Side Image: 

Image credit: Julian Otto Trevelyan (British, b. 1910). Bulldozer, 1973, aquatint and etching, 26 x 32 inches. Gift of Saul Steinberg.

About the Artist
Julian Otto Trevelyan

Born in 1910, Julian Otto Trevelyan was a British artist and poet. He belonged to a student group that published the magazine Experiment in Cambridge in 1928. In Paris in 1930 he enrolled at William Hayter's print workshop, Atelier 17, where he worked with Joan Miró, Max Ernst, and Pablo Picasso. In his early artistic career, Trevelyan wrote descriptions of dreams, the key subject of Surrealist artists, along the margins of his compositions. During World War II, Trevelyan joined the Industrial Camouflage Research Unit and successfully created camouflage for desert warfare. In 1957, he published his autobiography, Indigo Days. Trevelyan taught printmaking at the Royal College of Art in London from 1955 to 1963, where he expressed his belief that printmaking was perfectly suited to convey what for him was the purpose of art, that is, "to communicate at all costs a new vision, a new way of seeing the world, so that for those who see my pictures the world never looks quite the same again." 

Key Ideas
  • Daily life and ordinary views as subjects for art
  • Present-day encroachment on the natural environment as extension of timeless human activity
  • Mechanization and power of modern environment-changing tools
Discussion Questions
  • What attracts your eye as you look at this image? Why? What has the artist done to draw your eyes in these directions?
  • From where do you think you are looking at this landscape? What clues might you be using?
  • What is the meaning of the word technology? What are some examples of technology? What do you know about the development of technology over time? How is technology used differently and similarly in rural and urban locales?
  • What are some ways these machines symbolize the progress of technology and development in our contemporary society? What are the effects of technology on land and the environment?
  • How is the presence of humans conveyed in the image? What seems to be their place or purpose?
  • What are some things you know about recent big events in the field of construction or development? For example, what do you know about building site development in your community?
  • What sounds can you imagine could be associated with this image? What if those sounds were to change into music? What kinds of music or songs could be good sound tracks for Bulldozer?
  • What are your impressions of realism or abstraction in this image?

When and Where Is It? Time and Place in Art

In the compressed space of Bulldozer, Julian Otto Trevelyan depicted five powerful machines. He accentuated the smallest one by putting it in the foreground, where it appears very large, and by using it for his title. Two other construction vehicles and two jumbo airplanes share the pictorial space; however, they are dwarfed by the bright yellow dirt-mover with its raised bucket heralding its dominance over the land and the future of development in its environment. The line of the bulldozer’s raised hydraulic cylinders forms a strong diagonal that crosses the visual plane and signals the machine’s intrinsic force. The big track rollers lie on another, intersecting diagonal line, implying their direction and energy. A dump truck and a backhoe work in the middle-ground space, and in the background a plane complies with runway lights and waits for another airliner to land or take off. A small house and a white rounded shape like a water tank flank the bulldozer and contribute to the impression of human industriousness. But the powerful bulldozer has been selected to signify the motion and activity that have preoccupied human beings forever—the modification and moving of earth for habitation, agriculture, transportation, mining, lumbering, and military force. Altogether, the scene is typical of daily happenings around the world as development and progress invade natural environments. Each of the machines implies movement and change in the service of humans who are continually moving earth and moving themselves across the landscape.

Instead of focusing on a beautiful natural scene in a traditional landscape view, Trevelyan has focused on an ordinary sight, a routine view of road or yard or possibly runway construction. He has invoked the idea of nature through depicting its alteration by human-driven machines. The bright yellow and orange-red colors of the vehicles contrast with and dominate the black, gray, and dark green of the earth. Uneven blobs of gray suggest rocks and boulders being unearthed by the machines. There are suggestions of both stillness and movement, of quiet and roar, implied by the flight and pause by noisy airliners, and a break in action of rumbling construction machines. There is little emphasis on time of day or time of year, on qualities of light or atmospheric effects. Instead, there is emphasis on the simple geometric shapes and colors of the land and machines that convey the dynamism of their interaction.

Trevelyan was fascinated by urban development and decay. He depicted everyday scenes and objects by using elementary colors, shapes, and childlike patterns to express the spirit of an actual place. His early embrace of Surrealism and its chance and dream associations influenced his representations of unexpected or accidental relations among objects. The spontaneity in his style expressed his desire to stimulate a fresh way of looking at the world.