Joe Tilson was born in 1928 and is associated with the beginnings of POPART in London. Having worked as a carpenter and joiner from 1944 to 1946, he served in the RAF until 1949. Following his National Service, he went to St Martin's School of Art (with Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach) and became a member of the I.C.A, in Dover Street where he later met Richard Hamilton, Eduardo Paolozzi and Reyner Banham. In 1952 he went to the Royal College of Art (with Peter Blake and Richard Smith). In 1955, after winning the Rome Prize, he went to live and work in Rome where he met Joslyn Morton who was studying with Marino Marini at the Brera in Milan. They lived together at Cefalú in Sicily and, in 1956, were married in Venice from their studio at Casa Frollo on the Giudecca. After some months in Catalonia with Peter Blake they returned to London where Tilson met Kitaj, Hockney, Boshier, Phillips, Jones and Caulfield who were students at the Royal College of Art.
He taught at St. Martin's School of Art from 1958 to 1963, then at the Slade School of Art, University College, London; at King's College, Newcastle-upon-Tyne; at the School of Visual Arts, New York; and at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste, Hamburg.
He exhibited widely internationally from 1958 in Paris, Tokyo, Germany, Italy, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, South America and the USA. And in 1964 he designed the British Section of the Triennale of Milan and exhibited in the British Pavilion of the XXXII Venice Biennale, the famous Pop Art Biennale that included Rauschenberg, Johns, Dine and Oldenburg. After his Pop Art years which terminated in a series of works with political themes PAGES, in 1970, led in a completely different direction by his deeply held convictions and dissatisfaction with the technological and industrial 'progress' of the consumer society he started ALCHERA a series of works inspired by Pound, Joyce and Yeats and their interest in the traditions of the mediterranean including Neo Platonism. Following his earlier use of structures such as the Alphabet, the seven days of the week numerology, the Five Senses etc. The basis of ALCHERA is a circular mnemonic device relating to the Four cardinal points, the Four Elements, the Four Seasons, the lunar months, labyrinths ladders, words and symbols.
This change lead the family leavinf london to live in the country in an old ex-Rectory in Wiltshire and an old farmhouse in the mountains of Tuscany near Cortona. In 1971 he showed many of the new works in a retrospective exhibition at the Boymans van Beunringen Museum Rotterdam which then went to Belgium and Parma, Italy. Other retrospectives took place at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Canada, and the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol.
His work is represented in public and private collections worldwide. Tilson's first one-man exhibition took place at the Marlborough Gallery, London, in 1962. He continued to exhibit at their galleries in New York and Rome until 1977 when he joined the Waddington Galleries. In 1985 Joe Tilson was elected to membership of the Royal Academy of Arts, London.
Tilson has three children, Jake, Anna and Sophy, and lives with his wife Jos in London. Over the past forty years he has spent several months of each year at their house in the mountains near Cortona in Tuscany and for the last eleven years also at their studio in Dorsoduro in Venice.
Other exhibitions include reliefs and sculptures in maiolica and terracotta made with the Cooperativa Ceramica d'Imola at the Bologna Art Fair, and Le Crete Senesi. these were exhibited at the Gió Marconi Gallery, Milan, the Pinacoteca Macerata, and then the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena, where he was invited to paint the banner for the Palio of 1996. That year he won the Grand Prix d'Honneur at the Biennale if Ljubljana, followed in 1997 by a retrospective exhibition of prints at the Cankarjev Dom, Ljubljana. His one-man exhibition Selected Works was shown at the Castello Doria, Porto Venere, in 1999.
In that same year an exhibition of terracottas by his wife Jos and his own Conjunctions, was held at the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena. The exhibtion Conjunctions subsequently travelled to the Galleria Comunale d'Arte, Cesna, and the Pinacoteca Civica, Follonica, in 2000. In 2001, selected retrospective exhibitions were organised at Castelbasso and at the Gió Marconi Gallery, Milan and he was elected Associate of the Accademia di San Luca in Rome. In 2002 a retrospective exhibition in the Slacker Wing of the Royal Academy, London, was followed by a print exhibition at the Alan Cristea Gallery, and a show of paintings at the Beaux Arts Gallery. Also that year Illuminations made a film about the artist in his studio in Tuscany.
Another retrospective followed in 2006 at the Palazzo Doria, Loano, and paintings were shown at the Menhir Gallery, La Spezia. In 2007 he exhibited at the Waddington Galleries in London and then, the following year, installed works made in glass in Murano and the Bugno Gallery in Venice. The publication of the book The Printed Works was celebrated in 2009 with an exhibition of the same name at the Alan Cristea Gallery. 2011 XXVI Premio Internazionale di Grafica Do Forni Museo d'Arte Moderna Ca' Pesaro- Venezia. 2012 Solo exhibition Finestre Veneziane Bugno Art Gallery- Venezia. Joe Tilson a survey Marlborough Fine Art, London 2012 Prints and drawings University Gallery Ljubljana and a retrospective exhibition of paintings, prints and sculptures in wood and terracotta at the Centro Saint Benin Aosta 2013-1,4 retrospective print exhibition Villa Manin Codroipo, Udine 2014.