David Tremlett

Africa No. 6


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Not on display
David Tremlett born 1945
Graphite and pastel on paper
Support: 2307 x 2025 mm
Purchased 1984

Catalogue entry

David Tremlett born 1945

T03860 Africa No.6 1983

Pencil and pastel on paper 2307 x 2025 (90 7/8 x 79 3/4)
Inscribed ‘David Tremlett 1983' on backboard t.1.
Purchased from Waddington Galleries (Grant-in-Aid) 1984
Exh: David Tremlett - 5 Drawings, Waddington Galleries, March 1984 (2, no cat., repr. in col. on card); David Tremlett, Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, May-Aug., 1985, (no cat. but listed in Petit Journal Galeries Contemporaines, 30 May - 19 Aug. 1985, Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris 1985, p.12, repr. p.10 as ‘Drawing 6, Africa')
Lit: David Tremlett, On the Border, Amsterdam 1979; Stuart Morgan, ‘David Tremlett, Waddington', Artforum, vol.23, Sept. 1984, p.122; John T. Paoletti, The Critical Eye I, exh. cat., Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven 1984, pp.36-40, repr. p.38 as ‘Drawing 6 - Africa'

Unless otherwise stated, this entry is based on conversations with the artist on 4 March 1986 and 21 Oct. 1987 and has been approved by him.

T03860 is one of a numbered set of ten large drawings made in 1983. According to the artist, these resulted from two trips to Africa undertaken in 1978 and 1979, the first to Mozambique and Malawi and the second to Zambia, Botswana and Tanzania. Tremlett has confirmed that the title given above is correct but when it was first exhibited at the Waddington Galleries, T03860 was entered in the gallery records as, ‘Blood Red - Banks - Cornered - Green Limpopo'. This is a transcription, slightly altered in sequence, of the fragmented text forming part of the top right-hand section of the drawing. The original reads, ‘BLOOD RED - BANKS - GREEN LIMPOPO - CORNERED', providing a clue to the origins of the drawing. It was inspired by an incident involving the artist that took place on the banks of the Limpopo river, in Botswana near the border with South Africa.

The Limpopo River runs along the borders of Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Tremlett was there during the Rhodesian War, shortly before Zimbabwe achieved independence, when guerilla fighters based in Zambia and Botswana and supporting Joshua Nkomo, were conducting raids over the Rhodesian border. Tremlett, who was camping alone, was woken early one morning by four guerillas who held him at machine gun point for two hours, suspecting him of being a South African spy. They finally agreed to release him when he took a polaroid photograph of each man posing with his machine gun and gave it to him.

Tremlett first travelled in connection with his work in 1970, when he made overland trips to Australia and India. He has visited Africa between ten and twelve times, chiefly concentrating on the eastern states and T03860 was made after his second trip. These working journeys last about four weeks and are always undertaken alone. During his travels, Tremlett draws, writes (poetry and prose) and takes photographs. He may also make in-situ wall drawings (always with the full agreement of the locals) in, for example, local bars, and sometimes also makes small sculptures out of local materials. His drawings and writings provide source material for the large drawings which are generally made later in his Hertfordshire studio. The preliminary study for T03860, which he still has, was made in a sketchbook while Tremlett was in Botswana in 1978-9.

Since 1978, Tremlett has made a number of large drawings each year. Their size is governed in part by standard paper widths, but also by the scale of his wall-drawings (which Tremlett has also made in a number of European venues). He originally conceived the large paper works as free hanging objects and he has emphasised that, as a trained sculptor, he sees all his work in terms of sculpture. He stresses the importance of internal relationships and formal values in his drawings and his aim is to produce images which are evocative and allusive without being conventionally descriptive. He is wary of too close or easy an association with the indigenous art forms of the countries where he travels, for example, the suggestion that his drawing style has been influenced by African and Australian Aboriginal art. He obviously acknowledges a connection because of his first-hand knowledge of these continents but feels that any influence is indirect. Drawings like T03860 are not usually made in situ and he has suggested that the simple or minimal imagery also reflects the conditions that lead to the work's making, citing his generally informal approach, for example, his simple travel arrangements. While travelling abroad, he lives very cheaply, often under canvas, travelling on public transport and does not keep to a rigid itinerary. In T03860, the incorporated text with its suggested reference to Kipling's ‘Great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees', (‘The Elephant's Child', Just So Stories, 1902) records in an oblique or poetic way the events which took place on the banks of the river. It is possible to read the upright shape in the right-hand section as a figure and the green band on the left, overlaid with fragmented or jagged outlines as the river, or earth, or tree bark but Tremlett discourages a straightforward narrative or descriptive reading.

The artist has confirmed that T03860 is the only work in the series to record a specific incident although the first drawing, ‘Drawing 1 - Africa' made on site in Malawi, did incorporate a fragmented text. (This was the only drawing in the series to be made in Africa and Tremlett had to carry a large roll of paper with him for the purpose.) So far as he is aware, this work has not been reproduced. Tremlett originally presented his drawings in groups, providing a sequential account of his trips (see, for example, T03689 ‘The Cards' 1972, Tate Gallery Acquisitions 1982-4, 1986 pp.343-4). The more recent large drawings have been described as ‘obviously selected moments (sites) perceived by the artist to be memorable ones along a continuum, (Paoletti 1984, p.37). Words, when incorporated, ‘refer to objects encountered along the journey. Some refer to the actions of the artist, while others refer to physical sensation and yet others to a state of mind'.

Over the years, Tremlett has published numerous small books of his drawings, in lieu of conventional exhibition catalogues. The drawings reproduced in On the Border (Amsterdam 1979) and Restless, (Milan and London 1983 both small format paperbacks) relate to the series of ‘Africa' drawings. Tremlett has dated the incident that inspired T03860 from the publication of On the Border (published shortly after his return from Africa) and there are numerous references to Africa in the titles of the drawings reproduced; for example, ‘Zomba road, Malawi' (pp.1-2); ‘Beer, Mozambique border' (pp.5-6); ‘Limpopo' (pp.7-8); a drawing labelled ‘Limpopo River' shows a tent beside a red cross, obviously marking a site, and two place names ‘Parrs Hat' and ‘Parrs Drift' (pp.9-10).

Most of the remaining nine drawings in the Africa Series have been exhibited. The exhibition at Waddington Galleries in 1984 also included ‘Gum Leaves Africa No. 2', referred to in later catalogues as ‘Drawing 2 - Africa (Gum Leaves)' and ‘Africa No. 4' (subsequently, ‘Drawing 4 Africa, repr. Yale 1984, p.38). These, together with ‘Drawing 5 - Africa' were exhibited at Yale. Drawings nos. 3, 8 and 10 were exhibited in Paris in 1985.

Drawings nos. 2, 4 and 7 belong to the artist. Of those remaining, ‘Drawing 1 ...' and ‘Drawing 5 ...' are in the collection of Massimo Valsecchi in Milan. ‘Drawing 3 ...' is in a Dutch private collection, and ‘Drawing 8 ...' is in the collection of the Boymans van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam. The ninth work in the series belongs to F.R.A.C. (Fonds régional d'art contemporain), Champagne-Ardennes, Rheims and the tenth to Art and Project in Amsterdam.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.285-6

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