More Categories


Private collection, USA


Contemporary Art Society, The Religious Theme, Tate Gallery, London 1958


Although better known for the Pop-orientated imagery of his painted wooden reliefs of the 1960s and 70s, Joe Tilson graduated from the Royal College of Art (in 1955) as a painter working in a rough-edged but generally straightforward figurative manner using subject matter derived from his travels to Spain and Italy. Then, in 1956, the Tate Gallery put on the epoch-making show Modern Art in the United States. This was the first time in which large-scale Abstract Expressionist paintings by Pollock, De Kooning, Kline and others had been seen in this country. The confrontation with their bold, gestural style of mark-making was a crucial event in Tilson’s early career, causing a radical shift of direction in his art towards the kind of painterly abstraction represented by Genesis Archezoic of 1958. It is interesting to note that this painting was included in a Contemporary Art Society exhibition at the Tate Gallery, in 1958, entitled The Religious Theme, which suggests that Tilson, an artist always fascinated by the mythical and magical manifestations of antiquity, was intuitively drawn to these same spiritual elements within Abstract Expressionism. As some critics have observed, it seems to have exerted a more lasting influence on the rest of Tilson’s career than those artefacts of popular 1960s culture more normally associated with his art.