Artist Interview: Teo Treloar - Art Collector

6 October 2010

“I make small works now as a rebellion against the bigness of visual culture,” says Sydney-based artist Teo Treloar. In his world, we are dominated by billboards, big screen TVs and 3D movies. But as he tells Australian Art Collector, with the small-scale, quiet works in his current exhibition he hopes to give us space to think again.

Teo Treloar, The Science 6, 2010. Pencil, ink, watercolour and oil on paper, 37 x 23cm. Courtesy: the artist and Helen Gory Galerie, Melbourne

You’ve given your current exhibition the title The Science. What drew you to science as a topic for this work?

It wasn’t like ‘that’s an idea so I’m going to make work about that idea’. The title lends itself to the work. The work has progressed over the last few years on this analytical platform and that’s where it came from.

Previously the work that I’d been making had been inspired by literature, so books by Kafka, Dostoevsky and Camus and those kind of writers that delve into this existential state of mind. The work is primarily, in some cases, about that and it has developed more and more into work that illustrates this idea of a search.

This new work seems to be populated by people who are searching for meaning but not quite ever finding it.

Absolutely, that’s the interesting aspect of it. Part of the human condition is this search for meaning and for reason. It ultimately does elude us and it is quite an absurd idea in the end.

Teo Treloar, The Pursuit of Happiness 2, 2010. Pencil, watercolour, ink and oil on paper, 24 x 19cm. Courtesy: the artist and Helen Gory Galerie, Melbourne

Given that the same could probably also be said for many different forms of knowledge – not just science – why do you think you’ve found yourself using imagery drawn from science, like the men in white labcoats, black forms that look like gas clouds or black holes, and objects like geometry tools.

The blackness and the constructs – the geometric constructs – are metaphors and I try to make work that is in a sense symbolically ambiguous so that people who view the work have their own experience. Those forms and that blackness can be what they see it as.

You seem to take a similar approach with the human figures, who appear to be a kind of everyman. Is that for the same reason?

That’s also due to my own experience, the way I experience the world as man. I don’t draw women primarily because I don’t experience the world as a woman; I experience the world as a man. The work is in essence autobiographical.

Teo Treloar, The Trade 2, 2010. Pencil, watercolour, ink and oil on paper, 24 x 26cm. Courtesy: the artist and Helen Gory Galerie, Melbourne

I understand you drew quite widely for your source material for a lot of the imagery in this work. Can you tell us a little bit about where you found it & why it was interesting?

Originally I became interested in that aesthetic from old JC Penney catalogues and Sears catalogues from the 1950s. In those catalogues there’s no photography. All the catalogues are for a year’s worth of products and every item is hand drawn and painted because photography wasn’t readily available.

In these catalogues there are these really incredibly beautiful illustrations of, you know, a man facing with his back to the viewer of the picture just to illustrate what the back of a shirt looks like. So I became inspired by these really weird drawings – and they just seemed weird in the context of living now; it wasn’t weird back then. They seem quite surreal.

I’ve also got a guy who runs the NASA image library. He gives me access to thousands of images of people working and I use those as well.

The shirts that they wear are beautifully starched and everything is ironed and pleated, and there’s an exactness about it almost as if the photos were set up.

You also introduce these black shapes to the work that seem to either obscure or be there as an entity in their own right. Can you tell us a little about the role you see absence and mystery playing in your work?

That blackness, that nothingness, comes from the flood of information that I get through visual culture. We live in this saturated, colourful, hyperreal world where there are images everywhere and the notion of perfection is portrayed in these images. What’s real, you know? Where’s the truth in that?

Teo Treloar, The Fade, 2010. Pencil, watercolour, ink and oil on paper, 30 x 23cm. Courtesy: the artist and Helen Gory Galerie, Melbourne

So the blackness is almost a reprieve from the overload?

Yeah, this sludge is kind of the by-product of image culture and image-driven society. It’s almost like oil, it’s this kind of dirty, smelly, black thing that will require constant analytical process.

Culturally I think we’re losing the ability for analysis when it comes to imagery.

That’s interesting when perhaps most people would say society as a whole is becoming more visually literate, rather than the other way around.

That’s true but also our notion of what is normal is being skewed by the image. The image dictates to us; we don’t dictate to the image. Through us viewing images, we’re allowing the ideas in the images to dictate reality to us, as opposed to us knowing that actually no, we’re living in reality, we decide what this means, not the other way around.

It’s got it’s roots in that kind of Baudrillard idea of image but it goes a bit beyond that now [the simulacra concept]. It’s not a theory anymore.

It’s good to analyse it and be critical of it and enter your engagement with the image from a platform of criticality as opposed to acceptance.

Teo Treloar, The Singularity, 2010. Pencil, watercolour, ink and oil on paper, 34 x 40cm. Courtesy: the artist and Helen Gory Galerie, Melbourne

It seems like it’s been a conscious decision for you to work on a small scale – the works in this exhibition all seem to be 30 centimetres or so. Why have you made this choice and what do you think it brings to the work?

I have made big works previously but I make small works now as a rebellion against the bigness of visual culture. Those images in the show are small drawings [and] you actually have to move in close and as far as power exchange is concerned, as you don’t have an image with it’s foot on your neck, you can approach it quite easily and then engage. But when it comes to big images, like really big posters or paintings, you can often get overpowered by the experience of them.

Everywhere we go, I keep referencing this, but we’re overpowered by images everyday like billboards, advertising, and big screen TVs and 3D movies and they’re all huge. I don’t think we can underestimate the influence of the bigness and colour and hyperreality that these things have on the way we view the world. I think smaller is better.

It also fits in with the title and the ideas of the work; science is about close investigation and this search. And always the figures in my work are very engaged in this activity of searching, trying to find some kind of truth or something in the world.

It’s also how I work. Those figures are like me working at my table. I work on a very small table. My table’s in my room, I make the work where I sleep and I pin it up on my wall so I’m surrounded by it … I don’t want a big studio, or this romantic idea of having a massive studio and being able to let fly; I want to be totally engaged with the work.

Jane O'Sullivan

The Science continues until 23 October 2010 at Helen Gory Galerie in Melbourne.

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