Victoria Miro Gallery II
16 Wharf Road, London N1 7RW
The Victoria Miro Gallery presents Minus, an exhibition of new paintings and works on paper by Tal R. The Danish artist is best known for his exuberant and deceptively simple works, which transform a picture book naiveté into a darker, archaic and often violent world.
This is the third in a suite of four shows where the starting point has been a self-imposed restriction; a limited palette of murky black, white, mustard yellow, pillar box red, forest green, chocolate brown and bubblegum pink. The artist's choice of 'dirty', everyday colours deliberately puts him at one remove from the traditional 'pure' colours of painting. In the artist's words "(using) the same seven buckets of paint, keeps it simple" and permits him the freedom to focus on content, shape and form.
For the first time in his work the artist also introduces a border around the edge of his canvases, signifying a departure from the bold horizontal colour fields he is known for. The border references decorative patterns common to embroidery tapestry and illuminated manuscripts. It also refers to the margins in books where writers and poets often make mental notes connected to the central text. Formally, the border serves to contain and ground the central activity of the canvas with particular focus on the empty spaces - the 'minus' of the exhibition title.
The artist has described 'minus' as "the space where you enter the work" and has attributed to it a quality of generosity, a bold and open area that plays on our expectations of what is considered worthy within a work of art. For instance in the large scale painting Stairs Afrique the artist depicts the Spanish Steps in Rome. The Renaissance church at the top of the steps has been replaced with the abstracted, looming presence of a "black beast". The civilized has been supplanted by the primitive, while at the centre lies the open space of possibility - 'minus'.
Keeping one foot within the parameters of the authoritative and distinctly 'masculine' discourse of abstract minimalism, Tal R nonetheless insists upon disruption of this discourse with his references to a 'feminine' world of craft and childlike abandon. A sense of incongruity prevails as these new paintings waver between masculine and feminine visual idioms; strength and fragility; darkness and optimism.