Imants Tillers

The Walk in Darkness, 1990
synthetic polymer paint and gouache on 24 canvas boards, each panel numbered sequentially with stencil verso: 29979 – 30002
152.5 x 152.5 cm (overall)

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Deutscher Fine Art, Melbourne
Private collection, Hobart
Goodmans Auctioneers, Sydney, 23 October 2000, lot 168
Private collection
Deutscher~Menzies, Melbourne, 2 September 2003, lot 62 (as 'Dievturi')
Paul Sutherland, Sydney. 
Estate of the above, Sydney
Deutscher and Hackett, Australian + International Fine Art, Melbourne, 21 April 2021, lot. 57
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Australian Art, Colonial to Contemporary, Deutscher Fine Art,
Melbourne, May – June 1995, cat. 114 (illus. in exhibition catalogue)

Curnow, W. Imants Tillers and the 'Book of Power', Craftsman House, G+B Arts International, Sydney, 1998, p. 137

"In some ways Tillers has been identified as a quintessential postmodern artist in his use of appropriation and quotation. What is so fascinating about his approach, however, is that the best of it has a distinctly personal dimension.... From the 1970’s onwards he made a virtue out of the distance of Australia from the so-called centres of Europe and America, bringing together imagery from well-known and relatively unknown artists. Along with Tillers’ particular interest in post-Second World War German art, his works reveal an equal passion for artists from the so-called peripheries, including the great New Zealand painter Colin McCahon, who has been an ongoing source of inspiration." (Ron Radford, Imants Tillers: One world many visions, National Gallery of Australia, 1989. p.6)

"When Tillers first saw McCahon's Victory over Death 2 in the National Gallery of Australia he was struck by its overwhelming presence and landscape associations. In an interview with Jenny Harper, who curated an exhibition of Tillers’ work for the National Gallery of New Zealand in Wellington in 1989, he also noted his attraction to McCahon's use of contemporary scale, the arte-povera painting surfaces he sometimes employs, the conceptual flavour of the numbers and words, the ‘radical hybridisation of received styles and ideas’, and his use of biblical quotation that gives his work a simultaneously archaic and contemporary presence.

He added:  
There is a constant tension between the search for meaning, the desire for transcendence and pervasive, immovable scepticism. It is this aspect of McCahon that I find most interesting and most relevant to our condition today." (Imants Tillers: one world many visions, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1989,  p.33)

  • The Walk in Darkness

Image courtesy of the artist and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

View artist profile

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.