Joe Tilson

Vox Box


Not on display

Joe Tilson born 1928
Oil paint on wood
Object: 1524 × 1219 × 70 mm
Purchased 1976

Catalogue entry

T02026 VOX BOX 1963

Inscribed ‘Joe Tilson’ on the reverse
Oil on wood relief, 60×48×2 3/4 (150×122×7)
Purchased from the Peter Stuyvesant Foundation (Publications Department Funds) 1976
Coll: Marlborough Fine Art Ltd.; bt. Peter Stuyvesant Foundation 1966
Exh: Joe Tilson Recent Works, Kings College, University of Durham, May 1963 (28, repr.); British Painting in the Sixties. Whitechapel Art Gallery, June 1963 (179, repr.); Tilson, Marlborough New London, January–February 1964 (36, repr.); Joe Tilson and Gwyther Irwin, XXXII Biennale, Venice, June–October 1964 (38 in the British Pavilion); Recent British Painting, The Peter Stuyvesant Foundation Collection, Tate Gallery, November–December 1967 (46, repr. in colour); Tilson, Museum Boymans van Beunigen, Rotterdam, November 1973–January 1974 (24, repr. in colour); Joe Tilson, Instituto di Storia dell'Arte, parma, December 1974–January 1975 (repr. pl.34); Pop Art in England, Kunstverein, Hamburg, February–March 1976, Stadt Galerie, Munich, April–May 1976 and City Art Gallery, York, May–July 1976 (78, repr.)

This entry is based chiefly upon an unpublished piece written by Tilson in 1962 or 1963, in which the artist discussed the evolution of his use of titles to date and their increasingly intimate relationship to the structure of his works. Tilson's titles are intended to lead the spectator towards an accurate interpretation of his images.

To the simple ‘representative’ titles (naming the objects or motif depicted) of his early figurative works, numbers were gradually added to distinguish works in a series. As Tilson's works became more abstract he began to use numbers on their own, the titles referring to the year, month or season in which they were made. In turn, finding his images were becoming ‘much more easily memorable than the titles’, he started to create verbal parallels for them, helping to expand the visual by conceptual means-e.g. ‘Squarespinner’, ‘Three Bar Gong’. (In the latter case, ‘the sound “gong” seemed to me to parallel the expanding nature of the orange circle in that painting’.) He also spelt out the structure or type of work in the title wherever possible, e.g. ‘Collage 10/W’, ‘Wood Relief’, and ‘Vox Box’.

‘Then as I became interested more and more in specific starting points for the images, other titles started to occur.’ These titles had various headings. The first were the ‘Italian titled’ pictures conceived during his stay in Italy in 1961, which included a work called ‘Bocca’, a plain wooden relief whose focal point is a central oval-shaped aperture or ‘mouth’. The source of ‘Bocca’ was the ‘Mouth of Truth’, ‘the name given to a Roman stone relief in the Church of S. Maria in Cosmedin, Rome. The legend is that if you put your hand in the mouth of this terrifying large Sun/Face image and do not tell the truth, your fingers will be bitten off...’. ‘Vox Box’ was Tilson's second work concerned with the mouth image.

The artist has described his obsession with the hole (‘that magic non-existent yet existent thing’) in his images: ‘It has obvious biological references-to quote Arp in one of his more pessimistic moods-“out of his nine openings framed in curls, man exhales blue vapour, grey fog, black smoke”. To be more optimistic, as most communications takes place via these openings, they can also emit and receive truth.’

Apart from the ‘Italian titles’ many of Tilson's works of 1961–3 including ‘Vox Box’ have ‘Urban’ or ‘Science fiction’ titles. The specific source for ‘Vox Box’ was a character in a science fiction film called ‘The Man from Planet X’, a robot translator. Through the box strapped on to his body he transmits and receives speech, while at the same time translating into another language. Although this was a piece of fiction, Tilson noted that the idea was in fact being developed for use at international conferences and elsewhere.

T02026 is the second and definitive version of ‘Vox Box’. The artist made an earlier, smaller version in 1962 (Ferens Art Gallery, Hull), described by him as a ‘run-through’. In the earlier version two, instead of one, of the exclamation marks are inverted, and the characters occupy a much smaller proportion of the total image relatively than in the Tate's version. While in the earlier version the artist used found elements for some of the ‘teeth’, he has stressed that ‘Vox Box’, like all the final versions of his works, was carved and made entirely by hand.

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978

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