Israeli artist Drew Tal was born into the rich cultural melting pot of the Middle East in the 1960s. He grew up as an artist-anthropologist, soaking in the diversity of languages, cultural traditions, and textures of the Middle East at that time. Tal is known for his sensitive depictions of people from cultures other than his own, such as Muslim women and Asian children.
“Surrounded with such a colorful collage of ethnicities, languages, nationalities, cultures and religions made me realize from an early age that the world beyond me was a rich and complex place. This revelation opened my eyes to the exotic, and made me extremely curious about people and their religions, customs, costumes and histories.” – Drew Tal
Tal’s work explores ideas of beauty and identity. With his layering of texture and pattern over his photographs, he creates a medium which is somewhere between a photograph and a painting. Additional meaning is layered into his pieces by his choices of texture and pattern, giving them a strong sense of identity and continuity.
Opening Reception Friday, May 12, 2017 from 5 to 7pm
[n.b. that this event takes place in Santa Fe]
The works in Drew Tal’s new show “Silent Worlds,” which opens on May 11 at Turner Carroll Gallery, focus on the faces of children.
“There is an innocence in children but also a kind of underlying depth, judgment-free wisdom and fearless attitude that I find challenging and inspiring,” explains Tal, an Israeli-born artist who divides his time between living in Florida and the south of France.
“Silent Worlds” was inspired by a trip to the Forbidden City, a walled city within the city of Beijing, China. It features around a dozen large photographs layered with texture and pattern which were created through a process that Tal says is both laborious and artistically satisfying.
“The Forbidden City is a massive complex of palatial architecture that I found extremely fascinating,” he adds. “As I was wandering around the hundreds of impressive palaces and structures, I couldn’t help imagine what life was like behind these walls. I especially wondered what it was like for the children. The series of portraits I created zooms in on these sheltered children; some dressed in the finest of silks, some posed behind windows, all staring into the viewer’s eyes.”
Traveling, whether it’s to the remote Sahara desert, walled Medieval cities in Italy, the fjords in Norway, the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia or Medieval hilltop villages in France, has been an integral part of Tal’s personal and professional life for decades. Each journey, he says, has brought with it a fresh need to create.
“I am now and have always been very visual and therefore inspired and artistically stimulated by a great many different things,” Tal explains. “Typically, it is a face that will inspire me to begin a new piece, but I am also constantly inspired by old walls, trees, clouds, fabrics, nature and textures of all kinds.”
Contemporary Syrian War Poster shows the
reality of children’s existence in Syria today
Image by Australian street artist “Meek”,
stencil art of his “Begging for Change”
Roman emperors stole Egyptian obelisks with hieroglyphics boasting of acts of great Egyptian pharoahs. The Romans erected these obelisks, like cultural hostages, in front of their own most important structures, to show the dominance of Rome over Egypt. Likewise, when Christianity replaced pagan spirituality in Rome, Christians took this cultural hostage-taking a step further, by sticking a cross on top of the obelisk in front of the Roman Pantheon. This communicated the ultimate triumph of Christianity, over the pagan religions of the past. This one image, below, represents repeated cultural “replacement” from c. 1303, B.C.E., to the present day.
Egyptian obelisk from time of Ramses II, in front of Roman Pantheon.
Athena, Goddess of Peace and War, intact in Palmyra
The same Athena sculpture, after Isis destroyed its head and arms, at end of hall
The symbolism in Tal’s “Revelation” is dense. He “reveals” to viewers not only this woman’s individual worth, but he also poetically bridges the abyss of misunderstanding between Muslim and non-Muslim cultures. “I Am” is a significant statement, appearing in Exodus 3:13–15, when Moses says to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God
In Tal’s “Revelation”, the “I” singles out an individual from the group; the “Am”, refers to the universal, shared divinity in every human being, regardless of political, religious, cultural belief. Tal’s art effects change.
French street artist/photographer, JR, is one of today’s most engaging artists, using his art to help people all over the world make change. Rather than just creating images for people to ponder, he makes the people themselves into their own art. JR takes photographs of people in their communities, or has locals photograph themselves, all over the world. This helps people see that they can literally create their own reality, by rendering themselves as friend or foe within their respective community. JR won the TED prize (watch his incredible TED talk here). He asked Israeli and Palestinian people to make funny faces, printed monumental images of them, and mixed them together on each side of the wall separating the two areas. He used his art to magnify our similarities, rather than our differences. His art opens our eyes to the idea that we can share humor, rather than animosity, even in the face of major differences.
JR’s Inside Out project in Israel
Agnes Martin once told Karen Yank that the “circle is too expansive” as an art form. Karen later said it was perfect shape for her, because she could control it; because she understood its implications. In the same way Drew Tal uses the gaze on the circle of the face and the eyes to make a comparison of universal features.
Opening Reception Friday, July 22, 2016 from 5 to 7pm
[n.b. that this event takes place in Santa Fe]
Circumspection implies considering your actions carefully before moving forward. Such is the case with both American artist Karen Yank, and Israeli artist, Drew Tal. Yank was awarded a prestigious art award to study at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in New York, in 1987. Her teacher was the celebrated–if reclusive–New Mexico minimalist artist, Agnes Martin. Yank relocated with her family to New Mexico, where she still lives today. Her friendship with Agnes Martin would continue for two decades, until Martin’s death in 2004.
Agnes Martin often told Yank she was her only “real” student. She passed on her opinions about artistic process and philosophy to Yank. While Martin is well known for her grid drawings and line paintings, Yank sought a different shape. Martin’s horizontal line was reminiscent of the distant New Mexican horizon line, uninterrupted by natural form. Yank, however, saw the circle as the most perfect shape for her sculpture. From earliest civilization, the circle has represented the life-giving force of the sun; eternity; fertility, divinity. Yank created a large body of work using the circle, often with referencing Martin in her use of the line within her circles, as is evident in her piece called “Thrice” as well as in her “XO” series.
For Drew Tal, his environment produced circumspection, as he states, “Growing up in Israel in the ’60’s, was a blessing for me. At that time in history the young state was a true melting pot for millions of immigrants from all around the globe. Surrounded with such a colorful collage of ethnicities, languages, nationalities, cultures and religions made me realize from an early age that the world beyond me was a rich and complex place. This revelation opened my eyes to the exotic, and made me extremely curious about people and their religions, customs, costumes and histories.”
While Israel has experienced much political strife during Tal’s lifetime, he regards each human being as equally sacred, regardless of ethnicity or religion.
Located at the Fashion Industry Gallery, adjacent to the Dallas Museum of Art in the revitalized downtown arts district. Featuring new works by gallery artists Fausto Fernandez, Hung Liu, Squeak Carnwath, Drew Tal, Jamie Brunson, Rusty Scruby, Edward Lentsch, Wanxin Zhang, Suzanne Sbarge, Karen Yank, Scott Greene, Holly Roberts, and more! Fair hours are Friday and Saturday, April 15 and 16 respectively, from 11am to 7pm, and Sunday, April 17 from 12pm to 6pm, with an opening preview gala Thursday, April 14.
A link to the Dallas Art Fair is here.
Tal has a particular emphasis on the Muslim figure. From his childhood memories, the artist remembers: Israel was a colored collage of ethnic groups from North Africa and Eastern Europe, each with its own facial features, specific culture, customs and costumes. This fascination for the ethnic face never left him and he was the nucleus of his photographic art for the last 10 years.
DREW TAL: WORLDS APART
1. When you were a young boy growing up in Israel, what did you think of becoming when you got older?
I was very visual from an early age but I did not know where it was going to take me. It wasn’t until I got to New York City, in my early twenties, when I discovered photography and later on digital art that I found myself. I always knew that it was going to be something artistic and I first pursued architecture, but it was not as fulfilling as what I have since discovered later on in life.
2. How do you study humans?
The main subject in my photography is the human face, especially ethnic faces and their “exotic” features. In my travels I study ethnic groups of Asia, the Far East, India, as well as the Middle East, some of which are featured in my current exhibition. Travel ignites inspiration for me. When I visit foreign countries and observe the people in their unique garb, going about their daily routines, praying, celebrating, or even protesting, I absorb what they are, what they look like, how they are dressed as well as their colorful traditions. When I come back to New York, that inspiration leads to the creative process for me.
3. How do you come up with the different photo concepts and themes?
Creating is not something I calculate or premeditate. It is an instinct. It is an intuitive process. It could start with a person I see on the street, an exotic piece of Indian jewelry, an Arab model I discover online, that may spark the inspiration to create which leads to a strong desire to fulfill it. The next step is to capture it on film, followed by transforming that conventional image via digital tools, to a final art piece, which fulfills my artistic vision.
4. What takes longer for you, taking photos or editing them?
Taking the photos is usually simple and quick. Bringing it into the form of an art piece hanging on a gallery wall takes a very long time. Fortunately, I take pleasure in every stage of the process, from finding the right subject to photograph, designing the lighting, sets and styling of the photo shoot, up to the most important stage of digitally editing and transforming the chosen image. Editing and transforming a single image may take weeks, sometime months, but for me it is the most fulfilling stage of the process.
5. When do you know or feel satisfied with an image?
I can work on an image for a whole year, but then a special moment occurs. It is as when you take a very long journey, not knowing where the final destination is going to be, and then there is this moment when youknow you have arrived…a euphoric moment in which you feel complete and ‘at home’. I never go back or touch that piece after that moment.
6. How was it making the transition from fashion to art photography? How did you become involved with galleries and museums?
I was a fashion photographer for 15 or more years, but when I discovered digital tools such as Photoshop, I realized that there is more potential to conventional photography and decided to go in to that direction, mostly for myself. My fashion clients had no idea that I was working on the computer until four in the morning creating all these images. I did it to satisfy an inner need.
7. What is your favorite image out of all the images that you have?
It is the female half of a diptych image entitled ‘Porcelain Promises.’ Completing her was a euphoric moment. She is my favorite, and every time I look at her image it makes me happy. It took about a year of very difficult work to complete it, but the minute it happened I actually started laughing. It was in the middle of a night and I was alone. There was this one moment, after hundreds of different options, when the image looked just right. I stood up and started laughing. I thought I was going mad for about five seconds. It felt incredible. The image was done.
8. What advice do you have for emerging photographers?
Stay true to yourself and follow your own inner voice. It is always nice to hear other peoples’ opinions, but listen to your artistic inner voice and what it is communicating with you.
9. Tell us about your current project and its inspiration and message to the world?
This is another chapter in my travels. I have been to several Muslim countries, such as Morocco, Jordan, and various countries in South Asia such as Malaysia and Indonesia. Visiting those countries brought me the inspiration to create the pieces in this exhibition.
The message in the art is really what the viewer wants the message to be. They make up their own story while they are viewing a particular piece. I am really just an observer of these subjects. I agree with the concept that, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” –Edgar Degas
10. What do you want your audience to feel as they see your work?
I am celebrating the differences between societies, cultures and religions. I hope that the viewer will join me in celebrating the diversity in humanity and see that beautiful images can be created even of such “un-beautiful” subjects, like war and social injustice. Yes, we are different from each other, but perhaps there is something we all have in common, perhaps there is hope. There is beauty in all cultures. Although we are worlds apart from each other, there is some hope for mutual understanding and unity.
11. What is your astrology sign?
I am a Libra and my birthday is on October 7th.
Interview and photos by Marsin Mogielski
Kudos to Drew Tal! His “Porcelain Promises” was acquired for the museum’s permanent photography collection. The NBM is one of the nation’s most dynamic art museums which exhibits its permanent collection and special exhibitions on widely diverse subjects in ways that combine the highest aesthetic standards with engaging and intellectually accessible presentations. Tal’s “Porcelain Promises” is inspired by the tradition of ancestral paintings, a Chinese commemorative tradition in which wealthy families depict their ancestors in fine paintings. This particular pair of portraits symbolizes the fragility of relationships between
lovers, generations, cultures and nations. Drew Tal’s work is included in private collections around the world as well as in the permanent collection of the Norton Museum in West Palm