Q&A with John Tallman, artist and co-curator of Therely Bare

John Tallman, Ambrosia

How did you get together this group of artists from all over the globe? And is the group still growing or is it an established selection of artists?

I made contact with Guido and Iemke about 10 years ago. Through early diy blogs and artist run spaces. It's grown over time organically. I came across Kwangyup's work about 20 years ago but have just been in direct contact with him for the past couple of years. The line up isn't written in stone but there is a core group of engaged people. We would like to add some younger artists for future projects, but of course they'd need to be a good fit.

What criteria do you look at when choosing participating artists?

Well of course it has to be non-objective. Beyond that, it's all about what the work looks like and whether it's interesting or not. The work has to be smart. We know what we like when we see it. We’re not interested in art that has too much of a narrative to it or that employs too much “illusionistic” space. What we don't look at is nationality, resume, age, gender, whether you are an established artist etc.

Guido Winkler, Even, Uneven

Therely Bare has been an ongoing, traveling exhibition. Where did it first start and who was a part of its genesis?

Our first show was in Chattanooga in 2011, then it went to Zeitgeist and then Kent State U. That time I co-curated with Ron Buffington. Most of the artists that time were people I had been in contact with previous to that. It seemed to me there were these artists making paintings that were subverting the notion of painting from the inside. Not taking any of the standard practices for granted.

What is the significance of making non-objective art in a culture that tends to objectify and commodify?

Very significant. Just doing or making any kind of art is a political statement and making non-objective art is saying something radical, I think. For exactly that reason, how do you commodify something that many people approach and say “what is it”? It’s an object but people don’t know how to “put it to use”. Art that makes an overt “statement” people can handle, “oh he makes paintings of trees, he wants to save the environment”. But with non-objective art, unless you’re at the really high end, it resists commodification to a large degree. Which is neither good nor bad, it just is.

What are the connections with Robert Ryman that you most feel connected to?

Ryman’s whole program is investigating the materiality of paint on a support. Early on in his career he decided that he wasn’t making a “picture”, so it was like, anything goes within certain limitations. All his logic followed after that. People get caught up in the white painting, thinking it’s a kind of negation when it really is not. Using white freed him to endlessly explore other areas of painting. I feel connected to Ryman’s focus on a practical level and on an emotional level I love the beauty of his work.

Kate Beck, Uptick

How has living in Tennessee effected your practice?

The beauty of this type of non-objective work is, you can make it anywhere. It’s an international style. You can’t tell by looking at Gudio’s work that it was made in the Netherlands or that Mel Prest lived in San Francisco. That doesn’t mean any artist’s environment isn’t somehow in there, it just doesn’t proclaim itself to the viewer directly. (the exception to this might be Kate Beck). So I could say living in Tennessee hasn’t affected my practice at all. I’m surrounded by nice trees and lawns, etc along the Appalachian Mountains so from Maine to Georgia it all looks pretty much the same. Perhaps if my studio was in Iceland where the light and landscape were quite different it would affect my practice.

What are some differing receptions to your collective as you exhibit from region to region?

We’ve gotten great reactions wherever we’ve gone. I think when people see the work in person, they get it. It’s harder to react to the work in photographs because it really is experiential and how the work exists within the exhibition space is crucial. People in Greece at Art Athina where great, coming up and asking questions about it, very curious because we were so different from anything else there. About 35,000 people came through for that Art Fair. We matched what people were wearing to the work on view and took their picture. We’re not snobs about it, and we talk to everybody. We want the work to be accessible. Nashville has been great too, we’ve loved the write ups we’ve had.

Would you say the approach to make non-objective, minimal art is universal?

John Tallman, Player

Every artist has their own approach to making. However they arrived at approach exactly is probably a mystery and involved many factors, like their education, philosophy, upbringing, environment, temperament, sensibility and on and on. What’s interesting to me is how artists of these different backgrounds and histories have arrived at approaches that address similar concerns about this thing we call Art, or Painting or Minimal Art. There are similar roots like an interest in Ryman or Donald Judd. It’s a universal language that has certain vocabulary and certain grammar rules, but we say something different with it (sometimes it can be very subtle). That might be an over simplification but there you go.

How did the idea come about to start a traveling group exhibition?

It’s art I want to see exhibited. It’s art I want to promote and put out there. It’s a great way to make connections with people, the artists themselves, the exhibitors and the general public. These days, and this has been going on for awhile, you can’t just sit back and wait for things to happen as an artist. I was influenced and inspired by different projects around the globe—Sydney Non Objective (run by Billy Gruner), IS Projects in the Netherlands (run by Guido & Imeke), and Jeffrey Cortland Jones too has done a lot of curating. We all feed off each other and support each other. 

see Therely Bare Redux, on view at Zeitgeist through August