Swatch and Joe Tilson fly the flag for Venice

Bright swatch wrist watch on left and designer Joe Tilson on right
Left, the Swatch Joe Tilson Venetian watch. Right, Joe Tilson photographed in front of one of 24 double sided flags, created for The Flags (2019)
(Image credit: TBC)

A stalwart of the British Pop movement, Joe Tilson’s riotous experiments in colour exploded onto the contemporary art scene in the 1960s. An increasing disenchantment with consumerism and a growing preoccupation with the rudiments of our world – earth, fire, water – coincided with a radical new direction for his art, which moved from slyly witty pieces inspired by American culture to more abstract and symbolic musings. 

It is his consistently innovative artistic experiments that make him a natural partner for Swatch, the ultimate pop watch brand, whose history of collaborating with artists began in 1984 with Swatch Art Specials and Keith Haring. Most recently, Ian Davenport and Damien Hirst have been among the artists for whom a Swatch watch has, at one time, been a blank canvas. Swatch’s history of choosing both emerging artists and granting freedom to those they collaborate with is their hallmark.       

The Swiss brand strengthened its artistic associations in 2011 with a partnership with the Venice Biennale, resulting in Swatch pavilions at both the Arsenale Nord and in the Giardini, showcasing the fruits of their artist collaborations, including large scale works.

Tilson’s work pays tribute to the city he first visited six decades ago. The Joe Tilson Venetian Watch takes inspiration from Venice’s stained glass windows, with a harlequin playfulness in the colourful geometry of the strap. For Carlo Giordanetti, creative director of Swatch, it was a challenge to reproduce Tilson’s  artwork, so faithfully done that the artist’s pencil outlines are still perceptible on the dial design. ‘The texture and the imprecision is vital – that’s where the beauty is.'    

The design is based on The Flags, Tilson’s art piece for Swatch, which comprises three enlarged paintings that nod to Venetian church facades and the city’s geometric-pattern stone floors. ‘We have a love story with this city,' says Giordanetti. The 24 double-sided flags of Tilson’s vast, colourful piece are a joyful homage to Venice, where Tilson settled fifteen years ago. ‘Art is the fruit of your experience,' say the man who views this artwork in the democratic tradition of artists in Italy working together – Swatch being collaborator. ‘I don’t like the idea of the artist as the star.'

Numerous painted flags hung up on poles

The Flags (2019), by Joe Tilson

(Image credit: TBC)


For more information, visit the Swatch website

Hannah Silver is the Art, Culture, Watches & Jewellery Editor of Wallpaper*. Since joining in 2019, she has overseen offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, and written extensively across the worlds of culture and luxury. She enjoys meeting artists and designers, viewing exhibitions and conducting interviews on her frequent travels.