David Tremlett

The Cards


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David Tremlett born 1945
Felt-tip pen on postcards
Unconfirmed: 88 x 140 mm
Purchased 1983

Not on display

Catalogue entry

T03689 The Cards 1972
Green felt-tip pen on commercial postcards, 81 cards framed in sets of 3, each card 3 1/2 × 5 1/2 (88 × 140)
Each card inscribed by the artist with the name of a county in England, Scotland or Wales, b.r. or b.l.
Purchased from John Dunbar and J.E. Matthews (Grant-in-Aid) 1983
Prov: John Dunbar 1972–83, acquired from the artist
Card no.1
Exh: British Thing, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter, Høvikodden, Norway, September–October 1972 (no catalogue); Projects: ‘The Spring Recordings’ ‘Green’ a side show and other works made over the last three years by David Tremlett, Museum of Modern Art, New York, March–April 1973 (no catalogue); 11 Englische Zeichner, Gesellschaft der Freunde Junger Kunst in der Kunsthalle Baden-Baden, Kunsthalle, Baden-Baden, May–June 1973, Kunst-halle Bremen, July–August 1973 (1–81, as ‘81 Postcard Drawings - Spring 72’, repr.)
Lit: The Tate Gallery 1972–4 Biennial Report and Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions (pp.243–5); Roberta Pancoast Smith, ‘David Tremlett, the Museum of Modern Art’, exhibition review, Artforum XI, May 1973, pp.83–4; Lizzie Borden, ‘A note on David Tremlett's work’, Studio International CLXXXV, June 1973, p.289

This work consists of eighty-one white, plain backed commercial postcards, on which the artist has executed a set of eighty-one simple landscape drawings in green felt-tipped pen. The drawings were made out-of-doors during May and June 1972, each in one of the (then) eighty-one counties of England, Scotland and Wales. Each drawing has been clearly inscribed on the front by the artist with the name of the county in which it was made. On completing each drawing, Tremlett posted it to John Dunbar in London. Where possible, the cards were posted soon after they had been drawn on. Later they were gathered together and framed in sets of three although a rather blurred polaroid taken during Tremlett's project exhibition held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1973 and sent by the artist to a curator at the Tate Gallery, shows that the cards (which were, according to the contemporary reviews cited above, hung in a long row 5ft 8in from the ground) were originally individually framed under perspex or glass. Tremlett has recently confirmed that he prefers the work to be displayed in a single line but has allowed the Tate to display it in three rows one above the other (each row containing 9 framed panels) when display space is limited.

‘The Cards’ is closely related to another work by Tremlett also in the Gallery's collection, ‘The Spring Recordings’ 1972 (T01742), acquired in 1973 (see the Tate Gallery's Biennial Report and Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1972–74 (loc.cit.)). ‘The Spring Recordings’, ‘The Cards’ and an untitled companion set of 81 postcard drawings were all made in the same 81 secluded country locations during a journey round Britain which Tremlett made between 16 May and 11 June 1972. The Gallery's files contain a transcript of a diary Tremlett kept during the trip, which shows that he visited the counties in which he made the recordings and drawings in the following order: Tuesday 16 May, Essex, Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire; Wednesday 17 May, Oxfordshire, Warwickshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire; Thursday 18 May, Cambridgeshire, Suffolk, Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Rutland; Friday 19 May, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire; Saturday 20 May, Staffordshire; Monday 22 May, Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland, Roxburghshire, Selkirkshire, Peeblesshire, Berwickshire; Tuesday 23 May, E. Lothian, Midlothian; Wednesday 24 May, W. Lothian, Stirlingshire, Clackmannanshire, Fife; Thursday 25 May, Kinross-shire, Perthshire, Angus, Kincardineshire, Aberdeenshire, Banffshire, Moray, Nairnshire; Friday 26 May, Ross & Cromarty, Sutherland, Caithness; Saturday 27 May, Invernesshire, Argyll, Dunbartonshire; Sunday 28 May, Lanarkshire; Monday 29 May, Renfrewshire, Ayrshire, Wigtownshire, Kirkcudbrightshire, Dumfriesshire; Tuesday 30 May, Cumberland, Westmorland, Lancashire; Wednesday 31 May, Cheshire; Thursday 1 June, Flint, Denbighshire; Friday 2 June, Caernarvonshire, Merionethshire, Montgomeryshire; Saturday 3 June, Shropshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Radnorshire, Breconshire; Sunday 4 June, Cardiganshire, Pembrokeshire, Carmarthenshire; Monday 5 June, Glamorgan, Monmouthshire, Gloucestershire, Berkshire, Wiltshire; Tuesday 6 June, Somerset, Devonshire, Cornwall; Friday 9 June, Dorset, Hampshire; Saturday 10 June, Sussex, Surrey, Kent; Sunday 11 June, Greater London. (In addition to county names and dates, Tremlett's diary contains very brief notes on approximate locations where the individual drawings and recordings were made and on the prevailing weather conditions, eg. ‘Kent, Nr. Riverhead (N. Tonbridge) Day Fair’). It should be noted that the journey took place before the county boundaries and names were changed in the local government reorganisations of 1974; a number of the counties recorded no longer exist as such and some of the places Tremlett visited may have been absorbed into other counties. Tremlett made only one recording in London but as the journey was circular, starting and ending in the capital, he used the London card to head the sequence. When the work was framed in panels of three, three cards, Staffordshire, Invernesshire and Midlothian were framed out of sequence by mistake.

As already noted (catalogue entry for T01742 op.cit.), Tremlett sought out quiet locations for all except the London recording and during the short period his taperecorder was running, matched his action of recording the local sounds with quickly executed near identical sketches of the local landscape on two standard sized postcards. Having posted one set (T03689) to John Dunbar he decided to keep one set for himself. These were subsequently acquired by the artists Gilbert and George late in 1972. Tremlett has pointed out that while each drawing was posted in its county of origin the patterns of Post Office collection and sorting meant that some cards bear the postmark of a neighbouring county. In conversation with the compiler (4 March 1986) he mentioned that in addition to the cards, John Dunbar had a further work relating to the same journey which included a map of the route taken; Tremlett also retains such an annotated map. According to him, John Dunbar agreed to finance ‘The Spring Recordings’ project, on condition that he received a work and T03689 was originally conceived as a work to repay him.

Although ‘The Cards’ does not indicate it, the journey was divided into two parts. The first section was made by Tremlett on a bicycle; he slept in a tent which he carried with him. He thinks that around 6 June he returned to London and hired a green Volkswagen mini-bus from a fellow artist, before heading south. He slept in the van during the second part of the journey. He has confirmed that he had no particular system for seeking out the places in which to make his recordings (although he made the trip entirely on minor roads, never using motorways) but looked in each case for a quiet out-of-the-way place. Although ‘The Cards’ are not part of ‘The Spring Recordings’ they were made under identical conditions and are thus very closely linked. Tremlett deliberately kept the drawings very simple and this spare quality is further emphasised if they are hung in a single line. He has pointed out that his work has frequently involved what may be termed ‘mail art’, ranging from his private view cards which he always designs carefully and regards as limited edition works in their own right, to the ‘informal works’ he made in the early seventies when on long trips abroad (for instance to the Far East and Australia in 1973). He has regularly sent autographed postcards to certain friends and colleagues. He further draws a comparison between T03689 and ‘Some Places to Visit’, a limited edition book he published with the Nigel Greenwood gallery in 1974.

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986

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