The Pencil is Mightier than the Sword: Sculptor, Peter Trevelyan

A sneak peek into Peter Trevelyan’s latest exhibition Tenuous at Pataka

Upon first glimpse these exquisitely intricate geometric sculptures seem impossible to comprehend. Even more so when one discovers the sculptures are composed entirely of hundreds, if not thousands, of delicate pencil leads. This concept of fragility lies at the very core of Peter Trevelyan’s current exhibition entitled Tenuous. Behind these phenomenal feats of precision and patience, is a man driven by a desire to transcend the two dimensional restrictions of the drawing on a page and bring it gloriously to life. I was fortunate to have the chance to ask Peter a few questions around his methods and practice.

Tell us a bit about your background. Describe how your journey led you to become a sculptor. I grew up in the countryside outside Timaru. I left school early and worked lots of different labouring and hospitality type jobs until my mid twenties when i went to art school at Canterbury (University). After that I had a couple of years overseas teaching english, visiting galleries and that sort of thing. I came back in early 2000 to do things like installing art in galleries, studio work, high school art teaching, freelance video production etc. Around 2005 was when I started getting really serious about making art again. The graphite work began in 2007 which was borne out of frustration with conventional drawing (two dimensional) and was actually an idea I’d had at art school but couldn’t get to work at the time.

Clockwise from top left: ‘Untitled’ (made from Vitamin P book) from the Tin Marsupial project, 2009, ‘Untitled’ (found paper and graphite), 2010, and ‘Untitled’ (found paper), both part of the current exhibition Tenuous at Pataka in Porirua.

Describe a typical day for you from sunrise to sundown. Coffee, a cigarette, reading in the sun for a while (sci-fi, popularised science and/or history, and sometimes even art stuff) emailing, plotting, then the afternoon in the studio making bigger stuff, and making small objects at home in the evening while not paying attention to the tv and then reading until I fall asleep.

What are your tools of the trade? Lots of drawing tools, pencils, set squares, dividers, rulers, a couple of dentists picks, various glues, side cutters, blue tack, a collection of my favourite highly customised working boards, and lighting arrangements. Oh, and my stove top coffee maker.

What is your favourite part of the creative process? The point when it becomes apparent that the highly unlikely goal is actually achievable rather than aspirational and having an even better idea than the one you’re actually working on.

Your graphite sculptures appear incomprehensibly complex, both in design and construction. How do you begin the process? Do you use computer software or the old fashioned way with pencil and paper? No, there’s no pre-drawing; it’s more exploratory model making on a small scale, and no computers are involved. Often my ideas are sourced from diagrams, architecture, science and mathematics or history stuff.

Understanding the laws of geometry, engineering, and physics are key in the development of these works. Did you seek specialist advice before embarking on these sculptures, or was it something you discovered through experimentation? No specialist advice, more a continuing exploration of what is possible; pushing what actually can be done with the material, always trying to push it to the limits of either fragility or intricacy so that hopefully all the work carries that tenuous unlikelihood.

Obviously these works are of the utmost fragility. I imagine it would be near to impossible to transport them safely. When preparing for an exhibition, are all the works created in situ? Some works, like the larger works, take months, (around 6 months for the dome) which are usually constructed in components that are assembled in the gallery over a couple of frantic, high stakes pressure, days just prior to opening.

Top image: One of 36 perspective proofs in graphite, 2011,exhibited in Prospect and Selected Proofs at Ramp Gallery in Hamilton and Sofa in Christchurch respectively and bottom image: detail of ‘Node’ (graphite), 2011 from Prospect, City Gallery in Wellington.

What happens to the pieces once an exhibition is over? Can they be dismantled? Some are reduced back to components and stored, some are rendered down in order to make new works, and a few are sitting intact in large plywood boxes.

Given their delicacy and seemingly transient nature, can one buy them? If not, do you survive on grants or have a ‘regular’ job to support your creative enterprises? I do have a dealer, and some are sold, usually in glass bell jars, also drawings and photograms and other intermediary works. At the moment I’m subsisting on a scholarship. The last few years I’ve been patching together part time jobs with artist fees, freelance contract work, and the odd sale.

How would you describe the difference between your paper and graphite sculptures? They are different approaches to the same problem. The line is a dynamic force, either using graphite or folding paper as a means of delineating space, investigating drawing as a technology for colonising space.

‘Survey’ (graphite) from Tenuous, the current exhibition at Pataka.

Do you have any plans to make your pieces from more robust materials? I’m currently plotting the possibility, either very large or infinitesimally small.

You’re currently studying for your PhD. Can you tell us about the focus of your research and what you hope to achieve? I’m investigating the history of drawing, particularly the perspective/scientific/mathematical diagrams and their role in establishing the concept of ordered and malleable space, and consequently the ordered, malleable observer.

Can you tell us about your next project? My next big project will be a large folded paper blob that has gravity issues and the next small project will be a series of tiny graphite models of diagrams from Euclid’s Elements (a mathematical and geometric treatise consisting of 13 books written by the Greek mathematician Euclid c. 300 BC).

Tenuous runs until 19 November at Pataka.

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