By Nicholas Hatfull
Hopping out of a black cab, a Hamley’s bag in each hand, a raspberry-corduroyed Tal R was in the nick of time for a talk on Armes de Chine, at this location eight years ago. Then, the low-slung pavilion of a McDonald’s drive-thru was the only scenic distraction on Wharf road. Now, buy-to-let shower gel bottles huddle metres away. Perhaps there is an artist who could take pleasure in drawing their grimly ribbed exteriors, but I don’t think Tal R would find much to work with here—now he’s back, several episodes later. His recent paintings are ghost-signs of sorts, streetview transmissions of layered, coincidental softness, warmths, absorbent shadows. Gleaned from snaps of red-light establishments sent in by helpful acquaintances all over the world, Sexshops unearths fruitful cues for Tal R’s pictorial tics in an Esperanto of the shopfront. You might wonder if he’d said it all in 2012 with Framer At Night, a dangerously cute idea dispatched from mind’s eye to canvas with the succinct, autumnal perfection you might have thought the preserve of Sempé. But while the sense that he will never tire of inveigling the world’s trappings into robust patterns is made so plain in the pictures, neither will we.
Earlier canvases had a boisterous, hell-for-leather quality, completion reached by drastic, sometimes self-destructive manoeuvres. Flecks and gobs of messy color hung in the air as if sneezed, enlivening the painting’s space. Squirted worms and fondant-finished oil have been supplanted by fresco-ey dispersion—here, the powdery colored dust peeping out; there, melting into the thirsty surface steeped in rabbit skin glue. An impressive train of canvases, premiered in his recent Louisiana survey, depicted imaginary freight cars, expressed as gnomic xylophones. A video revealed stages of their execution, and it was illuminating to see underlays of Per Kirkeby-like slathers, or most surprisingly, the heavier sauces of Sean Scully. These exclamations were then dialled way down in the mix, all-but-obscured by more definitive closing remarks in chunky opacity. And in the Sexshops canvases too, despite the paint being broth-thin, there is smouldering beneath the surface. At times, rivulets and dissolving backgrounds suggest the screever reinstating his rain-washed pavement chalking.
Image: Tal R, Bar Farao, 2017