Imants Tillers

Outback: C, 2005
synthetic polymer paint on 54 canvas boards (no. 76222-76275)
228.6 x 213.4 cm


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Sherman Galleries, Sydney
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2005 

Imants Tillers: Land Beyond Goodbye, Sherman Galleries, Sydney, 20 October – 12 November 2005

I. Tillers, Imants Tillers: Land Beyond Goodbye, Sydney, exh. cat., illus.

Outback: C appropriates a found object composition by the Australian artist Rosalie Gascoigne (1917-99). From the 1980s, Gascoigne began using discarded reflective road signs to create cross-word-like parquetry grids. Atop this original image, Tillers has written place names in a column from 'Faraway Bay' to 'Bendigo', a list that bisects the country from the Kimberley to Victoria. Around the edge of the canvas in blue are the word "A throw of the dice will never change history", a play on the famous phrase "the die is cast" that impliedly comments on the way in which Aboriginal history cannot be changed or erased by the new names of European colonialism. The work is made from small numbered canvasboards, a decades-long project known collectively as 'The Book of Power', an unapologetically political, emotive project. 

Reflecting on his Outback series as a whole, Tillers has said: "The Outback paintings refer to the spiritual heart of Australia and my imagined relationship to this 'unsolved' heart, for I was born in Australia and Australia is my homeland. The names of towns and localities present in many of these works, like William Creek, Lake Eyre, Broken Hill, Coober Pedy, Kata Tjuta, Kununurra and Faraway Bay, I use as a kind of readymade poetry. They are also places I have visited on my 'unfinished journey'."

The work in the Outback series expresses "certain ideas about the Australian landscape. In this guise I am following a powerful, distinctly Australian theme that stretches across time, from the work of Eugène con Guérard, John Glover, Arthur Streeton and Tom Roberts to Sidney Nolan, Fred Williams, Rosalie Gascoigne, John Olsen, Rover Thomas and Emily Kngwarreye. One could add the late works of the important conceptual artist Ian Burn to this landscape trajectory in Australian art." (Imants Tillers, Blairgowrie, Cooma, 30 August 2005 in Imants Tillers: Land Beyond Goodbye, Sydney, exh. cat.)

  • Outback: C

Image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

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Famous for his pioneering use of appropriation in his paintings, Imants Tillers is one of Australia’s leading postmodern artists. Born in Sydney in 1950 into a Latvian family, Tillers’ work often centres upon a sense of place and the meaning of home to migrants, the displaced and the place of the ‘other’ in a multicultural society. The appropriation of other artists’ work, the dialogue between text and image in his paintings, and the monumental scale of his compositions all combine to produce an oeuvre that is both distinctive and highly resonant with Australian and international audiences.

A conflicted sense of home and identity manifests itself in Tillers’ practice. Since 1981, the artist has produced paintings comprised of small numbered canvasboards. Known collectively as ‘The Book of Power’, the works frequently appropriate other artists, especially canonical works of Australian landscape painting. In borrowing the original sense of place felt by colonial artists like Eugène von Guérard and John Glover, Tillers is able to challenge those initial impressions of Australia by juxtaposing their famous paintings with extracts of text that carry contemporary political and spiritual messages. Derived from the French Symbolist poet Stephané Mallarmé’s line that ‘Everything in the world exists to end up in a book’, Tillers has defined the project as follows: 

"The panels have been numbered right from the start and the panel count is continuous from 1 to ∞. All modes of art can be accommodated within this book, and all modes of expression: from the trivial to the serious, banal to the profound, the pious to the blasphemous, etc. My intention is the exhaustion of all possible categories and I’ll spend the rest of my life working towards achieving this goal."

Tillers has been exhibiting for five decades in Australia and overseas, including representing Australia at the 42nd Venice Biennale. He won the Wynne Prize, Art Gallery of New South Wales, in 2012 and 2013, and has won prizes at the 1992, 1994, 1996 and 2001 Osaka Print and Painting Triennials. In 2006, the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, held the first survey of Tillers’ work in Australia, Imants Tillers: one world many visions. Most recently, in 2018, a major solo exhibition of his work, Journey to Nowhere, was staged at the Latvian National Museum of Art. Imants Tillers lives and works in Cooma in southern New South Wales.