William Tillyer: Painting's Corpus, an Anatomy Lesson

By Saul Ostrow


Tillyer uses the device of the dot pattern not only to reassert the painted forms as a surface and a support, but also as a means to articulate internal divisions. In Isidoro the swirling a yellow ocher pour abuts a hot pink one. The mechanical hard edge between the two is demarcated by a vertical row of black half-dots, which incidentally also coincide with the mesh grids vertical element. In Mirador a similar edge is marked by white half dots, while black dots float free unsupported by a mass of paint. Each of these dots mark the vertical weave of the mesh while a black half dot again is used to mark the physical edge of the poured form. Tillyer also has taken to painting the exposed sections of the mesh grid, often using the same color as the ground color on the canvas.

At times Tillyer paints irregular forms causing it to appear that the grid has disappeared or been fractured as if irregularly shaped sections had been cut away. Seemingly, he does this to dematerialize the supporting mesh, or further confuse what might be thought to be a merely the literalization of figure/ ground or surface and support. Despite all of these varied devices meant to distract us from the physical and material nature of the painting as a fractured whole, he equally make sure that we can never escape the fact that what we are looking at is a construct made of diverse parts. So while there is a surplus of optical effects and visual relationships meant to distract us, we are always brought back to material conditions. The wire meshes causes ripples in the surface of the painterly gestures, while the vertical rows of shiny nuts used to secure the wire grid to its supporting canvas that break the illusion of space.

Within this framework Tillyer figuratively and literally reworks the themes of the grid, the support, the fragment, the discontinuous surface, which have run through his work from the beginning. This time by extending his inventory to include the respective function of: figure, ground, mark and the optical space created by their inter-action, Tillyer's rethinking gesture and processes are informed by the history of "action painting" rather than painterly expressionism. In doing this he reference to the past not a sign of the authentic, but as a gambit that signifies a state of doubtful magnanimity toward the authority of abstract painting as either a mode of self-expression or a material proposition. Within these works the reference appears to be to the literalism of the second half of the history of abstract painting: from action painting to post-minimalism.

The Cadiz Caprices seem to be a summing up of Tillyer's years of tracing the folds, pathways, and internal fractures of the historical practices of "abstract painting." In effect they represent a non-linear narrative of his shifting considerations, and proliferating solutions reflecting the various material practices he has used actualize the relationship between his consciousness of paintings functionality, and the un-decidability of our experiences. With the Cadiz Caprices he create a visual event that materially acts on us by producing surplus that undermines our expectations not of painting but the very act of looking and knowing. In exploiting this condition, Tillyer's Cadiz Caprices function as a series of interventions meant to excite us to excite to introspection and speculation. Subsequently the pleasure to be taken from these works is that they are enigmatic, fluctuating between material facts and the quixotic, ineffable qualities associated with the category of "abstract" things. As such they not only challenge us to see the world as it is, but they also offer us a non-exclusionary, cumulative model of abstract painting that references the sublime and the banal, the formal and the expressive.