File Note 29: Tal R - Camden Art Centre

Esay by John Hutchinson



Tal R: An Introduction Images Questions to Tal R References Quote Biography Credits

Tal R: An Introduction

It is easy to dismiss Tal R’s paintings, which are grubby, casual and intimate in an off-hand way. ‘Dirty minimalism’ is how he has described his style, and it is as good an epithet as any. Tal likes to scavenge along the frontiers and boundaries of our times, rummaging though cultural detritus to see if there is anything of interest that he can recycle or make his own. There is something abject and provocative about this kind of slumming, as he well knows, but he carries it off with great charm.

Tal, I’m convinced, is the real deal. I’ve worked with him twice, hope to collaborate again, and I’ve had dozens of engaging conversations with him. Many of them were full of perceptive insights on his part, which rather took me aback. And he taught me a thing or two about the richness of ambivalence. Tal is the only person I know, apart from Christian Boltanski, who will tell you truthfully that he is lying and can still manage to be both revealing and honest.

Over the course of our friendship Tal and I have swapped music and books. I introduced him to the ruminative novels of W.G. Sebald; he told me about Cat Power’s melancholic version of Satisfaction. There is a clue to his sensibility here, and another in the comparison to Boltanski. What Tal doesn’t talk about, and what his work doesn’t directly reveal, is the sadness that influences his work. He’ll usually change the subject if you refer to such things, but there can be deep feeling in his paintings, sensible somewhere between the joints and the cracks.

When we worked together on a solo show for Dublin, I told him that I would like to run it concurrently with a small exhibition of paintings by Hilma af Klimt. I didn’t know how he would respond to this suggestion, suspecting that he might find her spiritual abstraction a bit too earnest and high-minded. A broad grin spread across his face. ‘I’d be honoured’, he said. ‘I’ve always admired her very much’. I was surprised, but I later discovered a snapshot of one of Hilma af Klimt’s pictures half-hidden in an illustration in his Lords of Klobojnik catalogue. Tal’s influences are more complex than you might think.

Tal once told me to read Pan, an obscure novella by Knut Hamsun. Like the author, the characters in Pan are full of contradictions, some of them ugly and disagreeable. It is a sensual, angry, and crazy little book. ‘What interests me’, Hamsun wrote about himself, ‘are my little soul’s endless emotions, the special, strange life of the mind, the mysteries of the nerves in a hungry body’. 

This is something that Tal R might have said.

Questions to Tal R

When you are painting, what goes on in your mind; do you ponder and make conscious decisions, or would you describe it more as a subconscious or intuitive process? Timo Heikkila, friend
At one time, I use to think of the process of doing a painting as the search for a point of authority, so that a painting achieves it’s own authority.
But today is Thursday evening and I prefer a more romantic explanation. To make a painting is to search for the heart. The bitter search of the heart, for me, always starts as a response to something I see. It may be an image — something like tree-men riding towards a peculiar house. Secretly embarrassingly, I am not interesting and secretly embarrassingly the horse-riders are not interesting either.
So my only friend in the desert is to lean one hundred percent towards the response — to go for the heart of the response. In this game, there isn’t time and I don’t have the patience to ask for reasons. The painting searches for the little tolerated, but grand point, of no discussion. I used to be picky in my choice of motives. Only certain kind of images were considered useable. But more and more, I lose all stupid education and now very few motifs are un-useable.

What is the difference between good and bad art? Christoph Ruckhäberle, artist
Good art has a tendency to make people quiet. Good art challenges and seduces you to listen to something you don’t understand. Good art is always in the valley and outside the valley at the same time. Good art arises from somewhere deeply subjective, but finishes objectively. Good art will break the afore mentioned rules.

What is the funniest story you know? Adam Gillam, artist
Sigmund Freud’s Der Wolfsmann.

Why does art have a tendency to undermine morality? Viktor Henderson, Tal’s assistant
Art has a tendency to question structures, which in many cases will be undermining. I guess that’s the Mr. Correct answer.
Actually art doesn’t exist but people doing art are quite real.
I have been a liar as long as I remember. I am not proud of it and I never admit this to anybody. I should be thinking about undermining morality, but I never think about something so glamorous. I only think about what is possible for me to do; I go anywhere for this.
I guess in terms of your question, this kind of approach can easily be judged as immoral, but I am shamefully not part of that debate. It is not possible for me to define what Art is. Art is a bad idea. Painting is horrible. So in this landscape I try to recognise that, in my heart, there is a chance, a possibility, that there is a time for no morals and especially not my own morality.

What’s the best advice you have ever received? Peter Linde Busk, artist
To develop something, you have to invest in losing.

What is happiness? John Hutchinson, Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin
Once, I connected the feeling of getting lost to happiness; and sleeping as the superior commander in the house of happy-memory can be a sexy feeling. But translated into emotion, it’s somehow half-happy, half-sad forever. It might not answer the question, but I notice that every day I lose more and more interest in myself. I never think about happiness.


W.G Sebald

Knut Hamsun

John Fante


Cheng Man-Ching, writings on T’ai Chi who recommends to ‘invest in losing


Bonnie “Prince” Billy

Stephin Merritt

Sandy Denny

All music coming from a music box

Anything sad and sexy played on organ

‘ Please defend yourself against my disasters.’ Ike Turner


Tal R was born in 1967 in Israel and has lived and worked in Copenhagen since completing his studies at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in 2000. From 2005–7 Tal R was guest professor at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. Recent solo shows include ‘Tal R: The Look’, Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo; ‘Working hard during the day naked at night’, Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, São Paulo; ‘Tal R’, Kunsthalle Mannheim, Mannheim (all 2007). Tal R curated ‘Huts’ and had a solo exhibition ‘House of Prince’ at Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin in 2004. Tal R is represented by Victoria Miro Gallery, London; Zach Feuer Gallery, New York; Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin.


Tal R: An Introduction
John Hutchinson is Director of Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin

Questions to Tal R
Friends and Acquaintances 

Supported by the Danish Embassy and The Danish Arts Council.