‘I like the fantasy more than the real’
Danish artist Tal R tells Alastair air Sooke why his coveted, colourful rful paintings are like strip clubs
‘Paradis” reads the sign by the entrance to Tal R’s studio in Copenhagen. But when I arrive, the barking emanating from within sounds more like the hounds of hell. Tentatively, I open the door to the building – a former print studio that the Israeli-born Danish artist has occupied for seven years – and a Great Dane called Fanny, who is almost as tall as my chest, comes bounding towards me. “Sorry!” cries Tal R, in a high-pitched voice, from the other end of the room. “Fanny is beautiful and loyal, but she understands very little.”
A charismatic character in a white baseball cap, Tal R – whose paintings can be found in permanent collections everywhere from Stockholm’s Moderna Museet to the Art Institute of Chicago – is strikingly boyish, despite having recently turned 50. His faded yellow T-shirt reveals forearms covered in tattoos, which he designed himself. We don’t shake hands, because his are covered with blue paint – since April, he has been preparing for an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, due to open next year.
Before that, though, he will be in London, for a show opening later this month at the Victoria Miro gallery, where he will display up to 14 canvases from a body of work that he calls Sexshops. In this ongoing series of around 45 paintings (on which he has been working intermittently since 2014) Tal R depicts the faÇades of brothels, strip clubs, massage parlours, and other red-light establishments all over the world, from Antwerp to Los Angeles.
I find the most recent picture from the series leaning against a wall. Like the others, it is a remarkably flat image, composed of nothing but a narrow red door in a wall of gorgeous colour comprising two bands of russet and saffron, divided by a strip of emerald green. Above the closed door is a sign emblazoned with the Egyptian Eye of Horus, a pair of sinuous, silhouetted dancers, and the words “Bar Faraon” and “Kabaret”.
“It’s a bar in Prague,” Tal R tells me. “And ‘kabaret’, in Prague, means something more than just drinking. So, this place is dodgy. You don’t know if you want to enter.”
Is it a nightclub he knows well, I ask, innocently. Tal R laughs. “Of course, I have been inside sex
Drawing in the eye: some of Tal R’s earlier work, including Lords of Kolbojnik, 2002, left, is on show at Louisiana Museum of Modern Art near Copenhagen
‘ Bright colours have nothing to do with “happy” ’: Tal R’s Chez La Souris, 2017