05 November - 17 December 2011
Gavin Tremlett is nothing if not bold. His portraits are charged with anxiety and an embarrassed humour that often feels it has to adopt a mask to hide the inherent sexual tension. The 34-year-old artist's works invites strong reactions from the viewer, whether it be discomfort, confusion, or the feeling he is party to a voyeuristic secret. Occasionally it engenders horror or disgust, though this is initially belied by the beauty of Tremlett's handling of form and material and his ability to seduce the viewer with both paint and pencil.
Tremlett’s paintings address eroticism, sexuality and transgression. They also question ideals of beauty and the politics of identity. Though clearly emerging from a long held art historical tradition of figurative painting, Tremlett’s portraits are exceptional for their ability to engage with the discourse that surrounds abstraction. Colour and form have symbolic value and weight, as well as playing into a narrative structure. 'Between worlds' then, as his paintings are, Tremlett's works demonstrate his desire to look beyond the familiar, into a place outside of consciousness. The artist deliberately prevaricates between the sublime and the pornographic, thus creating tension between visual appearance and the subject as object or sign. Signification is pitted against the power of the gaze and the scopophilic desires of both the viewer and the artist to 'arrive' at a feast for the eyes.
Yet, the uncomfortable nature of the positioning of Tremlett's subjects, the treatment of their forms and his deliberate use of heightened colour disturbs a simple or single reading. This work is complex and at times difficult to fathom. The artist himself comments: “Situated between an embrace of vulgarity in contemporary culture, and a yearning for a lost mode of figuration in painting, my work establishes a place of intersection between the sublime possibilities of painting, and the closed, crude nature of pornography“.
The UK-based art critic and curator Jane Neal writes: “It is this tension between traditional medium, wrought with considerable skill, fluidity and sensitivity, crossed with the lurid nature of the contemporary sources that Tremlett scours for material, that creates conflict. This conflict pulses through the work itself, but it also courses through the viewer. The medium and execution of the work demand it be looked at. The nature of paint and pencil and the finesse of its handling is extremely seductive, yet the poses of the subjects often make for uncomfortable viewing. There is a sense that what is on display is intended for intimate engagement and encounter, yet the nonchalant and provocative poses reveal protagonists who care little for the discomfort of the viewer and appear to be flaunting their sexuality in an open if not blatant manner.–€ (Jane Neal in “Gavin Tremlett: Caught up in the Carnival–€, 2003)
Gavin Tremlett studied Fine Arts at the Loughborough University School of Art & Design before finishing his Master in Fine Art at London’s Royal Academy Schools in 2004. He works and lives in Berlin.