Joe Tilson worked as a carpenter and joiner from 1944 to 1946, and carried out his National Service in the RAF until 1949. He went on to study at St Martin’s School of Art, London from 1949 to 1952 and at the Royal College of Art, London from 1952 to 1955 where he received the Rome Prize. After two years in Italy he returned to London in 1957, and from 1958 to 1963 he taught at St Martin’s School of Art. Tilson has also taught at the Slade School of Fine Art, University College London, Kings College, Newcastle upon Tyne, The School of Visual Arts, New York and the Hochschule für Bildende Künste, Hamburg.
Tilson’s first one-man shows were held at the Marlborough Gallery, London in 1962 and at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool in 1963. His work first gained international exposure at the XXXII Venice Biennale, leading to his first retrospective at the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam in 1964. Further retrospective exhibitions were held at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 1979 and at the Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol in 1984. Tilson has continued to exhibit regularly in solo shows throughout the world and a major retrospective, Joe Tilson: Pop to Present, was held at the Royal Academy of Arts, London (Sackler Galleries) from 14 March to 12 April 2002.
Among Tilson’s awards are the Gulbenkian Foundation Prize in 1960 and the Grand Prix d’Honneur, Biennale of Ljubljana in 1996, the year in which he was invited to paint the banner for the Palio, Siena. He was elected Royal Academician in 1991 and lives and works in London and Cortona, Tuscany. Joe Tilson is represented by the Alan Cristea Gallery and Marlborough Fine Art.