“[Africa represents] a kind of overall cleansing. The first reaction I always have when I arrive in Mali is to realize the uselessness of things. One paints out of pure necessity there … In Mali I get back in touch with the essence of the act of painting. There, either you do nothing or you work things through to the end. It’s all so difficult, so much heat, so much dust … the bugs eat the canvases, and it’s difficult to get materials … In those circumstances picking up the brush is a gesture made through absolute necessity.” (M. BARCELÓ, quoted in interview with M. F. Sanchez, 1992, Miquel Barceló 1987-1997, exh. cat., Museo d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Barcelona, 1998, p. 18)
With its earthly impasto and blazing hue that emulates the caked desert sand and beating sun of Mali, Talls is one of a number of works completed by Miquel Barceló following his trip to Africa in 1988. Executed that same year, Barceló’s large scale still life materially incarnates the scorched landscape of Mali, while an assortment of cut vegetables indicate the produce of the region. The title, Talls, which means ‘cut’ in Catalan, explicitly refers to the sliced produce. These vegetables, rendered in hues of alabaster, charcoal and burnt orange, process across a stark canvas of yellow, hazel, and white swathes of paint, coarsely dragged and dripped over the surface. Barceló mixes sand into his paint, enhancing the granular materiality and rich texture of the work. Amidst growing acclaim, Barceló left his native Mallorca for Mali in search of a new artistic direction free from the comfort of his now-established art practice. By escaping the stifling confines of Western artistic tradition, Barceló breathed new life into his practice. He claims to have experienced a ‘kind of overall cleansing’ that shifted his perceptions and inspired him to incorporate new subject matter and techniques reflecting his unfamiliar surroundings (M. Barceló, quoted in interview with M. F. Sanchez, 1992, Miquel Barceló 1987-1997, exh. cat., Museo d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Barcelona, 1998, p. 18). Barceló merges his exploration of African culture with his Spanish heritage – his still life resuscitates the bodegones in the tradition of the Spanish Old Masters and reinterprets the genre’s subject matter to capture elements of Malian society. Situated between two worlds, the work reflects the artist’s reinvigorated command of genre, surface, texture and composition, imbued with quiet serenity and formal harmony.