Teo Treloar, The Plague, Penguin Modern Classics, Great Britain, 2022
Courtesy of the artist and Olsen Gallery, Sydney

During the early days of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, Albert Camus’ 1947 novel The Plague became a global bestseller to the point that its publisher Penguin struggled to maintain demand. While artist Teo Treloar was one such reader who revisited The Plague at this time, his consumer impulse was nuanced around his practice. Like most fans of the French novel first published as La Peste, he didn’t buy a new Penguin edition, but instead acquired some 35 copies from secondary online sellers though ten copies got lost in the mail. Treloar’s aim was to get different pre-loved editions representing each country in the world experiencing dire outcomes from the coronavirus. “I wanted to get second-hand books because they’d passed through the hands of other people. It was this way of connecting to a broader experience.” Treloar set out to illustrate each book cover in a new series as a way of connecting to a collective experience through collecting itself.

Each of his graphite drawings show the book hovering in a dark void like space junk adrift in the cosmos. Treloar likens this abyss and its repeated use in his work as a nod to the novel’s absurdist philosophical tone. Against a backdrop of “existential fear” Treloar says “we live in this chaotic existence with a choice to do what you want, do it well and do it with integrity.” And that he does with discipline and focus if you consider how each work takes approximately three eight-hour days to complete.

Since his first solo exhibition more than 15 years ago, Treloar has built a steady following for work addressing contemporary alienation and paranoia. His work is held in important public collections including the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, Artbank and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. The latter acquired works from the series The Black Captain, first presented for The National 2019: New Australian Art. In these finely rendered drawings, a floating solitary male figure operates a machine-driven contraption. Or does the mechanism control the man?

Treloar revisits this exiled character in a second new series where the atmosphere of alienation escalates to nightmarish effect. Deconstructing the comic strip format, he repeats the scene to convey the lived experience of isolation and depression of contemporary life. As the figure’s head disappears into a suspended box, Treloar’s narrative comes into focus as an allegory for how life is consumed online through Netflix and Zoom.

Following his win of the acquisitive Jacaranda Drawing Award in 2020, Grafton Regional Gallery will present these new works as a major solo exhibition. Titled And Now, The Plague, it will then travel to Sydney as Treloar’s first show with Olsen Gallery. With this major show Treloar proves his quiet power to reflect the current moment using oddly familiar tropes of the past, but with an aesthetics of alienation and ambiguity that is distinctly his own.

Teo Treloar, Illustration For a Comic Strip About the Absurd (Home Life), 2022
Courtesy of the artist and Olsen Gallery, Sydney

Profile for Art Collector

Published by Art Collector, issue 102 in 2022.