34 – Joe Tilson’s Relief Mural

Discovery Trail 34 (Library Stairwell, sculptural installation)

34_ JOE TILSON mural 2ARelief Mural is a large-scale sculptural installation composed of three sections: Ladder Section, Ziggurat Section and Expanding Circular Section. This site‑specific, wall-based work covers fifty-five square metres and is composed of a series of panels that have been bolted together on a hard wood base.

Joe Tilson, British sculptor, painter and printmaker, designed and made Relief Mural specifically for this location in 1973. He collaborated with the university’s architect Richard Sheppard during the design and construction of the library. Sheppard designed the staircase so that the installation would be naturally lit by the side windows on each of the three levels. The total height of Relief Mural is 13 metres, and although it was created in sections, its ambitious scale necessitated a new studio space in a converted barn at Tilson’s home, to accommodate production of this work.

Tilson has produced many large-scale murals throughout his career, most of which were constructed in wood. The texture and tone of the wood are central to Tilson’s work. Flaws, knots and gnarls are highlighted and celebrated in his constructions. Although famous for the role he played in British Pop Art in the 1960’s, working with natural materials such as wood and stone is central to Tilson’s later work.

Tilson also designed the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1964 and has exhibited widely in the UK and abroad. The Royal Academy hosted a retrospective exhibition of his work in 2002.

This installation was partly funded by Arts Council England.

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