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Mike Tilling
Arts Correspondent
6:17 AM 11th October 2020

New Light Prize Exhibition - Wilf Tilley, Satomi 2020

Four rooms at the Scarborough Art Gallery does not sound like much space to hang over 100 art works. Fear not, the curators have done a good job of grouping and differentiation. There is ample opportunity to promenade at leisure and identify the choicest morceaux.

Satomi 2020 by Wilf Tilley
Satomi 2020 by Wilf Tilley
Room two contains three of the juiciest. The room as a whole ranges over portraits, sculptures and visual ambiguities, but one piece in particular caught my eye.

Outstanding among the portraits for me was Wilf Tilley’s Satomi 2020. This is rendered in ink and oil on canvas. The attraction is instantaneous, but the work also sustains deeper consideration.. Satomi smiles at us from the wall and, standing in front of her, I defy you not to smile back.

But it is not just the infectious charm of the work that is so attractive. Tilley has captured her intelligence and energy with a highly skilled use of light, shade and delicate skin tones. Satomi is a woman without make-up, but a very lovely one. When the artist writes, “I like to see emotion in the theatre of the mind” we are helped to an understanding of what he means when gazing at Satomi.

Perhaps, more superficially, we see emotion in the theatre of her face.

New Light is an organisation that exists in order to ‘celebrate and promote Northern art by supporting both well-known and emerging artists’ (introduction to the Scarborough Art Gallery catalogue). The Prize Exhibition runs once every two years and offers substantial awards, both in cash and prestige, to five of the exhibitors. In addition, public bodies and charities may borrow works of art from New Light at no cost.
Wilf Tilley, a pseudonym for Professor Michael W. Miller, was born in South Lancashire, but currently teaches at the University of Tokyo. His career does not have what might be termed a conventional development. Starting from a stint as an actor, he went on to a degree in English and Italian from Warwick University; anatomy, physiology and genetics at Oxford; a recent nomination for the Impress Prize for new writers and is currently teaching pre-clinical students, with a research interest in neurology.

A dizzying CV. Just where does painting come into such a picture? A spell at the RCA slots somewhere into the catalogue of achievements.

It is no surprise, therefore, that when asked about influences he names Leonardo da Vinci, the doyen of polymaths, first on the list. Of the moderns, Tilley cites the controversial R. B. Kitaj, he of the infamous ‘Tate Wars’ of the 1990s, The reason Kitaj was reviled by several critics, was his alleged pretentiousness. Tilley displays none of that in Satomi 2020. It is a straightforward, fun piece.

When asked ‘where next ‘– the response is “Who knows?”. He has a current project entitled in silico in progress and has a preference for prints and paintings in series.

In an exhibition with so much quality on display, Tilley’s modest, yet striking, contribution is a prize winner for me.