David Tremlett


June 10 - July 15, 2023

David Tremlett


June 10 - July 15, 2023



I draw all ways (always). ‘Thoughts and Ideas’ formulate and ferment in the head, then a point arrives when ‘in my case’ I draw these thoughts and ideas. They formulate from experience, life and observance, my eye is my camera, the mind is the hard drive. I draw on a small scale, but dream on a large, all these drawings have the intention of being made on architectural or similar surfaces, if chance is given. I draw form and the solid, as a student of sculpture I drew before making, now I am making as I draw

Love DT


Sometimes travellers don’t come back. They become villagers instead, making a place for themselves in the elsewhere. This happened to a man I know, the symbolist of Itaparica. An American painter, his masterpieces the house that he lives in, an island villa in Brazil lined with blue canvases that transform the views from his studio into mythical landscapes and seascapes. These paintings feature local flora, local vessels, local people - his own friends and familiars. He has mythologised them; and they have anchored him. It is impossible for him to move on now; he has painted himself in, become a part of what he portrays. He stays, the paintings also stay.

Most travellers, however, bring the booty back to metropolis: verbal or visual representations, notes or sketches or objets trouvés. Then they go travelling again. There are centrifugal impulses at work: repelled by the vortex at the heart of our civilisation, by the terrible acceleration of history, we are driven to the periphery in an attempt to recover what has been lost, what has been thrown away. But there are centripetal forces - vanity, anxiety, love and loyalty - that return us to the centre. It is easy to move back and forth. We live in a golden age of getting to places. Travellers from the west, from the countries of the rich, wander all over, through the landscapes of the world, trying to feel at home.

There are those of us who travel heavy, with saddlebags full of maps and notebooks and recording devices. Anthropologists, ethnojournalists - cognitive cowboys who walk the line between the West and the rest, between wealth and dearth, decadence and lost innocence. Our kind of enquiry makes for a great accumulation of books, bits of paper and photographs - much excess baggage.

Tremlett, through, is after something else: not information but inspiration. He is a minimalist traveller, blithe and indefatigable. He travels light and returns, not with memorabilia, nor voluminous details of things, but with a few shapes and lines and colours, a new twist to the world. He shrugs off the difficulty, the complexity, the suffering he encounters in his travels. Simplicity, incidental felicity, these are the things he is looking for.

He and I have been to many of the same places. But looking at this pictures I feel as though I picked up the wrong suitcase at the airport. I don’t recognise anything; there are no souvenirs. His titles give you the where and the when, but the works themselves are shorn of signs, of local associations. Adrift in fields of colour, you could be looking at the blank spaces on an aviation map. The things that make Tremlett’s works alluring - the sternly controlled palette, the spareness of form, the generosity of space - are bothersome too. They hint at something big, something old,. Sometimes a fractured ideogram breaks the colour field, a fragment of meaning from an unknown script. Or there may be a random sequence of words, broken up and incorporated into the picture. Such details are evocative but inconclusive, subversive, annoying.

It is the colours Tremlett uses that bring him, in a litteral sense, down to earth. Eau-de-Nil, ochre, charcoal, terra cotta, sand - the pigments seems to have been prised from the ground and pressed with bare hands onto paper and plaster. It is these colours that are the clue to the big thing at work in his art. Where, we wonder, have we seen them before? It is in pictures from the Lascaux caves, in rock drawings from southern Africa, in sand paintings by Australian aborigines. Tremlett’s work harks back to the earliest art of all: animals painted on stone, talismanic images from the dreamtime. It brings to the salon a touch of aboriginality, a whiff of the world outside high art, a world without signatures - where art objects have not yet become part of an investment portfolio.

Cave paintings are comforting to us. Although their meaning is inaccessible, there is something about them that makes us feel at home (perhaps because the caves where they are found were homes to their makers). So it is Tremlett’s wall-drawings and his decorated spaces. Inside these caves of his, these wild withdrawing rooms, we are as close to the primitive as we can get without leaving home. The rooms are discreetly at odds with the architecture they inhabit, rejecting plumb-lines, denying rectilinearity; they are full of primaeval echoes. In them, Tremlett, who spurns locality, creates a time and space of his own.

August Strindberg, invited by Gauguin to write the preface to a catalogue of an exhibition in Paris, describes, in his letter of refusal, his disturbed reaction to visiting Gauguin’s studio. « A confused mass of pictures », he writes, « flooded with sunshine, which pursued me last night in my dreams ». He is, he says, constitutionally, unsympathetic, unable to understand them, incapable of gasping what Gauguin is doing. But even as he writes the letter, as he analyses his response to the paintings, Strindberg admits he begins to have a glimmer; he discovers the part of himself which is Gauguinesque.

There is a similar ambiguity in my response to Tremlett’s work. Not that there is any particular parallel with Gauguin, rather a recurrent difference between writers and artists, between writing and drawing.Cave paintings, with their ragged rows of stick men and teeming zoomorphic figures, seems to be half-way to hieroglyphs. They mark the beginning not just of visual art but writing too. Tremlett does not recognise the subsequent separation of these activities (hence his pre-emptive appropriation of the alphabet). He challenge us to subsume his work to words.

There is something instructive in this resistance to interpretation, the steely avoidance of the particular, the refusal to instruct. Eclectic in execution, universal in aspiration, Tremlett has never been part of an identifiable school. (If there is such a thing as world art, like world music, this is where he belongs.) Unlike the symbolist of Itaparica, he is attached to no single place. His strength lies precisely in non-specificity. Taking on the colour of the earth, without ceasing to travel, he has worked himself into the landscape, made himself at home in the world. And in these rooms, filled with his art, we too can begin to feel at home.




Artist : David Tremlett

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