Leftovers – The Art of Tal R

Tal R first appeared on my radar a number of years ago, during one of our many trips back to my wife’s homeland, Denmark. A number of our friends were telling us about this new ‘wunderkind’ who was creating a stir in Denmark and beyond, mainly in Germany and the USA. I was intrigued, but did not follow it up, because as often happens, life got in the way.

Fast forward to Berlin, April 2019, where we were enjoying a spring break with Danish friends. We had been visiting a Danish artist living in Berlin and he informed us that Tal R was opening that very night with a small exhibition in one of Berlin’s top galleries. We duly turned up and the exhibition was a revelation to me; here was an artist plundering the giants of 20th century art to create a unique vision, which was solely his own.

Instrument, deer and kuldhare 2018, from the exhibition ‘Jew Cherry, Clown and Congo, April 2019, courtesy of Artist and Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin
Cat and Telephone, from the exhibition ‘Jew Cherry, Clown and Congo, April 2019, courtesy of Artist and Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin

Imagine my excitement, when I heard that he was shortly coming to Hastings with a major exhibition. Since moving to the area, I had been volunteering for what was then the Jerwood Gallery, which had opened in March 2012 and had played a major part in the continuing regeneration of Hastings. In 2019, the Jerwood Foundation and the Gallery Management parted company and a new era began for the gallery under its new name, Hastings Contemporary.

The grand reopening in July 2019 represented a new and exciting chapter for the gallery and the management wanted to open with a splash, by featuring an internationally acclaimed artist, albeit one not so well known in the UK.

When I walked into the gallery on the first day, I was not sure what to expect, but what greeted me in the entrance corridor was a sedate line of blue ships, standing out perfectly against a pink background, a brave but inspired choice. The exhibition was entitled ‘Eventually all Museums will be Ships’ and this definitely fitted the brief. The influence of Alfred Wallis, the naive Cornish Fisherman and Artist is clear and Tal R has himself spoken of his admiration for this artist’s work.

Hastings Contemporary; Hastings, Installation View; 2019. © Pete Jones pete@pjproductions.co.uk, courtey of the artist and the Victoria Miro Gallery, London
Hastings Contemporary; Hastings, Installation View; 2019. © Pete Jones pete@pjproductions.co.uk, courtesy of the artist and the Victoria Miro Gallery, London

However, when I entered the main foreshore gallery, my senses were overpowered by a riot of colour, the walls filled with large bold work encompassing many different styles, varying from his earlier works, right up to more recent paintings along the back wall, some of them similar in style to his Berlin works that I had seen just 3 months earlier. The overall impact was overwhelming and moving; Tal R seems to have that effect.

Hastings Contemporary; Hastings, Installation View of Foreshore Gallery; 2019. © Lens and Pixel, courtesy of the artist and the Victoria Miro Gallery, London
Hastings Contemporary; Hastings, Installation View of Foreshore Gallery; 2019. © Lens and Pixel, courtesy of the artist and the Victoria Miro Gallery, London

So who is Tal R that he can have such an effect on people? Tal R, whose full name is Tal Rosenzweig, was born in Israel in 1967 to a Czechoslovakian Jewish father and Danish mother, but has spent most of his life from the age of 1 in Denmark. When you hear Tal R speak you can hear that he is a typical Copenhagener, and in many ways, to use the Danish expression, he is ‘Pæredansk’, which roughly translates as ‘Danish through and through’.

However, like all people of mixed backgrounds, there is something of the outsider about him, not quite fitting in, that I think informs his work as an artist. He absorbs influences like a sponge from diverse sources such as Matisse, Picasso, Chagall, the Abstract Expressionists and closer to home from that great iconoclast Asger Jorn, one of the Danish founding members of the Cobra group. Combine that with elements of ‘outsider art’ or ‘art naif’, comic book art and an innate understanding of colour and you end up with the unique talent that is Tal R.

Tal R has a word for it, which is the Hebrew word ‘Kolbojnik’ ,which roughly translates as Leftovers and brings into his art all the ‘creative potential’ of what has been thrown out. In the exhibition, one of his earliest works on show was ‘Lords of Kolbojnik’ a mixed media work packed with cultural references. Personally, I find this picture too busy and is not as compelling as many of his later works.

Hastings Contemporary; Hastings, ‘Lords of Kolbojnik’ 2003. © Lens and Pixel, courtesy of
the artist and the Victoria Miro Gallery, London

One section of the exhibition was from a 2011 series called ‘Fog over Malia Bay’, a group of abstract paintings showing another side to Tal R, but still demonstrating his impeccable use of colour.

Hastings Contemporary; Hastings, ‘Fog over Malia Bay’ photograph by Author, courtesy of
the artist and the Victoria Miro Gallery, London

Also in the summer of 2011, an expedition was made to Greenland on the ‘Activ’, a Three Mast Schooner, containing a crew of scientists, artists and philosophers with no brief, in an experiment to see what this unusual mixture of disciplines would bring back from one of the last untouched wildernesses on Earth.

Tal R was one of the invited crew and in less than 2 weeks, produced dozens of drawings, produced at great speed with only crayon and paper, recording his immediate sensations of the unique world surrounding him. The series is called ‘Qaqqarsuaq’ and was shown in the main foreshore gallery on the walls and in display cabinets in the centre of the room. To see all these works together, some figurative and some abstract, but all in luscious colours, was one of the highlights of the exhibition.

Hastings Contemporary; Hastings,’Qaqqarsuaq’2011,. photograph by Author, courtesy of
the artist and the Victoria Miro Gallery, London

One of my favourite paintings at the exhibition was ‘House Red, 2018’; it is, on the face of it, a simple painting, almost childlike. But there is something about it that gets under the skin, it excites but disturbs at the same time. There is a story here, but we don’t know what it is and so we have to draw the story out of our own imagination. I think that this is exactly what Tal R is after, he wants us to be a participant in a painting, not just a passive onlooker.

Hastings Contemporary; Hastings,’House Red, 2018′, courtesy of
the artist and the Victoria Miro Gallery, London

In order to view Tal R’s own perspective on his Hastings exhibition, a short film which was made for Hastings Contemporary can be seen on the following link Tal R: eventually all museums will be ships

Tal R states in the film that he wants us to leave the gallery with a stone in our shoe, it’s not enough for the viewer to ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ the art, the art has to stick with us long after we leave. All great Art should make us think about more than the picture itself, it forces us to ask questions about the world and our place in it.

And for those who wish to delve deeper into the world of Tal R, I would highly recommend a video, produced by Louisiana Museum of Modern Art and filmed over a 6 month period, which sheds light on his life, his work and his motivations. Tal R: Louisiana Channel

Finally, I would also like to thank Hastings Contemporary for allowing me to use their photographs from the exhibition. Hastings Contemporary (and its previous incarnation Jerwood Gallery) has continued to be a beacon of cultural excellence in our area and beyond. Long may it continue once life returns to normal.

Published by John Bostock

Retired and living in St. Leonards on Sea, but still learning about life. All views are my own.

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