Tal R: Science Fiction
Victoria Miro Gallery presents Science Fiction, an exhibition of new paintings by Tal R. The works in this exhibition mark a major development in the Danish artist's practice. Known for his exuberant paintings, works on paper, sculpture, textiles and installations that reflect an expansive and daring approach to subject matter, Tal R has often tempered experimentation with self-imposed restriction in terms of composition and colour palette.
The paintings in Science Fiction see a significant evolution in his methodology - both compositionally and in the application of paint. Created through a process similar to the historical use of distemper, in which pure pigments are mixed with rabbit glue, the canvases in Science Fiction glow with Rothko-like intensity. Limiting opportunity for addition and revision, this new process for the artist has resulted in a series of stripped-down compositions, which he describes as "moving from the periphery of painting to its centre."
The results draw the viewer into a series of atmospheric spaces. Subjects for these new paintings include a figure in pyjamas wearing an African mask, a carnivalesque procession, and men riding horses. The apparent simplicity of these images is deceptive. While a sense of narrative is ever present, the artist describes these new works as speaking in two tongues: "The paintings have a very gentle surface but then there's an awkward moment in all of them, a moment when you are not sure exactly what you're looking at."
The pyjamas worn by the boy in the painting, for instance, give rise to thoughts of institutional uniforms. Furthering a sense of unease, Tal R has accentuated the verticality of this canvas by tilting the perspective of brightly-coloured floorboards, to suggest, as he puts it, that "at any moment the painting could fall out of itself." Appearing in one corner of the procession painting, meanwhile, is the ambiguous number '39', while Tal R's horse riders are painted in such a way as to make them seem spectacularly ill-suited to their task.
For the artist, Science Fiction is used in a very personal way to denote the space that opens up between events that take place in a painting and our understanding of them - spatially and temporally. In a painting derived from a nineteenth-century image, Tal R depicts a group of well-dressed gents pontificating in a bohemian interior. Thinking about their salon conversation - perhaps about science, philosophy or speculation about events to come - we witness one example of the way in which Tal R enfolds ideas of the future and the past in painting's eternal present.
As the artist says: "The magic of a painting is that you are looking at everything at once. A painting is stupid, it's flat, it's weak, but in the middle of that, it's absolutely beautiful."