Joe Tilson: Alchera
Joe Tilson: Alchera
This Online Viewing Room features a selection of ten prints by Joe Tilson (b. 1928) which bring to life a complex world of nature, ecology, and philosophy, replete with references to Greek Mythology, organic cyclical time, the rhythms of the cosmos, and Aboriginal culture. Made between 1971 and 1980 the works foster in us, at a time of urgent ecological concern, a deeper understanding of the elements of the natural world.
In the late 1960s, mirroring the development of his life and philosophy, Tilson and his family left the urban centre of London and his Pop Art phase behind, to settle in the countryside in Wiltshire. His first works made after moving to the country were grouped under the name Alchera, which comes from Australian Aboriginal dreamtime. Tilson has always used structuring devices in his work, such as the letters of the alphabet or the days of the week. The circular device of Alchera relates directly to the four cardinal points, the four seasons, and the four elements: Air, Fire, Water and Earth.
“The first steps for me in 1970 and 1971 were to take the idea of using fire in my work and to start a series of ladders and eggs to begin the project of the four elements – FIRE, AIR, WATER and EARTH. Not in any scientific spirit, but because they are, and always will be, the four elements of the imaginative spirit.”
Tilson's Mantra prints offer the viewer a single word repeated within a stencilled plan, and relate to verbal meditative repetitions. The earth appears as a cube in his Earth works, based on ancient philosopher Plato’s belief that the universe could be described using five simple shapes.
A trip to Greece reawakened Tilson’s interest in the mythology of the earth through Greek gods, which featured regularly in his work over the next decade. Proscinemi Eleusis and Proscinemi Delphi, 1979, include traces of Tilson and his wife’s presence, connecting them to earlier pilgrims, who in Greek mythology, would arrive at a religious sanctuary and leave images or symbolic offerings, such as fruit, tools, shoes or even footprints. Dionysos, the god of wine making and fertility, and Kore, also known as Persephone, a major figure of the underworld, the god of vegetation and grain, appear often in Tilson’s work.
After over almost 50 years of making art, Tilson continues to immerse himself in themes that transcend time and cut across cultures. He invokes older, primitive values to unveil the origins of the world, linking them to our understanding of life and the world today.
Please view the prints below and contact [email protected] if you would like to receive prices, view the works at the gallery, or require any further information.
“One element may relate more to us than another. In my case Earth is the element I feel most in contact with, and this has helped me to centre in on something far more important and enables me to make images which are far more significant for me.”
“Our recent travels to Greece have been the most amazing experiences I have had for a long time – the people, the hills, and mountains, the sea, the flowers, Greek art – I am totally incapable of beginning to write about this and can only hope the works may transmit a little of this.”
Joe Tilson, 1981
"I am interested, as James Joyce was, in numerology, rather than mathematics; the belief that numbers have a magical significance. [...] The four elements, the four seasons, the four evangelists, the seven days of the week... it’s all connected with number symbolism."
About the artist
Joe Tilson (b. 1928)
Joe Tilson was born in London in 1928. From 1944 to 1946 he worked as a carpenter and cabinet maker before serving in the R.A.F between 1946 and 1949. After leaving military service, he returned to London to study at St. Martin's School of Art from 1949 to 1952, alongside Leon Kosoff and Frank Auerbach, and at the Royal College of Art from 1952 to 55 where he met Peter Blake, Allen Jones, Patrick Caulfield and David Hockney, who alongside Tilson were instrumental in the birth of British Pop Art. In 1955 the Royal College awarded Tilson the Rome Prize, taking him to live in Italy for a year, a country from which he has drawn a lifetime of inspiration.
Photography: Left, Joe Tilson in his studio, Casa Cardeto, Italy, 1996. Photo: Aurelio Amendola. All other imagery of Joe Tilson taken in his London studio, June 2021. Photos: Jake Tilson.