The Works of Brian Tilbrook Spanning 40 Years in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 November, 2007, 12:00am

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Brian Tilbrook is a painter of both realism and the abstract and his works often shuttle between the two.

'The work that matters to me most is away from the realistic, it's semi-abstract with enough information in it for people to grasp the motive behind the painting,' says Tilbrook, 75, a Hong Kong resident since 1965.

'I don't think my work is confusing, it's fairly readable. I create chaos then reorganise it.'

A vast collection of his works is now on show in his latest retrospective, The Works of Brian Tilbrook Spanning 40 Years in Hong Kong, featuring a gamut of realistic Hong Kong heritage sites and abstract works, from his first painting in 1949 to his latest creation, produced eight months ago.

The artist, from Middlesex, England, is best known in this city for his gigantic murals, which can be found in places such as the Hong Kong Club and the English Schools Foundation lobby.

The Blue Glass (2006), Tilbrook's most recent work, was inspired by stained glass memorials in Berlin. 'It shows Berlin during the bombings, with heat, fire and destruction, all in an abstract manner,' he says. The abstract piece is composed of obscure materials including spray paint and chopsticks.

Tilbrook's interest in war and destruction can be traced back some 50 years, to his first painting created in 1949, showing the ruins of St Paul's Cathedral in Macau after the second world war, which is also featured in the exhibition.

Veering away from realism, The Screen features an abstract image of a folded window screen. Instead of displaying the original painting, which is the property of the Hong Kong Museum of Art, a full-size photographic copy will be shown.

'It's a screen of Asian activity, with hints of Thai puppets and elephants. There's a strong sense of heat and sun, all of which I associate with Asia.'

One work that will not be on show at the retrospective (although it can be found 15 minutes from the exhibition venue) is his largest work - a 70-metre-long by two-metre-tall abstract mural of bold lines, circles and ripples connecting the Conrad hotel to the Island Shangri-La. The piece was vandalised by triads in the early 1990s, marking the artist's first and only brush with the underworld.

The vandals spray-painted the painting, thinking it was part of the Conrad's property (it belongs to Swire Properties). At the time triads were, unsuccessfully, trying to muscle in on the Conrad's catering business, and in frustration they wrote obscenities on the hotel's walls and then continued onto Tilbrook's mural.

Thankfully, Tilbrook was able to repair the mural.

Today, the artist continues to take his inspiration from this city and the region. 'I'm enormously caught up with Asian images. I love Asia and Hong Kong, and it comes out in my work,' he says.

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