Tilson was a student at St. Martin’s School of Art, 1949-52, and at the Royal College of Art, 1952-5, where he won the Knapping and Rome Prizes.
Between 1955-7 Tilson travelled in Italy and Spain, which had a marked influence on his early work. After winning the Gulbenkian Foundation Prize in 1960, Tilson exhibited in the Paris Biennale and Carnegie International Exhibition, in Pittsburgh, in 1961, and had the first of several appearances at the Venice Biennale in 1964. Had first one-man show at New London Gallery in 1961, the 1960s seeing the burgeoning of his international exhibiting career. He became associated with the Royal College’s generation of Pop Artists, but was always prepared to experiment with novel subjects, sometimes stemming from his eclectic reading, and materials. Tate Gallery and Arts Council hold his work. Lived for some time in London, later in Wiltshire and Italy. Joe was elected to the Royal Academy in 1991.
Le Crete senesi
These works take their title from the hills around Siena that can be seen from the old main road, the Via Lauretana south to Asciano, and the white road on to San Vito and Monte a Castello; and also on the other road south towards San Quirico, Radicofani, and the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore. They are the hills in the paintings of Sassetta, Giovani di Paolo, Simone Martini and Lorenzetti in the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena. The tops of these hills washed away by rain reveal small chalky white cones called biancane. The steeper cliffs are called blaze, and the rolling hill sides are divided by water courses, borri, which become torrents carving small valleys, calanchi, and becoming the larger rivers that divided the region – the Merse, Arbia, Orcia, and Ombrone along which were the early Etruscan settlements near Asciano, Murlo, and Serre di Rapolano where the clay is interspersed with huge wedges of Travertine marble and hot underground springs. The names on the works are taken from these rivers and place names that echo the history and the terrain Sasso, Colle, Monte – stone, hill, mountain. The works parallel the action of time and weather that make the worn, moulded, carved, eroded character of the landscape; sculpted over centuries by rain and wind, plant life and farming. From the rock split through the slow breakdown of frost and ice comes the topsoil with its insect and plant life, its trees and crops that give that part of Tuscany its form and colours, the dark green of rows of cypresses against the silver green of olive trees, the earth turned by the plough reveal colours of the earth pigments of the region used for centuries, and still used by painters. Those ferric oxides give yellow, gold, brown and red ochres, and raw and burnt Sienna. ~Joe Tilson