“The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits
the sight.” The underlying restlessness in our acts of seeing to which John Berger refers amplifies even further when that which we know as existing in faraway lands confronts us, fixes its gaze upon us and reveals something beyond our realm of knowing. Drew Tal, an artist who works at the overlap of photography, painting and digital imaging, carefully constructs for us such confrontations from around the globe and makes us see that which we know as belonging to the exotic and inaccessible.
A tapestry of undulating white suddenly interrupted by a set of beautifully adorned piercing eyes, a digital portraitof a Vietnamese family convincingly like a medieval tempera painting, a female figure blending into the oriental pattern on the wall, shaped only by the stark black curve of the hijab—each image is an interaction that stirs the elemental emotion arising from someone’s gaze meeting yours. Drew carefully constructs these images in an un-layering of ethnic stereotypes, artfully celebrating the beauty and accoutrements that symbolize people who live in a different cultural context than ours, while making sure that what we connect with in the image isn’t what separates them from us, but the universal humanity that binds us to the subject in the portrait.
In “Worlds Apart,” an exhibition of Drew’s art that opened in New York and traveled on to Paris, the artist created a series of new works symbolically inspired by the Silk Road—”the ancient network of interlinking trade routes across the Afro-Eurasian landmass.” Duggal has been working with Drew for more than a decade, and producing the pieces for his exhibition was a creative collaboration between our team, who intuitively understands how each one of his prints should be exhibited. The dynamism and innovation in Drew’s images were matched with the equally diverse choice of printing and mounting substrates we offer, ranging from digital photographic paper, fine-art textured paper, fabrics and gallery plexi. The larger-than-life portraits hung on gallery walls take the viewer on a journey across Asia, each portrait layered with symbolisms that invoke reflection on the culture the subjects inhabit.
“The main subject in my photography is the human face, especially ethnic faces and their ‘exotic’ features,” Drew notes. “In my travels, I study ethnic groups of Asia, the Far East, India, as well as the Middle East. Travel ignites inspiration for me. When I visit foreign countries and observe 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 and their colorful traditions. When I come back to New York, that inspiration leads to the creative process for me.”
Every image Drew creates is highly researched and crafted with skill—from finding the right subject to photograph, designing the lighting, sets and styling of the photo shoot, to digitally editing and transforming the chosen image. As Drew states, “Editing and transforming a single image may take weeks, sometimes months, but for me it is the most fulfilling stage of the process. 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 you know 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.”
This meticulous process of taking each image “home” makes itself visible in the series in Drew’s recent exhibition.
In “Light from Within,” Drew puts a spotlight on the subject’s eyes. “I am enchanted by the eyes,” he declares, “and in this series, I highlight their shape, expression, depth and beauty. I focused the light predominantly on the subject’s eyes and let the shadows fall on the rest. My intention is to grant the illuminated eyes an unspoken voice and let them tell the most intimate of stories.”
In the series “Infallible Symmetry,” he covers the Islamic and Indian portraits in vegetal and geometric patterns. “The infinite symmetry found in these intricate patterns is considered to be divine. The result is a seamless union of the human and the divine, celebrating and complementing each other’s essence,” says Drew.
The “Veil, Unveiled” series comprises a set of subjects wearing the traditional hijab. While these pieces may be laced with sociopolitical implication, Drew leaves the purpose of the veil’s presence up to the viewer’s interpretation. “Perhaps because I grew up around Islam—the city of my childhood had a large Muslim population—I find that practice to be straightforward and uncomplicated,” he notes. “I simply find the veil to be an integral element of my subject’s identity and uniqueness. I am not compelled to examine, explain or politicize the purpose of the veil’s presence and in my art I prefer to leave it to the viewer’s interpretation.”
Behind every artist is a team of patrons, supporters and collaborators who help birth his or her artworks into the public domain. It’s our privilege to have played that role in bringing Drew’s beautiful work into the limelight, as his passion for pushing the boundaries of what’s possible digitally and how it translates into fineart collectibles is a true inspiration for us. I’m proud to quote Drew’s acknowledgement of our work with him: “Over the past seven years, my fashion photography evolved into digital art, and I can always count on Duggal to offer the very latest, cutting-edge technology in printing and mounting. My art has been exhibited in many fine-art galleries and museums around the world, and Duggal is the one source that consistently provides and produces museum-quality pieces I’m very proud to display.”