In an interview with Genesis Breyer P-Orridge on Stay Thirsty (January 2009), Breyer P-Orridge recalls the formative moment of buying a copy of William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch in the back of a porno shop. As s/he recalls:
“Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: And then we searched for William Burroughs, and eventually, hitch-hiking to London every other weekend, we’d go around all the porno shops in Soho, and eventually found a copy of “Naked Lunch” in a porno shop.
Thirsty: In a porno shop.
Genesis: It was sort of under the counter, they thought it was pornography because it was banned as obscene at first, and that was where you would also find Henry Miller, and Jean Genet, not in a normal bookshop, but in these porno shops once in a while. And so just to get one book you had to deceive your parents and say you were staying with somebody’s grandmother in London, hitch-hike down instead of getting the train so you had some money to buy a book, sleep in a doorway, and struggle round and round, walking for hours with no food, finally find the book, and then find a way back home in time to go to school on Monday morning. You know that’s an amazingly full and kaleidoscopic adventure attached to that one book. And then the book has information that you’ve never been able to access before.”
Similar to Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’s articulation of the “amazingly full and kaleidoscopic adventure” of finding transgressive books in smut shops, artist Scott Treleaven’s large-scale abstract drawings in his current exhibition Animal Chapel at Invisible-Exports reflect the possible transformative power of the hidden, the coded and the concealed. Through his artistic process, visible on the drawings’ monumental surface, Treleaven’s works pose the questions: Like Breyer P-Orridge’s memories of hitchhiking to porn shops to buy texts by Jean Genet and William S. Burroughs, is there something inherently valuable in the hidden, as well as their discovery? What has been lost in marginalized subcultures now that most everything is readily available via the Internet?
Rather than pulling back that heavy plastic porn store curtain to reveal a world of literary subversion, Treleaven’s drawings in Animal Chapel mimic these underground coded experiences, pulling down the veil with incredibly deep black backgrounds and amorphous symbolic shapes. Animal Chapel continues his artistic investigation into abstraction from his previous exhibition at Invisible-Exports–All-Nite Cinema, retaining the cinematic qualities in his drawings through black squares that resemble film reels.
Known for his interest and documentation of queer subcultures such as queercore via zines, collages and films such as The Salivation Army, Treleaven’s drawings, at first glance, seem to address a completely separate set of formal concerns than his previous work. However, upon closer inspection, Treleaven’s drawings appear as almost psychedelic articulations through abstraction of the importance of hidden and coded information and imagery, particularly to queer communities.
For Treleaven’s works in Animal Chapel, each drawing begins with a piece of collage material that is then covered over by the gouache, crayon, house paint and additional mixed media, adding vibrant bursts of color, geometric patterns and scrawled spontaneous lines. Shielding the original collage object from the viewer’s gaze, Treleaven imbues each drawing with a mysterious sense of silence–linked to the silences surrounding buried histories of outsiders.
Layering his drawings with various geometries and vibrant colors, Treleaven’s drawings appear more intimately connected to the traditions of automatic writing and even, the cut-up technique than the art historical legacy of abstraction. While Treleaven’s drawings certainly retain a utopian quality that is inherent in modernist abstraction, his impulsive and impromptu lines and forms project a literary sensibility with the transcendent stream of consciousness application.
While similar to the works in All-Nite Cinema, Treleaven’s drawings in Animal Chapel are frequently diptychs or triptychs, which engage the works with the history of religious art, giving the works a sublime quality. With the drawings scaled to the size of the human body, the works such as Your Head Is a Haunted House (for Derek McCormack) evoke a physical and reverential response in the viewer.
From their size to the transcendent mystical spirituality in the diptychs and triptychs, Treleaven’s works also place of drawing–often seen in art history as a lesser art form to painting–becomes a monumentally significant medium. Despite their enormous scale, Treleaven’s drawings continue to maintain drawing’s inherent intimacy.
By asserting the utmost importance of these largely disappeared experiences through his diptychs and triptychs, Treleaven revitalizes these essential and integral moments that have been lost through increased availability and subcultures co-optation by the mainstream. While some viewers may struggle to find the secret collaged elements within the works, it is not necessarily about what collage piece Treleaven starts with but the search itself. Through his drawings, Treleaven recreates the experience of coded languages created to protect marginalized communities or hidden texts, histories or publications that have to be dug out from the back of a porn shop.