13 January - 4 February 2010


** Read review of Joslyn Tilson exhibition in 'The Week Magazine' **


Joslyn Tilson - Galerie Besson

When Joslyn Tilson’s eye fixes on a subject of fascination to her, be it a series of arches, pillars, steps that zigzag in two directions, archaic pot forms or even a tree, her curious imagination leads her to construct her own versions in myriad different ways. Being a sculptor, she draws not with lines but three-dimensionally, most often using terracotta and sometimes flattening the object into a relief or ‘portrait’.


Slightly altering the emphasis each time, she will make and remake anew the forms and combination of forms that intrigue her. ‘I get obsessions,’ she says simply. ‘I tend to go on and on and on. When I work on a series I take it to its full length.’ Such persistent application of possibilities leads to surprisingly fresh and unprecious work.


Coming as she does from a family – and a long tradition – of weavers, in which all the eldest daughters weave (and she is one), she also translates her vision into thread. This complicated process, she finds, comes more naturally to her than painting, to which it is akin. But while her pot forms are rounded and substantial, with uneven matt surfaces, her weaves are miniature and precise, with subtle variations and flashes of colour – shades found in the natural world but startling nonetheless.


Her series of objects make satisfying groups. Their variations feed into each other, creating a rhythm. The terracottas are often uncoloured, or red or black – rusty hues made from oxides. They often contain architectural ‘conceits’, such as a doorway set within a doorway (as in a De Chirico painting – a favourite of hers), or stairs slotted into a cube. And she is more likely to focus on a small detail or fragment of a building or landscape (or a formal arrangement of elements within it) than a panorama. Alice in Wonderland-like, her miniature aqueducts, buildings and pillars do not feel tiny, but have a momentousness to them.


Joslyn studied as a sculptor both in England (at Bath Academy of Art under Kenneth Armitage and Bernard Meadows in the 1950s) and then in Italy, first under Marino Marini at the Brera in Milan, and then at the British School in Rome. In the sixties and seventies she brought up her three children. Her interest in clay was reawakened in the early 1980s when her husband Joe was teaching at a summer school in Anacapri and she joined the potter Nino Caruso’s classes.


Her pot shapes are built by hand and have holes in the bottom so they are of no practical use – their scale and solidity would also prevent such an outcome. Further evidence of her lack of interest in them as vessels came when she finished a series of pots a few years ago, then turned them into small portraits – terracotta reliefs of swelling shapes pushing at the boundaries of their terracotta frames (her weaves often have integral frames too).


Joslyn continues to draw inspiration from the very fabric of Italy: its stones, architecture and landscapes. She lives there for much of the year, dividing her time between Tuscany in the summer and a studio in Venice. Here she finds herself,  ‘so aware of the arches everywhere and of the light coming through them’ that a magical osmosis occurs. Few sculptors succeed in conveying a sense of light, but by looking through shapes, creating shadows by framing a recess with pillars and constructing corners in which to place objects, she does exactly that.

Annabel Freyberg


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