Shelly Tregoning | Arusha Gallery

13A Dundas Street,
Edinburgh

In this first solo show by Shelly Tregoning, Arusha Gallery has utilised its spacious high-ceilinged rooms to great effect, displaying large-scale compositions alongside the pocket-sized series of ‘Hirsute’ and ‘Selfies’. It is these two latter collections that first catch the eye upon entering the gallery. Like Polaroids, they decorate the walls and draw the viewer forward for a closer look. These insta-shots of modern identity, split in subject between young women and masculinity, reveal Tregoning’s preoccupation with the candid nature of one’s inner-self.

Shelly Tregoning’s new exhibition, Fragile, is a reflection of interiority that has taken form in her stripped-back figurative style. Her subjects are presented linearly, with bold strokes and an unhesitating use of texture – both with the oil and the canvas itself.

It is her large compositional pieces that really take centre-stage in this exhibition. The subjects are thrown upon the canvas in sharp relief against uncluttered backgrounds. Tregoning’s use of colour is minimal and deliberate. In one remarkable piece (‘Under the Macrocarpa Tree’) Picasso-blue paint is washed haphazardly over the canvas while the silhouette of the tree encroaches upon the monochrome space. The blue and the tree, however, are abstract against the supine figure, who has been painted in contrasting sienna.

Another piece, ‘Black Narcissi’, is a perfect example of Tregoning’s process: layers of oil are washed over the canvas, and then, like a flame, the side profile of the figure emerges from the black. The painting is deliberately obscure, and the narcissi in question are barely visible outlines against the bold strokes of black paint. This is the darkness the figure sees, eyes hidden by his hands. Interior and exterior meet symbolically in this piece, in perhaps the starkest example of Tregoning’s “non-portraits”.

The blurred features of Tregoning’s subjects gives a level of impersonality, which encourages the viewer to actively seek a connection to the figures. This is art at its most thoughtful. The deliberate distance between viewer and subject perhaps intensifies the abstractedness, but just as equally, it evokes the phenomenon of human emotion as a tangible thing: first felt within – and then expressed outwards, onto canvas.

Written by Madeline Lucas.