Q&A with Clayton Tremlett

‘Originally I studied as a painter but the processes of printmaking, particularly the excitement of the reversed and uncontrolled magic of the first proof, eventually got me.’ 

Image: Clayton Tremlett with life mask, 2016. Photo: Carrington McArdle.

Why do you make art?

For me art making is about identifying connections and commonalities in life experience. In more recent years my practice is about examining history and drawing from events or people that influence my identity, to make works that encourage others to reflect on who they are.

I enjoy aesthetic challenges and also like to make print projects that use the printing industry or printed matter like wallpaper or stamps as a historical context.

What’s your relationship to printmaking?

It’s about experimentation with materials and processes, by challenging or corrupting a traditional technique and cultivating something personal.

When I started printmaking, my focus was multi-colour reduction linocuts (up to twenty colours) because of the textural beauty I found in the layering of ink.

For my most recent series Beard and Influence I have advanced a technique I’m calling Laser Resist Etching which combines photography, Photoshop and the photocopier to make a new form of photo etching.

How did you get interested in printmaking?

I suspect it was subconscious connection with my father’s practice of carving leather. As a child, I recall watching him use a swivel knife and tools to effortlessly cut and sculpt leather which has many parallels to carving lino with a scalpel and then removing the waste with gauges.

Originally I studied as a painter but the processes of printmaking, particularly the excitement of the reversed and uncontrolled magic of the first proof, eventually got me.

Who is your favourite artist?

Favourite is a transient thing. Many artists have been very influential depending on their ideas and technical skills. I admire artists for their individual pursuit of a personal expression and this translates across many disciplines. If I had to name a favourite sustained influence it would be the electronic music of Kraftwerk and their conscious aesthetic as it relates to visual art.

 What is your favourite artwork?

This too is transient and dependant on a particular changing set of receptive moments in life. Recently I travelled with my family to Vietnam and was overwhelmed with the technique of lacquer engraving on panels. Although it is an old technique it was a new experience for me and for a time my most favourite type of work because of its combination of carving and painting.

In my hall at home is a portrait of Captain Cook by Rew Hanks. I particularly enjoy looking at this work because of its technical skill and confidence with the medium.

Where do you go for inspiration?

More recently that would be the Public Records Office in Melbourne.

History is tangible when you are holding a book that is over a hundred and forty years old with detailed information on a prisoner’s appearance, crime, punishment, religion, occupation and tattoos.

Crime and Punishment and Inking Up are artist book projects that explore prisoners held in the old Castlemaine Goal. Crime and Punishment focused on the types of sentences you could get for misdemeanours like riding your bicycle on the footpath (one day), while Inking Up highlights tattoos favoured by a selection of prisoners in the 1890’s – the most common being an anchor between the thumb and forefinger.

What are you working on now?

My current exhibition has taken four years to produce. The works are large scale self-portrait linocuts in the guise of twelve bearded Australian Bushrangers. This was my first performative series where I grew diverse hirsute appearances in order to re-create the original photograph of each bushranger.

After each project, I like to flip the concept to see what is revealed on the other side. Following on from Bushrangers it seemed logical to research the phenomenon of being lost in the bush.

I am also documenting central Victorian ANZAC memorials (the lone soldier) as the central image for a series of anti-war linocut prints.