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Sydney, New South Wales, Australia born 1950

  • Movements: Europe 1976
  • France 1978

Terra incognita 2005 Cooma, New South Wales, Australia
paintings, synthetic polymer paint and gouache on 288 canvas boards
Technique: synthetic polymer paint and gouache on 288 canvas boards
304.8 h x 853.4 w cm
Purchased 2006
Accession No: NGA 2006.864.1-288
Courtesy of the artist


  • Terra incognita reveals Imants Tillers’ distinctive way of working on multiple small canvasboards. For Tillers, this method provides a way of working on large paintings that can be easily transported or stored in stacks in his studio.

    In the 1980s his subjects were often interwoven with the imagery of other artists. While landscape imagery was there in some of the works, a more open acknowledgment of the local environment, its physical presence and stories, emerged after Tillers and his family moved to Cooma in regional New South Wales in 1996.

    Terra incognita is suggestive of the Australian continent in its large scale, glowing palette and the location of place names. Inspired by David Horton’s map of Australia, Tillers hand-stencilled the names of the 460 Indigenous groups in Australia before 1788. This creates an overwhelming sense of human presence, exposing the lie of Terra Nullius. Along with implications of the ways in which history is told, Tillers found the place names—like Ngarigo, Arrente, Wiradjuri and Andyamathana—to be a kind of eloquent readymade poetry in themselves. Tillers has long been inspired by contemporary Indigenous Australian art and a major reference in Terra incognita is Emily Kam Kngwarray’s Big Yam Dreaming 1995, which forms a rhythmic, wave-like underlayer. As Tillers commented, ‘my work is really a homage to Kngwarray’s paintings and the resilience of Indigenous culture’.

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008