David Tremlett

Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney
16 August - 3 September, 1988

Since his visit to Australia in 1973, from which emerged a series of rectangular graphite paper cut-outs, the fundamental concept of Tremlett's work has remained unchanged. He speaks of himself as a sculptor and treats the flat two-dimensional shapes in his drawings as though they were sculptural volumes. His palette is restricted to earth colours, while shapes and neatly lettered words are moulded into the pastel backgrounds. He achieves a total integration of form and colour by inverting the traditional concept of sculpture as a three-dimensional art form. The basic principle of the drawings made directly onto the wall is that the wall itself becomes the sculpture. Most of the work in this latest exhibition is based on the artist's memories of recent visits to Africa and Mexico. Tremlett describes his attraction to the simple lifestyles of those countries; a simplicity that is inherent to his work. Geographic and architectural motifs are documented in a few simple lines in a notebook, later to be enlarged in pastel, either onto paper in the studio or directly onto the gallery wall.

In the new works on paper, Tremlett continues to extend his inversion of sculptural concepts through use of the written word. The central abstract forms are surrounded by words which particularise features or objects remembered in connection to the place portrayed. The four nouns which make up the title of Table - Floor - Wall - Drawing (1987) each occupy one edge of the work. Visually peripheral, yet psychologically dominant, the words have been transformed from abstract symbols into concise lingual signposts which serve to involve the viewer in the process of re-creating a particular situation or location.

Tremlett's integration of language with these strong conceptual drawings is often ambiguous. The presence of words reinstates the detail which has already been sacrificed in the process of reducing a particular experience to its bare essence. So the work on the one hand offers itself to participation, while on the other hand counteracts this invitation by the use of words to define the subject and to therefore restrict one's interpretation of it. There exists here an extremely delicate balance between suspended subjectivity and banal pedantry. The result is not unlike that feeling of paradox experienced when the characters from a favourite novel are interpreted in the film version in a completely unexpected manner. The artist plays the multifarious role of adventurer, actor, director and audience, leaving dangerously little room for imagination.

The notion of contextualisation is crucial to Tremlett's work. For example, 24 Scratches (1988) depicts twenty-four short diagonal strokes, each representing a night spent in a cheap Zanzibar hotel. A small white arch in the bottom left hand corner of the paper, an allusion to the local architectural style, further locates the source of the drawing.

Conceived in the poverty of Africa and Mexico, executed in England then exhibited in a commercial gallery in Sydney, it is not surprising that this recent show lacks the sense of immediacy that usually distinguishes Tremlett's work. Turning away from the main exhibition, however, one finds the quietude of the long narrow space at the rear of the gallery echoed in the tall, elegant motifs against dark black backgrounds in the pastel wall-drawing installations. Unlike the other "imported" works in the exhibition, the installation both reflects and alters the essence of the site; it commands the space with a certain authority and dispenses with the written word. It is simple, relevant and consequently the strongest component of an otherwise laodicean exhibition.