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Naked over tea

Depicting the female form amid ornate surroundings, and raising questions about how his abstract subjects exist through time, Israeli artist Tal R's tea-tinged exhibition "The Oolong" at Contemporary Fine Arts ends Jun 6. Catch it now!

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Photo courtesy of Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin, Jens Ziehe

In Tal R’s current exhibition at Contemporary Fine Arts, the only piece that doesn’t feature a woman is “Rosa mirror”, a painting of a gigantic mirror which the artist found in a brothel. Massive, ornate, flanked by elaborate curtains, a box of tissues and a vase of wilting flowers, the mirror is startlingly blank. Instead of a reflection, we’re faced with a vast oval of faintly glittering black paint. The empty mirror stands in stark contrast to the (mostly nude) portraits of women that make up the rest of The Oolong.

The Copenhagen-based Israeli artist’s subjects range from friends and family to complete strangers invited to pose in hotel rooms over a cup of oolong tea. The result is a diverse collection that depicts female bodies as fluid, amorphous entities of varying colours and shapes, focusing more on the way women fit into their surroundings than on how they actually look. Tal R will take great care to show a wallpaper pattern, but leave a nose a mere blurred line.

The subjects might be mostly anonymous and sometimes almost uncomfortably abstract, but there is still something intimate about the project. The moments Tal R examines here are small and insignificant, consisting of a cup of tea and a drawing, but he makes them feel important, like they will go on forever.

This sense of time passing is most obvious in Tal R’s works on paper. Based on sketches done from life, in hotel rooms, on paper he made himself and stained pink or purple or blue, these delicate pieces have a cartoonish quality to them. Not just because of the exaggerated features of the subjects, but also because they look like brief panels taken from longer stories.

A few of these images have more than one layer, as if the artist decided to save his carefully-created paper by simply painting over an old, discarded sketch: a girl reclining on a bed is superimposed over another girl (or is it the same one?) also reclining, but looking the other way, a plume of smoke from her outstretched cigarette curling over her head. In a similar piece, a diptych depicts first an empty bed, and secondly a woman sitting on the same bed, like panels torn out of a flip book.

Tal R’s faint under-images float out from his paintings like drawings of ghosts, or visions of the future. In the context of these temporal paintings, the inclusion of “Rosa mirror” here makes sense. Unlike a mirror, Tal R’s paintings show not only how subjects appear, but how they exist through time. 

The Oolong, through Jun 6 | Contemporary Fine Arts, Am Kupfergraben 10, Mitte, S-Bhf Hackescher Markt, Tue-Sat 11-18