Tal R Brings Düsseldorf’s Old City to New York City
The Israeli artist Tal R is known for his expressionistic, flamboyant scenes of urban life; off-kilter and rendered in unexpected colors, his portraits and landscapes are constructed quickly and with a joyful, suggestive exuberance. This month at Cheim & Read, the 47-year-old artist is revisiting an ongoing series of his, “Altstadt Girl,” which saw its genesis in his wanderings through the Altstadt section of Düsseldorf, Germany, where he once taught as an art professor.
In the greater body of Tal R’s art—which includes mixed media and video art—he has described the core of his practice through the Yiddish word for “leftovers,” kolbojnik. This body of work, which explores odd social interactions and focuses on disjointed private moments, speaks to the artist’s broader interest in what’s been unexamined or lost to history.
Altstadt translates as “old city” in English; the work on display features subjects the artist knows only in passing, or as complete strangers, posed in the private interior spaces—hotel rooms, bedrooms, empty corridors—of the city’s buildings, many of which date back to the 15th century. Sketching quickly on the pink paper he carries with him in a suitcase to these intimate locations, Tal R seeks to capture the occasional awkwardness of these fleeting interactions, using pigments, crayon, and fast-drying rabbit glue. He says his work “arises from the private”—those moments in which the figure is unguarded and exposed, and in which he and the subject are familiar to each other solely through the moment of the artwork’s production.
In his style of angular, visceral image-making Tal R invokes expressionism and folk art in equal parts, skewing perspective and providing occasionally psychedelic, yet detailed, accounts of the cramped and musty quarters in which his subjects pose. Some images, such as S (2014), depict this process as it happens; others, such as Traindrivers Daughter (2014), are translated to canvas with Tal R’s exuberant hand in saturated colors, the paints of which are occasionally squeezed straight from the tube. “The face, the eyes, the pillows, the windows, the tapestry all carry information and meaning,” says the artist; his figurative paintings strive to translate that information through his site-specific, highly emotive process. In this show, that well-considered practice can be glimpsed through the presentation of the work from concept to sketch to final product.