Joe Tilson

Born 1928 in London, United Kingdom. Lives and works between London and Venice, Italy.

Following initial training and work as a carpenter, and three years in the Royal Air Force, Joe Tilson enrolled at St Martin’s School of Art and the Royal College of Art in London, studying alongside Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff and Peter Blake, and graduated in 1955. Winning the Roma prize, Tilson moved to Rome, where he met and married artist Joslyn Morton. The two returned to the UK for Tilson to take up a teaching post at St Martin’s, and later at the Slade School of Art in London. Using his experience as a carpenter and joiner, in the late 1950s Tilson produced wooden reliefs in addition to prints and paintings. His work reflected a preoccupation with language, puzzle-making and symbols. It also revealed a desire to disrupt the hierarchy between the copy and original, which he shared with other pop artists of his generation.

Joe Tilson’s work gradually shifted to reflect his growing political activism and his critique of consumerism. In 1969 he embarked on a series entitled Pages – three-dimensional wooden grids that mimicked the layout of radical newspapers and magazines of the period, such as Black Dwarf and International Times. The content sections, slotted within the wooden grids, featured screenprints of articles and images, printed on soft pillow-like fabric, sewn by Tilson’s wife Morton.

Page 7 Snow White and the Black Dwarf 1969–70 and Page 9 Black Dwarf 1969 refer to the political magazine Black Dwarf and the latter includes extracts from Norman O. Brown’s book Life Against Death, an influential publication critical of Sigmund Freud’s theories. Page 19 He, She & It 1969–70 and Page 20 He, She & It 1969–70 both represent International Times. The latter also references James Whale’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, W.B. Yeats’s poetry and excerpts from James Joyce’s writing. While Page 18 Muhammad Speaks 1969–70 is entirely devoted to the American boxer Muhammad Ali.

Lina Džuverović
September 2015