Pop Art Tinged With the Timeless
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What becomes plain is that Tilson's art has developed along surprisingly consistent lines. He has always been intrigued, for example, by the potential symbolism of geometry - the significance, quite outside of measurement, of grids, symmetry, and divisions. As he shows frequently, these formulations of the human psyche relate to essences, to alphabets and numbers.Skip to next paragraph
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In the squares or boxes that make up many of Tilson's constructions, letters and numbers appear, as well as pictograms and symbols. Sometimes letters form simple but evocative words, which can be repeated and repeated. Children's games and books (which also seek to teach and entertain without clear differentiation between their two functions) find no difficulty in adopting and presenting such primary concepts, and Tilson's work has many times born a resemblance to such formats.
The game-like aspect of early constructions have not been abandoned in later work. Labyrinths and mazes are frequent themes. Not only do these puzzles suggest mysteries lost in the past, but they also relate to travel (of mind as well as body), to the intricate solving of complexities. And in addition, as Tilson has pointed out in some of the written notes that are reproduced in the book alongside his paintings and constructions, the mazes have to do with the hidden aspects of roots, the parts of plant life that keep them alive when above the soil they might seem dead. In all these ways, labyrinths are not merely fascinating or amusing images for an artist; they signify the nature of art itself - or of Tilson's anyway.
SOME of his very recent work seems to escape the rigid confinements of his earlier geometries. Highly colored, they carry his imagery into a degree of abstraction that is, perhaps, new to him.
Marco Livingstone writes in his essay that ``form, [Tilson] maintains, can itself carry meaning. While some abstract artists have sought to purge their work of such meaning, the abstract painters whom he most admires, such as Mondrian, Rothko and Newman, have judged form and meaning to be inextricably linked.''
Livingstone then quotes Tilson himself as saying: ``I think the investigation of the most deeply formed art, for example with Mondrian and Giacometti, often yields the strongest significance. I love the paradox in that.''
In ``The Homeric Hymn to Hermes, II'' of 1992, color and form are set in bold interplay. The structural dividers here, which consist of a horizontal bar with an arm and a leg angling up and down, do not completely contain the shapes between them as they would have done in Tilson's earlier work. These shapes are now much freer to move outward. In the same way that Frank Stella developed from exactly delineated colors in his earlier work to an almost wild freedom in his later, Tilson seems aware of a need for escape in his work. Symbolically, this is in line with his original move from the strict geometry of urban space to the freer countryside, and the gradual freeing of his art from specific cultural reference to a universality.
By the same token, Tilson's work has moved from the partial appearance of machine finish to something much closer to human touch and feel. He has always, in fact, been the carpenter he was initially trained to be, a builder and maker of art. Even at his most conceptual, the viewer is always conscious of the artist's manual presence. This links Tilson's art with the ancient or timeless practice of art that he feels must be revitalized. Under his colorful building blocks, there has always been this serious intention. And if he has brought into his work as much of the past as he believes it needs, he has nevertheless presented it in a visual language of his own time: His is a kind of archaic pop art.