Joe Tilson Explores The Stones of Venice In New London Exhibition

Joe Tilson

New works by the British Pop Art Joe Tilson is presented in an exhibition of his work at Marlborough Fine Art, London. The Stones of Venice, will be his seventh at Marlborough since 1962.

Originally associated with the British Pop Art movement in the early 1960s, Tilson soon became disillusioned with consumer technology, instigating a departure in his artistic direction. He employs bold colours, schematised imagery and a compartmentalised format to create paintings, constructions and reliefs, working with a variety of materials such as wood, ceramic and stone. 

This exhibition borrows its title from John Ruskin’s three-volume examination of Venetian art and architecture. Tilson first visited Italy in 1949, and has drawn a lifetime of inspiration from the country, dividing his time between London, Tuscany and Venice. He married in Venice in 1956, represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1964 and has had a house in Dorsoduro since 2002. 

The works in the exhibition celebrate the interdependence of painting, architecture, design and the written word; Venetian church façades paired with bold geometric patterns of the city’s stone flooring are a recurring motif. All canvasses are painted in acrylic, but with a thickness and looseness of application, and a layering of saturated colours, that gives the surface an expressiveness not normally associated with the medium. 

Works such as PC from Venice Campana di San Marco, Calle dei Fabbri (2015) and PC from Venice San Sebastiano (2014) are presented as postcards from Venice, embedded in giant-sized replicas of envelopes – an idea first employed by Tilson in his 1960s Pop works. Having trained as a carpenter and joiner, Tilson has a sustained interest in making works that are visual objects. In The Stones of Venice he continues to create wooden structures through a process of making that involves cutting and modelling alongside painting. 

Further works, including The Stones of Venice Santa Maria Della Visitazione, Venusia (2014) and The Stones of Venice, San Trovaso, Venaga (2014), feature hand-written inscriptions of now obsolete variant forms of the city’s name – as outlined in the Italian poet Andrea Zanzotto’s work Filò. The varied decorative patterns within the works draw affinities with Islamic art, unsurprising in the light of Venice’s trading history and historical connections with both Byzantine and Muslim culture. The confluence between Christian and Islamic art in these paintings is a considered approach from the artist, one that he conceives as speaking of reconciliation at a time of deeply damaging mutual distrust between opposing religious traditions. 

Also exhibited are The Stones of Venice San Sebastiano, The Stones of Venice Santa Maria dei Miracoli and The Stones of Venice Campana di San Marco, Calle dei Fabbri (all 2015), small but opulently decorative diptychs featuring simplified versions of church façades, or bells paired with geometric configurations, rendered in a palette of mostly primary colours. Stretched over wooden supports, the curved corners of the canvasses resemble playing cards, adding to the physical presence of the works as objects. 

Tilson was born in London in 1928. He studied at St Martin’s School of Art (1949-52) and the Royal College of Art (1952-55), at the same time as Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff, Peter Blake and Richard Smith. After winning the Gulbenkian Foundation Award in 1960, Tilson represented Britain at the 32nd Venice Biennale in 1964. His first retrospective was held at the Boymans van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam (1971), and others followed at the Vancouver Art Gallery (1979), the Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol (1984), the Royal Academy (2002) and the Palazzo Doria, Loano, Savona (2006). There have been numerous exhibitions of his work at galleries and institutions in Italy. His work is represented in public and private collections worldwide.

Image: Joe Tilson, The Stones of Venice La Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista, Venessia, 2014, acrylic on canvas on wood relief, 50 x 75 cm, © Joe Tilson, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art, London.


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