Brian Tilbrook

A Painter's Painter - by Brother Joseph


Below is the transcript of words from Brother Joseph at the opening of Brian Tilbrook's exhibition in Malaysia, 1964:

A Painter's Painter

Before Merdeka Malayan art was dominated by foreign painters, not all of whom were competent. Yet the young Malayan artist accepted their standards and tried to view his world through their ‘touristic’ eyes. The results were not always happy.

Since then Malaysian art has blossomed in its own luxuriant way and found its roots in native soil. In yet another repetition of history national freedom finds its truest expression in national art. Yet nationalism has its inherent dangers; introspection can become a vice. Malaysian art could become too inbred.

Brian Tilbrook’s exhibition is almost certainly the first display of a European artist’s work to be sponsored by the Arts Council and it would almost seem as if they wished to cross pollinate Malaysian art with the best foreign art within their reach. Thus by sponsoring and encouraging Brian Tilbrook, the Arts Council, together with the British Council, invites Malaysian art lovers to take a look at something different, something exotic and contemporary.

Not that Brian himself presumes to foist himself upon the public; he is much too modest for that. He is soft spoken, gentle and retiring, older looking and more mature than his 32 years; he possesses an inner vitality little suspected in his quiet manner but very evident in his painting.

He admits that he owes much to his father’s kindly criticism and early help – his father being a well-known landscape painter in England just before the Second World War. Perhaps that is where Brian obtained his extreme sensitivity and sureness of touch. But he also keeps a wide open eye and has travelled extensively in Europe, South East Asia and Japan. He has a great admiration for everything Japanese, particularly their built-in acceptance of aesthetic values, and one senses that perhaps his economy of statement may be due partly to this oriental influence.

An Englishman trained at Ealing and Hornsey Schools of Art, he is most un-English in his unconventional and un-academic style, though not in his competency. If he rejected the dominant academism of art school he certainly accepted its superb craft, for he has complete mastery of technique. What is refreshing in addition to this craftsmanship is his completely original vision of the Universe. There is nearly always a fourth dimension in his work, a metaphysical quality alien to the present materialism of Europe.

“I do not subscribe to any ism except perhaps pessimism”, says Brian half jokingly. It is indeed a measure of the man and the artist that he has cast himself so much adrift not only from the influence which must have helped form him but from all ‘schools’ of painting. It is difficult to categorise him. One might trace a hint of John Piper, Graham Sutherland and Salvador Dali yet still not capture the real spirit and essence of his work.

He is close to nature, feels strongly about it – at times seems to fear it – witness paintings influenced by his visits to Angkor Wat. But he always dominates natural realism and subjects it to his painterly vision and technique. Occasionally he seems to have cast himself adrift even from nature and he unifies into a decorative abstraction such basic raw materials as shapes, space, colour and texture.

This then is Brian Tilbrook – a painter’s painter. He deserves much more than a passing acquaintance. His work will outlive much of the brash, shallow subjectivism which today passes for art. He is a painter of depth.

Brother Joseph
St John’s Kuala Lumpur, 1964


當外來畫家還未在 Merdeka 馬來亞藝術界中獨佔鰲頭以前,這些外來 畫家不都全是出色的。然而年青的馬來亞畫家接受了他們的水準並嘗試 以他們這些「遊客」的眼光去看自己的世界,結果常常强差人意。

自此馬來亞藝術就獨闢蹊徑,為自己打造了一條充滿民族色彩的璀璨道 路,使馬來亞民族藝術得以綻放奇光異采,並且使之深深植根於自己民 族的泥土。猶如歷史在重演,馬來亞國畫將馬來亞民族自由表現得淋漓 盡致。然而民族主義具有其潛在的危險。緬懷過去可以成為一種陋習並 使馬來亞藝術變得封閉。

白賴恩的畫展幾乎可以肯定是馬來亞藝術協會首次贊助的歐洲藝術畫 展。由此可見,馬來亞藝術協會看似有意在本國撮合馬來亞藝術和最優 秀的西方藝術。透過贊助和鼓勵白賴恩的藝術創作,馬來亞藝術協會和 英國文化協會藉此邀請馬來亞藝術愛好者同來觀賞一些與眾不同、充滿 異國情調和時代感的藝術作品。

白賴恩並非想在人前抬舉自己,他為人那麼謙遜,才不會這樣做。他談 吐溫文優雅,身值退休之年,看上去年邁,卻比他32歲時更顯成熟。 他外表文靜寡言,內心卻隱藏着一股不為人知的活力,這活力在他的藝 術作品中表露無遺。

他坦言早年得力於父親善意的批評和多方的協助。白賴恩的父親二戰前 是英國著名的山水畫家。或許白賴恩正是從他父親身上承襲了高度果敢 的筆觸和敏感的性情。不過,他自己也常大開眼界,到歐洲、東南亞和 日本等地到處遊歷。 他高度欣賞日本的東西,特別是他們天生對審美 價值的接受。這使人感到,或許白賴恩之所以簡言意賅必定與這份東方 影嚮有關。

這位在 Ealing 和 Hornsey 藝術學校接受教育的英國紳士,其不落俗套 和不走學術流派的個人風格(絕非他不能勝任)使他看來一點也不像英 國人。 他雖然摒棄藝術學校的學術主義風格,卻欣然接受其高超的藝 術造詣,而他也完全能掌握這種造詣。他的畫藝不單造詣精湛,最使人 耳目一新的莫過於他眼光獨到的宇宙觀。他的畫總透射出一種四度空間 感,一種不為時下歐洲物質主義熟悉的形上質感。

「我對什麼主義都不以為然,除了悲觀主義以外」白賴恩打趣地說。這 種能遠遠擺脫塑造過自己的影響,甚至遠遠擺脫一切藝術流派的「門 戶之見」正是衡量一個人之為人、藝術家之為藝術家的真正尺度。要 將白賴恩分門別類實非容易之事。在他身上人們可以看到 John Piper, Graham Sutherland 和 Salvador Dali 的影子,卻仍然無法捉摸到他作 品中的真正神髓和內涵。

他與大自然唇齒相依,對大自然有濃烈的感情 – 有時甚至好像懼怕它 – 看看 Angkor Wat 一遊對他的影響便知。但他總是能駕馭這自然的 現實主義並使之服膺於其畫家的藝術眼光和技巧之下。偶而他甚至能使 自己從大自然中抽離出來並將其造形、空間、顏色和質感這些基本的元 素溶滙成具裝飾作用的抽象畫。

這就是白賴恩,一個畫家中之畫家。他不光值得人們認識,他的作品較 之時下的一些粗獷和膚淺、但卻被視之為藝術品的歐洲作品更值得流芳 百世。因為他是一個擁有深度的畫家。

Joseph 弟兄 (Brother Joseph)
1964 年寫於吉隆坡聖約翰學院 (聖若望)

Brother Joseph


Brother Joseph was the founder and inspiration of Singapore’s first ever Arts College dedicated to art, sculpture and music. La Salle SIA College of the Arts flourished under Brother Joseph’s direction until he was able to hand over its running to others and then, based in the College, to continue and expand his enormous talent as a sculptor. Eventually the Singapore Government conferred on him the equivalent of a knighthood and funded a huge retrospective exhibition of his sculpture work in the Singapore National Gallery. The gallery buildings, an imaginative conversion of an old college, happened largely because of Brother Joseph’s efforts and vision. He attended my exhibition in Pacific Place in 2001 and died in 2004. I personally owe him a huge debt for his enthusiasm and constant belief in my work.