Artist Feature: Merryn Trevethan

By Amelia Abdullahsani

Jan 26th, 2017 11:50 AM

The Party's Over... | 10 August - 30 September 2016 | Exhibition at the Australian High Commission curated by Singapore Arts Club International

Merryn Trevethan’s swarths of colours and chromatic prisms invite us to enter space in her abstract paintings. Her inspiration stems from her contemplation of urbanity – a resident of Singapore and a native of Melbourne, Trevethan has also lived and worked in other globalised cities such as London and New York. Whenever she visits or resides in any city, she observes the geophysical and the geometric constituents of the urban landscape.

Her geometric abstract forms are made of fields of colour, carefully delineated with varying hues. Her lines emulate that of skyscrapers or landmarks. Fields of contrasting and complementary colours abut each other. Unlike a cityscape or a landscape painting, Trevethan’s paintings do not have a horizon or a vanishing point. Instead, lines and swatches of colours depict distance and depths.

In this exhibition, Merryn Trevethan presents a new series of works, based on observations of the city and recent geopolitical changes occurring across the world. The title of the exhibition, The Party’s Over, is a line from Leonard Cohen’s song A Street. In light of political circuses, election mania, Brexit, shootings in the U.S., the plight of refugees, and bomb explosions, how does a city – or even a country – define itself? Does it do so through its architectural landmarks or through its spatial configuration?

The works in this exhibition are Trevethan’s reaction to these questions as well as her investigation into the urban landscape. Landmarks and iconic scenes of various cities are distilled into her paintings. While specific buildings are not readily identifiable in the work, Trevethan captures the essence of each city scene with chromatic lines and varied hues. Each painting is not a portrait of any specific city but a convergence of urban cues.

Guests admiring a series of silk banners in The Party's Over... Artwork info: Built to Suit..., 2016, Digital Print on Silk with Aluminium Silk Rods and Wire, Dimensions (L-R): 104 x 102cm, 140 x 97cm, 104 x 102cm, 170 x 88cm

One series of works in this exhibition gets its inspiration from Trevethan’s observations of building construction in Singapore. In a city that is constantly in flux and is continuously re-inventing itself, the mechanical crane – a necessary machine for building high-rise apartment blocks and office skyscrapers – is a ubiquitous sight throughout Singapore. “Safety Starts With Me” consists of five panels. Placed side by side, the five panels form a landscape. The main subject of the painting, the crane, is represented throughout, albeit in a subtle manner. Lines that cross each other form ghosts of cranes. Angular forms in lighter hues look like cardinal arrows, as if a stand-in moral compass, questioning us city dwellers with what our obligations and duties to one another are. In a world in which its inhabitants are constantly bombarding each other with weapons and words, how would one treat one’s neighbour, or would one welcome a visitor?

The way in which Trevethan’s paintings collapse space is another indication of the way the residents of Singapore live one top of each other. In densely populated cities such as Singapore, Hong Kong and New York, where many live in high-rise blocks, the horizon disappears into a sea of buildings. In contrast are cities such as Los Angeles or Melbourne, whose landscapes are more of an urban sprawl, with open-air landscapes and a distinct horizon line.

Merryn Trevethan depicts landscape through colour. Colour is not used merely for aesthetic purposes; as a decoration or to beautify – the function of colour is to define space. In this particular series of paintings, she uses a combination of purple, maroon, and violet. The composition of the paintings suggests that the darker hues are closer to us, while the lighter colours suggest space that recedes further away. This spatial connectedness and associations with depth subverts the idea of positive and negative spaces. Spatial depth is not defined by a horizon line nor recedes along a vanishing line. Instead, by using varying hues, Trevethan manipulates space, coming from the ground or from the ceiling. The combination of colours and the ability to work with colour exhibits a high degree of control and expertise.

Merryn's colours and geometric shapes grace the entrance of the Facebook offices in Singapore at South Beach Tower.

Merryn Trevethan’s practice stems from the tradition of abstract painting coupled with influences from Cubism. Just as Cubism eschewed the horizon line and collapses space, Trevethan’s paintings collapse place and time. At the same time, Trevethan develops her own language of abstraction.

By collapsing the picture plane, her paintings bring people together, thereby utilizing art as a form of diplomacy. As an Australian who lives in Singapore, Trevethan is a product of peaceful diplomacy between two countries – Singapore and Australia. Indeed, Trevethan’s work is only one of Australia’s myriad contributions to the Singapore art scene today. In the global perspective of political sparring and ideological wars, Merryn Trevethan’s work is a reminder to us all that art indeed is a diplomatic means that collapses the distance between us.