Bernard Jacobson Gallery | William Tillyer | À Rebours, going against the grain.

William Tillyer is a celebrated British painter and watercolourist, whose work has been shown frequently in London and New York since the 1970s. Tillyer was born in Middlesbrough, and studied painting at Middlesbrough College of Art. He then went on to study at the Slade in London. He began to make radically experimental work which raised questions about the relationship of art to the world, and of man to nature. The 1970s saw Tillyer return to printmaking with renewed vigour, using a variety of techniques from etching to five-tone screenprinting, to create lattices that Pat Gilmour, Head of the Print Department at Tate, described as “a cool and unpeopled world…in which to reflect the surrounding flux of nature.”


William Tillyer (born 1938 in Middlesbrough) is an English artist. His work has been shown frequently in the UK and internationally since the late 1950s. There are at least 15 works by Tillyer in the Tate collection, including High Force (1974).

The artist has long been inspired by 19th Century French author Joris-Karl Huysman’s seminal work from which the exhibition takes its name. À Rebours, meaning ‘against nature or ‘against the grain’ was described by Oscar Wilde as ‘one of the best novels’ he had ever read. It tells of the protagonist Jean Des Essientes’ flight from ‘the common run of mankind’ and the drudgery of a humdrum existence in pursuit of an aesthetic ideal. A new and exciting translation by acclaimed author and translator Theo Cuffe illustrated by Tillyer.

The-Whisper-Gallery-Bernard-Jacobson-Gallery-William-Tillyer-3“It seemed to him…         “Like those Japanese boxes …           “The aquarium of ingenious…

Art and artifice.

Both Huysman’s novel and Tillyer’s work deal with that constantly intriguing contest between the natural and the contrived, the grapple with good and evil: metaphysical themes which have occupied the minds of many great writers including Blake and Wordsworth but have inspired original and distinct interpretations. The tension between these opposing sides is seen repeatedly in Tillyer’s work and particularly so in the use of metal grids in his landscape paintings. While he is alive to the beauty of the natural world, his attempts to portray it are always firmly rooted in an understanding that all art is artifice.

The-Whisper-Gallery-Bernard-Jacobson-William-Tillyer-A Rebours 2The Crimson Cubicles – “ a series of crimson cubicles furnished with circular mirrors”

Tillyer liberated.

Themes from À Rebours have nourished Tillyer for decades. Many pieces from this exhibition date from a fertile 5-ear span in the seventies. These prints are characterised by dazzling variety, both in technique and pictorial style. He never seems limited by working within the framework of À Rebours. Counter-intuitively, these restrictions seem to liberate him and one is left with the impression of a rich and energetic dialogue with the text rather than just a literal interpretation. It’s a platform from which to Tillyer can himself take flight. The wonderfully confected world of À Rebours he reimagined retains all the power of the original to unsettle and provoke even after so many years.

1974/2018 Set of 52 images in edition of 25, Signed in pencil lower right, numbered lower left. Studio stamp lower right margin. Printed by Clifton Editions Published by Bernard Jacobson

Examples of his work are also included in the collections of the Tate, Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Brooklyn Art Museum, the Fort Worth Art Museum, Texas, the Smith College Museum of Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Bernard Jacobson Gallery

Founded in 1969, with superb new premises situated in the heart of Mayfair, the gallery has held major exhibitions of Henri Matisse and Sam Francis as well as Robert Motherwell.

Bernard Jacobson Gallery has a strong presence at major international art fairs, having participated at The Armory Show, New York;Expo Chicago;Frieze Masters, London; and regularly taking part in the prestigious Art Basel fairs in Hong Kong, Basel and Miami Beach.




Scroll to Top