Tal R: Sexshops
UNTIL 20th DECEMBER
I was enjoying a lovely dinner the other night at an Italian in Shepherd Market, an 18th century square in the heart of Mayfair, when my dinner companion pointed out that the square was a treasure trove of brothels. Here? In Mayfair? Don’t believe you. After dinner he took me down a normal street, stopped and triumphantly said “there, that’s a brothel”. It looked like a normal, if slightly curious opening with a long winding pink staircase up. I still wasn’t convinced. But escalating a few steps and peering the corner, sure enough there was a discreet poster advertising the girls inside.
It wouldn’t have made for one Tal R’s tantalisingly inviting sex shop exteriors, but it turns out these establishments are part and parcel of our society – you just need to know where to look. The majority of us don’t know what goes on up those stairs or behind those walls. And let’s face it, we’re curious!
Copenhagen based Tal R doesn’t just paint sex shops, he paints massage parlours, swingers clubs, strip clubs and red light establishments from Antwerp, Prague, Tel Aviv and LA to name a few. Not that you can tell from the painting where you are geographically…. apart from maybe Dirty Dick, a former hostess bar turned cocktail bar, if you spot the hints of Parisian Belle Époque architecture. It turns out that Tal R doesn’t know what goes on inside either, painting the exteriors mostly from photographs sent by friends from around the world.
He paints the exteriors in seductive and illustrious colours, using rabbit skin glue and pure pigments to achieve the glowing storefront aesthetics. There is no branding, and it could be any other building at first, but we are no more the wiser about the goings on behind the closed doors and boarded windows, presenting us with an opening only to close it off again. He incites our desire and curiosity, then shuts us out.
The Pleasure (2017) shows nothing but a shut door set into a brick wall, with only the title to allude to what we might find behind it. The door seems to me like a mouth; wide and gaping, monster-like with white pointy fangs. Or if anyone has seen the movie Teeth , maybe that would make a more fitting analogy! Space itself becomes malleable in the visually complex, abstract pathways of colour in these stripped back compositions. And through it, he questions the very nature of desire.
Anyway, maybe I’ll look a bit closer next time I’m out in Soho.
Full list of works here
at Victoria Miro, London
until 20 December 2017