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For Tal R’s latest show “Altstadt Girl” on view at Cheim & Read in New York, he started by asking strangers—all female—to pose for him clothed, partially nude, and nude, in locations like hotel rooms, bathrooms, in front of mirrors, and within the “privacy” of their own homes. Last week, the Copenhagen-based artist walked a group of press, including Whitewall, around the new series of paintings and drawings (some viewable from a colorful, patchwork couch made by the artist).
He explained that asking strangers to pose for him created a sense of anxiety that aided a necessary element of uncertainty in his painting. He translated that “awkwardness” through saturated color, abstraction, distortion, and askew compositions. Cluttered backgrounds and environments distort his female figures, rendered in varying bright colors and confident lines and shapes. “It’s a carnival for ideas that have no form,” Tal R said. “This time it’s girls—but it doesn’t make a difference whether it’s a boat, a girl, a little boy, a nude man. It’s all the same.”
He chooses unfamiliar subjects because he feels the disconnect best propels his creativity and allows him to only be guided by the knowledge he’s given—their physical attributes. “I don’t need them to open up to me, I need them to be strangers,” he said. Only one painting, ET, is of a person familiar to him, and he told us it was the hardest for him. It is of his wife rendered in profile, the background absent of objects.
Walking around the show, Tal R was full of one-liners. Like this one he offered, “Mistakes do not close down arguments, they open them up.” He said this in reference to The Shower, which he started by accidentally drawing the subject too high in the composition. He decided instead to re-paint the tile background with rabbit skin glue to “fix” the subject’s placement. After adding a border and fine lines for balance, the once-mistake now looks purposeful. It looks deliberate, and perhaps, therefore, it just may be.
But what is definitely deliberate is his belief in the similarities between art and love. “Painting is emotional, intuitive, obsessive. You have to know how to handle it. [It is] the same reason why you never marry your first love: you need to know how to handle it and you don’t, so you take time to figure that part out.”