Review of 3 Drawing Rooms: David Tremlett, Ikon Gallery

Currently on display at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery until 21 April is David Tremlett’s 3 Drawing Rooms. The exhibition impressively deploys a combination of pastel pigments in paint and engine grease, applied directly to the walls of the three rooms that form the upstairs gallery. As a result, areas of geometric shape majestically transform, becoming quasi sculptural and revealing intimate relationships with Ikon’s neo-gothic architecture. However, an overlooked fact of the exhibition is its site specificity and labour intensive process – the paintings took six people and 15 days to complete.

The first room one enters is almost a square. Here the walls are elongated by long fragments of colour, which vertically spindle and eventually blossom into the vaulted ceiling. In the centre of the room a solemn bench loans itself for restful contemplation. Sitting – pondering these surroundings, breathing a serene sense of self-awareness – draws one to the religious connotations that this space seemingly emits, an indication carried up through the high ceiling arches.

The stripes of blue, red, light grey and dark grey emphasise the vision of vertical extension; so much so that the room is soars into the heavens. Despite this, one does not feel an isolated smallness as one might in the second room, but a subtle internal awareness: an intrinsic bond that lies in the metaphysical reveals itself but never unveils itself.

Lost is the metaphysical bond, quickly reaffirming itself as an emptiness, an abstract sense of nothingness. Perhaps this is extended from the earthly tones of the horizontal stripes that echo vast unforgiving landscapes. Yet there is a deep resonating familiarity to the first room in the second. Unlike the first room the second is much wider and the ceiling, with a similar neo-gothic detailing, sits low. Horizontal stripes in pastel shades of brown, yellow, white and light grey stretch across the walls. The effect of this is an impending claustrophobia that never manifests itself. The introspective solemnness of the first room is replaced by an extroverted feeling of smallness, which is greatly heightened by the horizontal stripes.

The device that these two rooms extend from is an intriguing synergy of attributes exclusive to both. A passage, rather than a room, is afflicted by a series of black symmetrical forms indicative of a perspective drawing on each side as the viewer passes through. The paint is fixed by hand with engine grease creating a sickly thick impasto. Individual finger marks are clawed across the glossy surfaces.

Surrounding the sea of black shards is a dark grey plateau, utilising the smoothness of the existing walls to draw out the sea storm like ferocity of manipulated paint in the black fractures. The architecture plays a vital role in contextualising the work. An elegant duality of oscillation and interplay between horizontal and vertical but more demanding is that between the stripes of conflicting and harmonizing colour as they fall in and out of love. It is precisely this human containment in the work, the awakening to one’s self both extrovertly and introspectively, that makes Tremlett’s 3 Drawing Rooms, 3 living rooms.

William Davie

David Tremlett, 3 Drawing Rooms, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham – until 21 April. For more information visit

1. David Tremlett, Artist’s Impression of installation at Ikon Gallery (2013).