Ben Uri collection

Flight III

Artist information

Name Willy Tirr (1915-1991)

Other name Tichauer

Born Stettin, Germany (Szczecin, Poland)

Died Leeds, England

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Willy Tirr (né Tichauer) was born into a secular, Jewish family in Stettin, Germany, in 1915 and raised in Berlin. Following the rise of Nazism, he fled to England in June 1939, living in London before, following the introduction of internment in 1940, he was sent to Australia aboard the infamous 'Dunera'. In 1941 he joined the army, eventually serving in the Intelligence Corps. Following his marriage in 1942, he changed his name to Tirr and moved to Leeds. A self-taught painter, he was initially appointed in 1957, alongside Jacob Kramer, to teach amateur evening classes at Leeds College of Art (absorbed into Leeds Polytechnic in 1962), going on to become Head of Fine Art in 1968, a post he held until his retirement in 1980. He painted in a self-built studio adjoining his house, moving among an artistic circle which included Terry Frost (with whom he held a joint exhibition in York in 1957). He had a solo exhibition at Ben Uri in 1965 and in 1984 became artist-in-residence at the University of Wollongong, Australia, when musician Edward Cowie observed of his work that 'Neither the tragedy of war, the passions of love and friendship, the tides of experience thrown up by the world journeyings or the ebb and flow of public taste in the arts has ever caused him to lose integrity or a richly spiritual personal identity.'

Object Details

Date 1983

Object type painting

Medium watercolour on paper

Materials and techniques watercolour (medium) paper (support)

Unframed 75.8 x 55.7 cm

Acquisition presented by Mrs Erika Tirr, the artist's widow 1993

Accession number 2012-1993-64

Display status not on display

Self-taught painter Willy Tirr’s abstract meditations on flight draw on both the American Abstract Expressionist movement and his admiration for J.M.W. Turner's watercolours and the work of the St Ives painters. Between the 1960s and 1980s he developed an interest in capturing the movement and fluidity of flight, drawing on his traumatic experience as a refugee, admitting that for him there was 'an obsessive significance in the double meaning of the term'. The 'Northern Echo' reviewer described Tirr's abstract watercolours in 1957 as 'Staining his paper with the savoir-faire of a tachiste', saying 'many new and wonderful things ... (some) suggest an almost oriental feeling for atmospheric effect'. A later reviewer admired the exhilaration they suggested, likening Tirr's manipulation of his materials to that of a musician, achieving 'a play of tone that suggests mood'.


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© Willy Tirr estate