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TAL R WALK TOWARDS HARE HILL


TAL R WALK TOWARDS HARE HILL

Victoria Miro


Another Kind of Conversation Sam Thorne

In the far north of Denmark, towards Zealand’s tip, Tal R owns what he calls a ‘weird old summerhouse’. Over the course of a month or two, towards the end of the summer of 2013, when the days begin to get shorter though not yet cooler, he painted in the forest around the house. This he did most days, usually early in the morning, always returning to three different places. Rather than turning his attention to scenery that was particularly striking, he simply chose certain spots where he liked to sit. This habit you can discern from the small paintings he made over those weeks, collectively titled ‘Walk towards Hare Hill’, in which several motifs – a fallen tree, a forking road – return over and again. These works are, Tal R suggests, a few-dozen attempts to answer a single question: is it possible to paint in real-time? That is, rather than working from photographs or sketches, as he had before, what happens when you are forced to react to an environment – to try to pin it down – when it is always changing? Clouds pass, the light shifts, leaves rustle. These paintings were made quickly, sometimes at a rate of two or even three a day, and are endlessly responsive: place-sensitive rather than site-specific. Taken together, they describe a conversation with several settings, a dialogue rather than a soliloquy. As Tal R notes, ‘Monologues make people crazy.’ Think of Hamlet; the breathless, inwardly spiralling monologues of Thomas Bernhard’s talkers; or the unlistening characters in Samuel Beckett’s plays, and you might be inclined to agree. But Tal R’s conversations are silent rather than spoken, in part because he strongly believes that art will always be faster than language. The image is grasped first, clarity follows. Explanations come later. As Robert Irwin says, ‘Seeing is forgetting the name of the thing one sees.’ Each of the works in the ‘Walk towards Hare Hill’ cycle are painted on lap-sized canvases and pieces of masonite, wood or cardboard – in fact, whatever he had brought out to the summerhouse with him, mobile surfaces that could be easily carried through the trees. Few are larger than 60x50 centimetres, and most are less than half that size. Tal R had no particular plan for the works, though the small paintings proved challenging. They are the most compact pieces he has ever made. As he noted, small paintings are the hardest; scaling down is usually harder than going the other way.


Though the scenes are lush and gentle, the language that Tal R uses to describe his approach is unexpectedly violent: ‘You have to make choices, you have to cut through the landscape – that is a kind of brutality.’ Another word for this, he suggests, would be method. So we might want to think of these paintings as the modest results of a sensitive brutality. Tal R sees this particularly in the stripes that cut through many of the landscapes – a rendering of nature as something which teeters towards ornament, a wilderness schematised. But he remains always confident that nature will be recognized as such by the viewer. This is the agreement that has always existed with landscape painting, between artist and onlooker: shorthand is accepted for a longer description; a dot for a person; a line for a tree. Not a monologue or quite a dialogue, ‘Walk towards Hare Hill’ feels like another kind of conversation. But Hare Hill never appears in the paintings that bear its name. In fact, Tal R didn’t even know about the nearby hill when he was making them. On one of the last days of summer, he was taken there belatedly, by a friend. Hare Hill was, it transpired, almost classically picturesque – certainly a more typical setting for painting en plein air than the few spots he had been returning to. So, deliberately or not, the series skirts the more conventional idea of a landscape painting. This is the dream of a place before it is actually encountered, a circling of something unknown. Tal has said before that his art takes place at the peripheries, and in a similar way these paintings are situated, serendipitously, some distance from the obvious centre. As he said, ‘I always work in a labyrinthine way.’ Tal R’s 2012 exhibition ‘The Shlomo’ limned a whimsical character who is a wanderer and a dreamer. At the time, the artist predicted that, ‘In the next few years he will walk around in different forms: falling asleep, taking a nap in different paintings, disappearing into elevators, going into doors he shouldn’t go through. You try to create paintings where the viewer can wander around; now the Shlomo actually takes the position of the viewer. He’s going to get lost on our behalf.’ This nebulous, rootless figure is tinged with memory, lost eras, perhaps even the suggestion of ruination. It shouldn’t be surprising that Tal R has remarked that, ‘W.G. Sebald is a deep Shlomo!’ Shlomo, it should be said, is both the artist’s middle name and the name of a forgotten grandfather. He is a character of sorts, though one whose import hasn’t yet pulled into focus. He allows for a kind of permissiveness, perhaps, a sense of separation from what is being undertaken. As the critic Barry Schwabsky suggested, with Shlomo, Tal ‘has in some sort divided himself into two distinct roles, just as Alighiero Boetti divided himself up into Alighiero e Boetti’. Tal and Shlomo, Shlomo and Tal. But perhaps Tal R’s practice was Janus-faced from the start, moving between asceticism and excess? He became well-known for the restrictions he has placed on his working method: for a 2005 exhibition, for instance, the whole show comprised seven works made over the course of seven months from seven unmixed colours. But this is balanced by periods of compulsively prolific production, as in his 2008 exhibition ‘The Sum’, which comprised well over 200 works, or in the four years during which his old


studio played home to his students from Düsseldorf, morphing into an intensely social space, with visitors coming and going, cooking, sleeping and making. This period culminated in around 150 works, a period of accumulation followed by a purging or downsizing. Can Shlomo’s presence be sensed in ‘Walk towards Hare Hill’? Certainly the paintings involve a solitary wandering, a meandering feeling of waiting for the landscape to offer something up, and then taking a quick transcription, that has the feel of some earlier time. A year before the Shlomo works were exhibited, Tal R accompanied a group of scientists on a voyage to the inhospitable northeast coast of Greenland. Also on board were fellow artists Daniel Richter and Per Kirkeby. Tal R spent three weeks drawing the mountains and the sea. On cloudy days, or when conditions were too rough to work out on deck, he would retreat to the hold and continue to sketch. Soon after, he took this group of drawings back to his studio in Copenhagen and started working with them: ‘You pull out stuff. You take it one step away from the drawing you made in front of the sea and the mountains and the clouds. And what now looks like a weird line is actually a detail […] You pull it through a system, and at the end something beautiful happens: it’s completely not connected anymore to Greenland.’ Sketches here are a way of extrapolating from a place, a way of cutting to its essence while also being elsewhere. During the trip, Tal R made a liberating discovery. He realised that scientists are adepts when it comes to what his shipmates referred to as ‘non-productive information’. Everything that isn’t directly relevant to the question at hand is banked away for the future. Squirrelling scraps and half-formed thoughts away for a later date – isn’t that what artists do all the time? Tal R has a special word for this material, this hidden reserve: ‘kolbojnik’, which means leftovers in Hebrew, the waste container in which food scraps from the kibbutz are thrown. He used this to describe his practice of sifting a wide array of imagery. Indeed, his first exhibition in London, in 2003, was titled ‘Lords of Kolbojnik’ – an apotheosis of this approach. Also relevant here is Tal R’s encyclopaedia-like collection of some 200 collages – of postcards, doodles, drawings, snapshots. In the tradition of Hannah Höch’s Album (1933) or Gerhard Richter’s Atlas (1962–ongoing), this vast body of work is a compendious account of a working method (but remember: Tal R suggested that ‘method’ is just another word for ‘brutality’). The project, titled ‘Garbage Man’, which was begun in 1989 when the artist was a very young man, is shot through with the kolbojnik spirit. It is lapidary, somewhat Shlomo, walking towards something that hasn’t yet come into view.


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on canvas 60 x 50 cm 23 5/8 x 19 3/4 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on canvas 51 x 30 cm 20 1/8 x 11 3/4 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on canvas 56 x 40 cm 22 1/8 x 15 3/4 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on canvas 61 x 49 cm 24 1/8 x 19 1/4 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on canvas 60 x 50 cm 23 5/8 x 19 3/4 in detail page 4


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on canvas 45 x 55 cm 17 3/4 x 21 5/8 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on canvas 40 x 55 cm 15 3/4 x 21 5/8 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on canvas 45 x 35 cm 17 3/4 x 13 3/4 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on canvas 55 x 45 cm 21 5/8 x 17 3/4 in detail page 2


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on wood 28 x 23 cm 11 1/8 x 9 1/8 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on wood 33 x 28 cm 13 x 11 1/8 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on wood 30 x 22 cm 11 3/4 x 8 5/8 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on wood 28 x 18 cm 11 1/8 x 7 1/8 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on masonite 29 x 23 cm 11 3/8 x 9 1/8 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on masonite 32 x 23 cm 12 5/8 x 9 1/8 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on masonite 32 x 23 cm 12 5/8 x 9 1/8 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on masonite 33 x 29 cm 13 x 11 3/8 in detail page 10


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on masonite 28 x 24 cm 11 1/8 x 9 1/2 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on masonite 31 x 18 cm 12 1/4 x 7 1/8 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on cardboard 23 x 36 cm 9 1/8 x 14 1/8 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on cardboard 26 x 33 cm 10 1/4 x 13 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on cardboard 33 x 22 cm 13 x 8 5/8 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on cardboard 35 x 25 cm 13 3/4 x 9 7/8 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on cardboard 31 x 19 cm 12 1/4 x 7 1/2 in detail page 1


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on cardboard 38 x 26 cm 15 x 10 1/4 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on cardboard 28 x 18 cm 11 1/8 x 7 1/8 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on cardboard 25 x 18 cm 9 7/8 x 7 1/8 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on paper 26 x 33 cm 10 1/4 x 13 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on paper 31 x 25 cm 12 1/4 x 9 7/8 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Oil on paper 32 x 20 cm 12 5/8 x 7 7/8 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Ink on paper 28 x 24 cm 11 1/8 x 9 1/2 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Ink on paper 30 x 22 cm 11 3/4 x 8 5/8 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Ink on paper 34 x 18 cm 13 3/8 x 7 1/8 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Ink on paper 30 x 21 cm 11 3/4 x 8 1/4 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Ink on paper 29 x 21 cm 11 3/8 x 8 1/4 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Ink on paper 35 x 20 cm 13 3/4 x 7 7/8 in


Walk towards Hare Hill, 2013 Ink on paper 29 x 22 cm 11 3/8 x 8 5/8 in detail following page


Published on the occasion of the exhibition Tal R | Walk towards Hare Hill 13 March – 17 April 2014 at Victoria Miro, 14 St George Street, London W1S 1FE

Text by Sam Thorne Design by Martin Lovelock Photography by Anders Sune Berg, Farbanalyse, Cologne Edited by Martyn Richard Coppell Accompanying text image courtesy the artist Printed and bound by PUSH All images courtesy Tal R and Victoria Miro, London All works © Tal R 2014 Published by Victoria Miro 2014 ISBN 978 0 9927092 0 4

Copyright © The Victoria Miro Gallery All rights reserved. No part of this book should be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording or information storage or retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher


Victoria Miro 14 St George Street London W1S 1FE


Tal R | Walk towards Hare Hill