We acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, the traditional custodians of the Country on which the Art Gallery of NSW stands.


Once upon a time



Imants Tillers


30 Jul 1950 –

  • Details

    Media category
    Materials used
    synthetic polymer paint, gouache on 90 canvasboards, no. 83514 – 83603
    229.0 x 356.0 cm overall installed
    Gift of James Litchfield 2010
    Not on display
    Accession number
    © Imants Tillers

    Reproduction requests

    Artist information
    Imants Tillers

    Works in the collection


  • About

    ‘Once Upon A Time’ contains the range of appropriated imagery and text that characterises Tillers' practice, but it is also a direct response to the landscape of the Monaro plains. The brown, pink and gold tonalities of the land and the pale blue sky, embody a sense of the natural treeless hills and opens skies of this region. Prominent in the landscape are The Brothers, volcanic hills which are the most significant feature on the plains. Over this ground are painted fractured words and letters which recall the cut up text used by Rosalie Gascoigne, who also sought to embody the sense of place of this region in her assembled road sign works such as ‘Monaro’ (1989). Over the fractured text are painted complete words which recite the names of farms, towns and places of the Monaro, words which become a map of place. Myalla is the property of James Litchfield who commissioned this painting in response to the 127 turbine wind farm that is proposed for the Monaro region, something many residents strongly oppose due to its visual impact on the open landscape and because of its environmental impact on rare local bird species.

    At the top left of the work appears a quote from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem ‘To Virgil’, written in homage to the classical poet on the nineteenth centenary of his death and first published in 1882. Both Tennyson and Virgil wrote lyrical poetry on country and landscape, in fact Tennyson’s words on Virgil could equally be applied to himself: ‘Landscape-lover, lord of language’. The romantic nature of this quote is tempered by the sun burned landscape which seems caught in drought and by the fractured text which fragments across much of the painting. Prominent also are two crucifixes and the figure of a man on the right. The crucifixes stand in for the windmills, while the numbers clustered around the left crucifix are taken from Colin McCahon’s ‘Teaching aids’. The figure on the right is from Georg Baselitz’s recent sketchy reworkings of his key paintings from the 1960s, here the figure becomes a ghostly presence that seems to connect back to the disappearing humanity in Virgil and Tennyson’s poems. The quote on the upper left, ‘Throw of the dice’, is from French symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé. It refers to chance happenings but also to Mallarmé experiments with text on the page and typography in the visual presentation of his poems.

    Tillers now regards his works to be as much word poems as paintings and while deciphering the references is always rewarding, they are not a series of clues which reveal an encoded meaning. The citations are part of the experiential whole, mapping fields of allusion rather than defining cause and effect. As Tillers has written, “…issues of locality and identity have become uppermost in my mind and have made their presence felt in my recent work, not as literal representations of landscape, of the grass, hills, sky, clouds or rocks around me, but as evocations, through text and other layered visual elements.” [Imants Tillers, ‘When Locality Prevails’, Heat¸no.8, Giramondo, Sydney, 2004, pp. 114.]

  • Exhibition history

    Shown in 2 exhibitions

Other works by Imants Tillers

See all 18 works