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William Turnbull b.1922
T01788 Trestle 1971
Canadian pine, 41¿ x 48 x 60 (105 x 122 x 152.5); dimensions variable. Purchased from the Waddington Galleries (Grant-in-Aid) 1973.
Exh: Tate Gallery, August–October 1973 (81, repr.).
Lit: Richard Morphet, in catalogue of Tate Gallery exhibition, 1973, pp.64–5.
The following notes, based on conversations with the artist in 1973, have been approved by him.
Turnbull has made two sculptures entitled ‘Trestle’. The first, dated 1969–70, is in painted steel and is 108 in. long. It is reproduced in the Tate Gallery Turnbull exhibition catalogue, 1973 (op. cit.), p.65. The uppermost, supported, elements are nine U-beams. Unlike those in T01788, the actual trestles in ‘Trestle’ 1969–70 have horizontal members near the ground as well as at their apexes, permitting U-beams to be laid horizontally at two different heights as well as on the ground.
T01788 was made by a carpenter to Turnbull’s specifications, but was finished and waxed by himself. It consists of two trestle elements and of six beams each measuring3 3/6 x 60 x 33/6 in. With the trestle elements conventionally orientated to the ground and the beams horizontal, the eight elements in T01788 can be placed in any arrangement the installer chooses. Possibilities include some or all of the beams being placed beside the trestles on the ground, or two or more beams making a horizontal surface supported by the trestles, on which surface one or more other beams are placed. The principal of permutation or variability of parts has been central in Turnbull’s work since the 1940s.
T01788 is one of a number of works including paintings which exemplify in an increasingly direct way the close, determinative links of both form and presentation that have always existed between Turnbull’s working environment (in which, for years trestles have of necessity been used) and any of his finished works. It is also concerned with the question of how to raise forms above ground level without being rhetorical, over-arty, or heavy-handed. The horizontal, table-level surface asserted by this work extends Turnbull’s long-standing theme of the base on which things are placed, and this surface in relation to the trestles is an inverted presentation of the theme of forms rising from a base that has long preoccupied him. The use of unpainted wood in T01788 is related to the surface treatment of ‘Trestle’ 1969–70, which is painted a ‘no-colour’, silver; in both works, eye-catching or romantic colouring are avoided and straightforward surface and working appearance preferred.
Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1972–1974, London 1975.