Pear with a slice cut out of its side

Pear Cut (2019) Wolfgang Tillmans © the artist, courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne, Maureen Paley, London, David Zwirner, New York, Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris

The everyday is transformed by the all-seeing eye of German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans

“I take pictures, in order to see the world”. This famous quote by Wolfgang Tillmans casts a little light on the nature of his art, being celebrated in a retrospective in Belgium this year. Tillmans is known as perhaps the world’s most renowned abstract photographer; but look through his works and you will see that he is many other things, and, ultimately, more of a philosopher than a ‘mere’ visual artist.

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Woman holding a guitar in a leotard

Chloe (1995), Wolfgang Tillmans © the artist, courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne, Maureen Paley, London, David Zwirner, New York, Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris

Bleached portrait of a man

Adam bleached out (1991), Wolfgang Tillmans © the artist, courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne, Maureen Paley, London, David Zwirner, New York, Galerie Chantal Crousel, Paris

These two portraits (above), taken in the 1990s, when Tillmans was creating works based on his experiences in post-punk London and struggling with the challenges of being HIV positive (his partner, Jochen Klein, died of AIDS in 1997), are of a young Chloë Sevigny and ‘Adam’, a faceless man crouching.

Read more: In the studio with radical artist Mickalene Thomas

Many of his images from the period related to rave culture and the coming out of a hedonistic generation in the 90s, though he insists he was not interested in documenting a movement or a time. His works rise above the period they were created in: like the art of his compatriot Gerhard Richter, they use time as an abstract reference on which to build concepts and intrigue and bemuse the observer.

Darius Sanai

Due to Covid-19, the artist’s retrospective ‘Wolfgang Tillmans: Today Is The First Day’ at WIELS in Brussels is currently closed until further notice. For further updates visit: wiels.org

View the artist’s full portfolio: tillmans.co.uk

This article will also be published in the Summer 2020 Issue, hitting newsstands in May 2020.