Jake Tilson Studio textsbiographicalbibliography

Partial index
and dust-jacket blurb
for an unwritten monograph
The fragmentation and randomness of experience in the context of late twentieth-century urban life, twinned with a fervent belief in social interaction, have been guiding principles through all the changes in Jake Tilson's art. A desire to yield to the rush of passing sensations over which one has scant control, but at the same time to give structure to them by trusting his intuitive responses and skill for design and construction, helps account for the centrality of the collage aesthetic that permeates his work in all media and for his constant return to the notion of collaboration. He has consistently used found materials as elements for his sculptures, paintings and works on paper, just as he has relied upon found or mechanically-produced imagery for his computer art and ready-made sounds for his audio pieces.
First published in
Jake Tilson Investigations in Cities
Atlas, 1997

Such procedures might well have resulted in a depersonalization or in a sense of passivity, but Tilson always marshals his resources in such a way as to heighten the intensity with which one feels grazed by reality. He has, moreover, invented or fabricated a far greater proportion of each work than might appear to be the case from a casual glance, particularly in his mixed-medium reliefs of the late 1980s and early 1990s. So subtle and ingenious is the illusionism by which he can s uggest real things through the combination of simple materials such as aluminium sheets and synthetic veneers, Ôdistressed' so that they look as if they have been subject to years of use, that the unwary viewer can be fooled into thinking that the artist has done little more than compose a new object from existing parts. Although the game is of his own devising, perhaps he has played it so well that at least part of his audience will be oblivious to the skill of his interventions.

The ambient sound recordings to which Tilson has increasingly devoted his energies, and which take to an extreme the practice of Ôsampling' that has entered the mainstream of popular music over the past decade, are characteristic of his approach in their welding together of diverse elements from numerous cultures into a single flow that catapults the listener along with a thundering and irresistible force. The sudden intrusion of unexpected vivid sounds, like the glimpsed images that emerge from the overall textures of his pictorial works, provide points of reference that pull one back in from the brink of indecipherable chaos. The listener, like the viewer of Tilson's visual objects, is expected to find his or her own way in and then to negotiate a route through the work. In the case of the reliefs, this has been expressed through a distinct rejection of the conventions of a single viewpoint or of things being subject to a normal gravitational pull. Instead there is a sense of looking simultaneously up, down and across, stimulating a giddiness such as one might feel when thrust into the maelstrom of any megalopolitan sprawl.

An alertness to the world in all its variousness and particularity has distinguished Tilson's art at least as far back as the early 1980s, when he was producing sculptural replicas of shops and domestic interiors on a reduced scale. Despite the compression of space and exaggerated perspectives through which he conveyed his impressions of real places in such works, his concern at that time was with a fairly conventional homogeneous space and illusionistic framework through which to suggest a faithful documentation of particular environments that captured his imagination. In subsequent paintings, liberally embedded with fragments of the real world, and also in paper collages and collaged-based prints, he placed that talent for acute observation at the service of more formal structures that declared their independence from straightforward depiction. Rather than simply mirroring reality, these later works present shards of the real world in the form of excerpts or simulacra of actual things, or images of modern urban life already translated into two dimensions, as constituent parts of more purely self-contained compositions.

Tilson's use of borrowed, appropriated and found elements, including even things that he might literally have tripped over while trawling through the streets of a dirty city, is inextricable from his compulsion to collaborative systems. In Atlas and other magazines, as in the art works presented under his own name, he delights in the interaction of different voices and contrasting points of view, submerging the self into the fabric of such discon-tinuities and global wanderings. The interconnections and sense of a common purpose Ð to think and to make sense of experience Ð matter to him more than the omnipotence of an individual voice. It is symptomatic of this attitude that his work as a designer continues to be presented under the rubric of Atlas rather than his own name. Yet irrespective of his reliance on the creative imaginings of others, and on the seemingly arbitrary textures and look of things that been handled, used and discarded, Tilson's identity in selecting and sifting through all this material is clearly stamped on everything he does. Notwithstanding his increasing predilection for new technologies and his cultivation of anonymity, he confirms through all his art the impossibility of escaping the force of one's own personality.

In the space of less than two decades, Tilson has moved from the insistent materiality of his sculptures, reliefs and densely textured paintings to the immaterial surfaces of computer images accessed via the world wide web. Throughout these sweeping changes of medium, he has directed a steady gaze on the designs and artifacts by which we give shape to our experience of the world.


London - 1997 - Copyright Marco Livingstone.