David Tremlett

David Tremlett’s installation here was an enormous wall drawing in the third room of this gallery. To get there one had to pass through two other spaces, which had also been transformed by wall drawings, done by Pat Steir and Sol LeWitt respectively. The rooms are similar in size and architectural characteristics, typical of an apartment in the historic center of Rome, with wood ceilings, hexagonal floor tiles of black, gray, and red marble, and windows that open out onto terra-cotta roofs, and all three spaces were completely redesigned by the wall drawings.

Tremlett’s intervention functioned on two fronts, for he worked with the classical proportions of the space and also entered into a close dialogue with the two artists who preceded him. Steir had played with a controlled explosion of anthropomorphic images; LeWitt, with an even more controlled implosion of pure and mathematical space.

Tremlett’s room came right after LeWitt’s work, with its concentric waves of black and white stripes that broke open and expanded the flatness of the walls with the elasticity of an echo, recalling the sounds/silences of John Cage. To LeWitt’s “sound waves,” which were partially visible through an open doorway, Tremlett contrasted other sonorities: those interior, archaic, tribal ones of African rhythms. He translated these into pure pigment (brown, gray, and black) spread over the wall with his hands, forming two rows of large, abstract pictographs that resembled some ancient musical notation. At the bottom of the wall, next to one of the doors, Tremlett had inscribed a brief text. Its location was discreet, almost humble, like the muted tone of a voice that sings a dirge. In a sweetly faltering phraseology, it read in Italian, “LUNGO BASTONE—COME USCIRNE?—MATTONE ROTTO—FISSARE A LUNGO—CARTONE SCHIACCIATO—ATRIO—SOSTENUTO AL CENTRO—SPESSORE DI UN DITO—GRANDI LABBRA—CURVATO—CACCA DI CANE—SCHERZO DI CHIHUAHUA” (Long stick—How to get out?—Broken brick—To watch for a long time—Crushed cardboard—Atrium—Supported at the center—Width of a finger—Large lips—Curved—Dog shit—Chihuahua’s joke).

Like a child’s nonsense song, the words of these almost onomatopoeic phrases don’t decode. In that respect, they resemble the cryptic, magical pictographs, enlarged to the point of amazement, so strong that they seemed to support the structures and so light that they seemed to overturn the space, fragmenting it and redesigning it with their musicality. These represent the childhood of thought, of imagination and wonder, which Tremlett has sought from afar in Africa, Mexico, and India. But he is a profoundly Western man and artist, sustained by his own awareness. He doesn’t look for cleverness or exotic myths but rather for a method and a reason—which Tremlett, in one of his rare interviews, chose to define as “playful coherence.”

In this work the coherence assumed above all the form of the wide, red-brown band that ran at eye level all along the wall. Just at the ideal point of vision—the synthesis of all rational perspective—the color exploded in the hot tint of African earth, while the musicality of the signs reached an unexpected pause, and the structure of the entire room abandoned its solid classicism and appeared broken and fragile, like an African hut.

In contrast to the mathematical transformation of LeWitt’s nearby space, Tremlett achieved a different synthesis, recognizing the universal formal and conceptual order hidden at the roots of every culture.

Alessandra Mammì

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.