Through drawings and films, Dean makes work that is frequently characterized by a poetic sensibility and fragmented narratives exploring past and present, fact and fiction. In this monumental printed work, she addresses themes of collective memory and lost history by combining the romantic legend of ill-fated medieval lovers Tristan and Isolde (whose initials give this piece its title) with the real-life tragedy of British sailor Donald Crowhurst. Dean often uses the sea and other maritime themes in her work, including the tale of Crowhurst, which has appeared in several of her projects.
In 1968 Crowhurst sailed from England for a solo, round-the-world yacht race and never returned. In T & I Dean connects the tale of this lost sailor to the story of Tristan and Isolde—whose tragic love story also hinges on sea voyages—through her majestic depiction of a barren, rocky coastline looking seaward. This work, based on a found postcard, includes the white, cryptic notes that Dean often scribbles on her prints and drawings. Here the musings include "start" and "stage 4," clear theatrical directions, as well as fragments of a poem by "WSG" about an artist killed in an accident. The twenty-five-sheet composition suggests a cinematic narrative sequence, while reading it as a unified image has a breathtaking, visionary impact. The rich velvety texture of the photogravure medium contributes a nineteenth-century patina that is ideally suited to the intensity and foreboding melancholy of the subject.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 269.