Imants Tillers was born in Sydney of Latvian heritage. His engagement with contemporary art began early, and in 1969 he worked as an assistant to Christo on his Wrapped coast, Little Bay project in Sydney. Tillers gained an architecture degree from the University of Sydney in 1972, had an artist residency in Paris in 1976, and from 1977-83 lectured at Sydney College of the Arts.
During the 1980s Tillers forged an international reputation for his cerebral art, which was perceived as highly postmodern in its use of appropriation and quotation. He regards his art practice as an ongoing system, both philosophically and practically: since the 1980s his painting has been made on canvasboards numbered sequentially so that an individual work – such as Nature speaks: AT – is a component of the whole Tillers oeuvre (and is numbered accordingly). Tillers’s interest is in systems, in connections and movements across place, cultures and disciplines, in the intersection of theory, praxis and the self.
Tillers has worked on the Nature speaks series since the late 1990s; in these paintings he acknowledged an increasingly greater recognition of the importance of place in his art. In 1996 he moved with his family to a property near Cooma, between the Monaro plains and the edge of the Snowy Mountains, and since then landscape has been integral to his painting. The Nature speaks series comprises over 100 16-panel works, each referring to particular locations in the Cooma-Monaro region, alongside larger reflections on landscape art, on cultural perspectives, and on the relationship between nature and self. Nature speaks: AT suggests a travelogue of the region, from Bunyan to Nimmitabel; the central text ‘There is no horizon’ – which appears in a number of works in the series – can be read as a reference to landscape in Aboriginal art, where the perspective is often an aerial one.
Tillers’s work has been included in many international exhibitions since 1975 when he represented Australia at the XII Bienal de São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil. They include European dialogue: the 3rd Biennale of Sydney in 1979; Documenta 7, Kassel, Germany in 1982; Origins, originality and beyond: 6th Biennale of Sydney in 1986; the 42nd Venice Biennale in 1986; Imants Tillers: works 1978-1988 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London in 1988; Diaspora: Imants Tillers at the National Museum of Art, Riga in 1993; In place (out of time): contemporary art in Australia, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford in 1997; Towards infinity: works by Imants Tillers, at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterray in Mexico in 1999-2000; Osaka Triennale in Osaka, Japan in 2001; the First Beijing International Art Biennale in Beijing in 2003; and Zones of contact: 15th Biennale of Sydney in 2006. In 2006 Tillers was the subject of a major survey exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia, Imants Tillers: one world, many visions.