of his birth and visitor in his homeland.

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