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Tal R: Sexshop

Work / Art

Strip clubs and bordellos: Tal R’s hypnotic paintings of sex shops from around the world

“For 10 years I tried to escape art. I thought I was no good at it. I thought it was pretentious,” Tal R admits during a phone call with It’s Nice That; “I tried to give up on art but art didn’t give up on me.” From London’s Victoria Miro gallery to Copenhagen’s Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Tal R’s artworks have toured the globe. Sexshop is Tal’s long-term project, which saw the painter visit strip clubs and bordellos across the world, transforming their facades into an emulsion of mesmerising shapes and rich colours.

Tal was born in Tel Aviv but spent his formative years in Denmark. “When I was a child I used to take a bus to school that would zig zag through Copenhagen. It was impossible not to see pornography on the streets,” Tal recalls. His daily commute left its mark on the young boy: “As a child I would compare these women to my mother. Even as an adult, the sex shops carry an air of mystery. What’s inside isn’t as important as the exterior. It’s bound to be a disappointment,” he continues. After years worth of science fiction-inspired paintings and artworks that reimagine opium beds, turning his creative eye to a topic closer to home felt like a natural progression for Tal.

The outcome is a series of arresting paintings populated by blocks of primary colours and robust shapes. The compelling formations interact and bleed into one another, bordering on abstraction. Yet, each painting is based on a real location that either Tal or his acquaintances have visited and documented. “The most interesting aspect of these places is how they try to signal what’s on the inside through the exterior design,” Tal says. “Each facade offers something new – they are never corporate. Even if it’s in Paris where they tend to be more grand, I find that there’s something helpless about the shops’ exteriors.” The hypnotic shapes in Tal’s paintings are based on these designs. He reimagines the colours and formations in accordance with the painter’s creative intuition and the memories he holds of the place.

“There’s a weird connection between a sex shop and a painting. In both instances there’s an attraction, even if you don’t really know what they’re about,” Tal says. “The artist is often just as clueless and helpless about their paintings as the viewer is. Likewise, I never go into the shops. If I saw what was inside I wouldn’t be able to paint them. The imagination would be gone.” Tal emphasises the subconscious aspect of his creative process. Although unintentional, Sexshop is clearly influenced by Rothko and, as the project evolved, Tal could increasingly identify Rothko-esque colour fields in his work.

“When you turn your attention to a new body of work, you have one leg in the current moment — in this case, facades and sex shops — while the other leg remains in your existing portfolio. No matter what you decide to focus on, you will inevitably draw on your previous experiences. It is important to embrace this. It is what is going to help you progress while maintaining your own distinct style.”

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Tal R: Sexshop

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Tal R: Sexshop