My Space: Theo Tremblay

Showcasing PCA members and their studio spaces, ‘My Space’ profiles Theo Tremblay.

24 July, 2020
In Exhibitions,
Printmaking, Q&A

From top:

Theo Tremblay at work in his studio; Chris washing a print; 2018’s Big Print Project; in the studio; Dennis Zagul completing a print, and his work Mutuk.

Before the pandemic Zagul (Dennis) Nona and I were collaborating on a series of 12 stone lithographs, 10 vinyl cuts and two very large vinyl cuts based on traditional Badu Island stories. The finished prints were to be exhibited in Hobart, Sydney, Paris and Berlin. Most of the vinyl cuts were completed and sent to Hobart with the rest to follow mid April. The planned project was meant to relaunch the artist’s career after a 5 year ‘hiatus’. Also cancelled (or mothballed) were workshops in screenprinting, paper casting and etching I was to give at Inkmasters Print Workshop, followed by three week residencies in Pormpuraaw (Cape York) and Maningrida (NT). Importantly, Paloma and I represent a number of North Queensland artists at major arts festivals in Darwin, Cairns and Sydney who include Daniel O’Shane, Glen Mackie, Tommy Pau and Heather Kunjarra Koowootha – all cancelled. Cairns Indigenous Art Fair will be an online event in July without the great interaction artists and arts workers so enjoy when we get together.

Reflecting over 40 years of recessions, funding cuts, amalgamations, tax reforms market fluctuations, income loss, gallery closures, missed opportunities – the ups and downs of our industry is the norm – not the exception. Most likely, this current shutdown will harden the resilience of the more serious artists and eliminate those less resolved. Thinking back, my greatest hurtle was surviving 9 years of art school with little family assistance. The attrition rate at the Boston Museum School was one graduate for every two dropouts. Balancing work, tuition, living and art materials was as expensive as a bad habit. It’s not a wonder why most living artists of my generation couldn’t afford drugs! Surviving the arts wilderness over the past forty years has been nothing short of a joyride – an adventure, one surprise after the next. My dad warned me in so many words, “you must be very a very creative person if you think you can make a living out of art.”

This massive blow to the creative gut, this virus, has brought everyone to our knees. But we will get up, and continue, as ever, doing what we love doing but in a slightly different way, with more experience and better resilience – I think.

We were very lucky to sell our house in Bungendore, NSW which we paid very little for and sold at four times the price in 2010 due to the military headquarters moving into the neighbourhood. My artist/wife Paloma and I downsized our gallery & studio in Cairns two years ago and bought a rainforest property west of Kuranda. We converted the onsite sawmill into a print studio also housing micro bats, geckos, bush rats, a pair of sunbirds, mud wasps and a two meter python which seems to keep in check all resident populations.

Lately, I have been incited to use the ‘F’ word: Flexibility. During the ‘shutdown’ I’ve been offering my services to clean and mend bottom drawer prints. My mate Chris has been helping me restore 30 prints sent by Sydney’s Coo-ee gallery. Other skills I’ve put into operation during lockdown are motor mechanics (I’m smug about replacing a broken axle on my tractor), installing skylights and a veranda, building stonewalls and felling immense trees. My one-arm vacuum screenprinting machine has never been so loved, having now rebuilt it from top to bottom in anticipation of planned projects at Inkmasters.

I’m still proofing works by the isolated artists. I’m open for business and will be advertising my printing services and a range of oil-based inks under the collaborative banner of Scott-Tremblay Master Inks in next month’s IMPRINT.

I’m actually relieved to have the luxury of working at home. For the sake of all exhibiting artists, I hope the galleries will survive – and maybe – perhaps find new ways of reaching an ever-cautious public in their homes.

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