William Tillyer Against Nature at Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art

By Lily Blackmore | 25 October 2013

Exhibition Preview: William Tillyer, Against Nature at MIMA, Middlesbrough Institute of Contemporary Art until February 9 2013.

a painting of an abstract whirl of colours like a ships propellor
William Tillyer, North Yorkshire Landscsape, 1991.© Image Courtesy of Bernard Jacobson Gallery
William Tillyer left Middlesbrough in the 1960s for The Slade School of Art in London. From here he graviated towards Paris and a scholarship to study gravure printing at Atelier 17. By the 1970s he was experimenting with radical techniques  and gaining a reputation as one of the finest contemporary landscape painters Britain has ever seen.

Today his name may not be quite as well-known as some of his peers, but this highly respected artist’s work is now owned by museums and art galleries all over the world including Tate, the V&A and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Celebrities such as David Bowie and Charles Saatchi own his paintings.

This modest son of a Middlesbrough hardware store owner has now "returned home", for the biggest presentation by a single artist at the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art since it opened in 2007.

Taking over the entire gallery space, this fitting retrospective celebrates 50 years of Tillyer’s career and includes watercolours of his beloved North Yorkshire, to which he actually returned in the 1980s, his early conceptual pieces which mix painting and  3-d, and the abstract impressions of nature and place for which he is renowned.

What emerges from this blend of sculpture, painting, drawing, printing and mixed media is Tillyer’s colourful artistic journey, his diversity and a constantly searching approach that reveals a willingness to experiment with many different methods and forms.

But at the heart of his practice, which continues to evolve, is a desire to push the art of painting past any possible boundaries; and to relate it to the modern world.

A digitally manipulated watercolour, which has been commissioned especially by the gallery, is the latest manifestation of this journey and here it joins a massive seven metre piece, Skydancer - part of a wonderfully eclectic selection of panel paintings, oils, watercolours and works on canvas, board and other uncoventional formats.

But it is the watercolours here that will delight many local visitors. Paintings like The North York Moors, Falling Sky (1985), reveal how much he loves the landscape that surrounds him.

His commitment to the dialogues within modern painting, and his love for the locality, may bring to mind another great Yorkshire painter who has recently returned to his roots.

Like David Hockney's 2012 Royal Academy showing of Yorkshire paintings, this exhibition reveals some fascinating insights into how painting can be exectuted and explored and for many it will introduce an artist whose work can perplex and delight in equal measure.

A programme of talks and events complement the exhibition.

What do you Think? Leave a comment below.

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More Pictures:
a watercolour painting of colourful abstract shapes
William Tillyer, The Balcony 25, 2010.© Image Courtesy of Bernard Jacobson Gallery
a three dimensional arrangement of tiles and wires
Studio Shelf with Circle 27. 1979.© Courtesy of Bernard Jacobson Gallery
a print of a grid with a shape shadowed into its centre
William Tillyer, High Force, 1973.© Collection of MIMA
a photo of William Tillyer in front of one of his great watercolour paintings
William Tillyer in his studio.© Courtesy MIMA
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