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Imants Tillers

White Aborigines  1983

oil stick and synthetic polymer paint on canvas

H 25 W 38cm
H 254 W 381cm

Museum of Contemporary Art, gift of Loti Smorgon AO and Victor Smorgon AC, 1995

1995.248

About the Artwork

This large work White Aborigines by Imants Tillers reveals through its title and its exploding aesthetic and fractured surface, a concern with the politics of cultural and artistic identity. Tillers’ regular inclusion of text, together with his use of visual appropriation, makes his work typically postmodern.

His work sets up an aesthetic dialogue, referencing both well- and lesser-known artists, by superimposing images, visual motifs and text within the one composition. In this work, the large black figures and the text are taken from a 19th century German cartoon by Wilhelm Busch, whilst the smaller figures derive from an illustrated children’s book from Latvia. The work refers to the Teutonic past of Latvia, the country from which Tillers’ parents sought refuge after the World War II. The painting’s composition contains echoes of both the work of mid-20th century artist Ian Fairweather and Australian Aboriginal art.

Over the past four decades a number of social and political concerns have informed Tillers’ practice, ranging from issues concerned with centre-periphery to themes of place, identity, cultural memory and dispossession. In the 1970s Australian art was deemed to suffer from a ‘provincial problem’ because of its distance from the major international centres of art, but this perceived impediment was positively redefined in the 1980s as Australia’s critical distance from Europe and the USA, and the rapid absorption of old and new influences became synonymous with postmodernity. Tillers’ intertextuality and radical appropriations placed his practice firmly within this discourse.

In more recent years Tillers’ focus has turned to the natural world, in particular the ecology, ideas and histories pertaining to the Snowy Mountain region of New South Wales and the spare Monaro landscape in which he lives.

The textured paintwork is applied with the artist’s fingers as well as a brush. He has used a canvas-board system, where the work is composed across a number of sequentially numbered small boards – all of which are part of an extensive, ongoing project entitled The book of power. The 100 canvas boards in White Aborigines number from 840 to 939, indicating this was a relatively early piece in the development of the project.

Imants Tillers

– About the artist

b.1950

Learn more

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