WPG: The human figure is one of, if not the oldest subject in art, from cave drawings to modern times. What drew you to this time honored imagery, and how does your work treat it differently than past artists?
TILLMAN: Yes, the human figure is one of the oldest art subjects in existence, and it’s been recorded, studied, and interpreted extensively. From the age of 2, I was drawn to the human figure in all forms; I was perceiving the world through figures. For instance, my grandfather was the perfect rectangle, but from his cave-like eyes, little round things were popping out periodically. I tried to sketch this – and these pictures were my grandfather. Although the figure is a dominant element of my work, I’m actually attempting to go well beyond it; what’s happening or about to happen outside the boundaries of the print. If what I’m feeling – perpetually challenged and amazed by the human subject at hand – is successfully transmitted, it should stimulate the dialogue between the viewer and the print.
I more or less treat my figures like I’m “directing” them in the small theatre that exists within the confines of the plate. For me, the figure becomes the platform where another human fable begins, ends, or is suspended eternally. Using as my drivers poetry and observation, and as my tools dramatized facial expressions and positions, and often theatre-like costumes, I try to create figures that can stand anywhere in time and space. As a matter of fact, they could just live in own their in-between “reality” that shapes them, and gets shaped by their substance as well. I can’t say for sure how much I differentiate the aspects either of the art world or of the human understanding with my figures – that will be up to the beholder. I surely hope that I’ll manage to keep “a little corner in the immense ring of the human psyche” – that’s substantial for me. From there, I’ll be trying over and over again to perceive the world, and share my perceptions, through these endlessly evolving figures.
WPG: Your work is partly influenced by your studies of Greek medieval and modern literature. Can we see any of these influences in the art in New Faces, New Prints, or perhaps in other pieces?
TILLMAN: My studies and readings have definitely influenced my work. In my prints, I meet again figures that I’ve studied and treasured earlier in my life mixed together with ongoing observations: everyday people, myself, nearby strangers. Poetry in every form – ancient Greek figures and symbols evolved and transformed within medieval epic poems and folk tales; famous and unknown poets’ and friends’ works; verses on a wall or a napkin – has inspired me to create individual pieces and unities. For instance, from the Humanography series, “Humanography 2” is entirely inspired by a haunting single verse of poetry from a “cursed” modern Greek poet. “Scripta II”, adopting the ancient Greek meaning of the word angel, which translates as messenger – he who announces – suggests perhaps a second reading of the graffiti on the wall. “Foreseen” depicts a priestess, or the initiated woman, walking towards us and appearing to be blinded by her own reflection in the moon. In “Forgotten”, a piece from this same series that’s not in the show, the figure of the woman reappears suggesting, among other interpretations, the lost Byzantium.
WPG: You recently traveled back to Greece. Any new inspiration from that trip, or reinforcements of previous ideas? Will we see this inspiration in future prints?
TILLMAN: I’m always searching for new subjects or extensions of the old ones when I visit Greece, sometimes even subconsciously. Having been born and raised in Western Greece, every time that I’m there I revisit my past; the medieval castle near where I grew up; the ancient oracle of Dodoni outside my hometown; the Necromatic oracle with its homeric entrance to the Underworld just an hour away. I spent my childhood and early adult years around all of these, and much more. The co-existence of such established elements together with the recent globalization is not an easy experience, yet it remains a strong and continuous inspiration and reinforcement for my artwork. During this last visit, I mostly focused on elements of the landscape that I hope to incorporate into future prints. For instance, I recorded some images of unusual organic shapes like tree branches transformed by the Ionian sea. They struck me as something important, perhaps necessary for new projects. That gives me the hint that at the right time, this imagery will work its way into some of my new prints.