Ben Uri collection

Acid Browns

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

Object type painting

Medium oil on canvas

Materials and techniques oil (medium) canvas (support)

Unframed 173 x 126 cm

Framed 174 x 127 cm

Acquisition gift from the artist

Accession number 1987-415

Display status not on display

Self-taught painter Willy Tirr’s bold abstracts reflect his knowledge of German Expressionism combined with the influence of the American Abstract Expressionists and the St Ives movement. Fellow émigré Norbert Lyton called him 'a natural expressionist [...] developing an idiom in which pools of colour are constrasted with more incisive brush strokes [...]. As his command increased,' he also noted, Tirr looked for correspondingly larger supports 'on which to perform his gestural act', as demonstrated by the size of this canvas. Tirr had learned Japanese during internment and a kinship to Japanese calligraphy is also notable in works such as 'Acid Browns'.

Selected exhibition history

1966 Fiftieth Anniversary Special Exhibition

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© Willy Tirr estate