Since 1980, Tillers has composed his large grid paintings using small individual canvas boards and has sequentially numbered each one therefore connecting the individual parts to make the greater whole.
His imagery, both historic and contemporary, engages the notion that provincial culture derives its influences from imports of dominant cultures and concepts of displacement, both geological and spiritual. Taking inspiration from the late Albert Namatjira who, through his watercolours of Central Australia, found a way to repair some of the psychic and spiritual damage – what Kevin Gilbert has called ‘a rape of the soul’ – long endured by Aboriginal Australia.
In the 1970’s the Aboriginal activist and writer, Kevin Gilbert wrote:
It is my thesis that Aboriginal Australia underwent a rape of the soul so profound that the blight continues in the minds of most blacks today. It is this psychological blight, more than anything else, that causes the conditions that we see on reserves and missions. And it is repeated down the generations.
The artist Albert Namatjira (1902 – 1959), I feel, found a way to repair some of this psychic and spiritual damage. His body of work – an art of healing – is the antecedent to the Papunya Tula art movement which arose like a phoenix from the despair of the desert displacement camps at Papunya in the early 1970’s, paving the way for the spectacular and unexpected blossoming of contemporary Aboriginal art which now occupies the mainstream of Australian art. ALL HAIL NAMATJIRA!
– Imants Tillers, 31 January 2014
Kevin Gilbert quoted in Robyn Davidson, “Tracks” (London: Bloomsbury, 2012), (first published 1980), p46.