Synthesizing mobile technology with painting, Jeff Tallon first publicly displayed his QR Code works at the 2010 Toronto International Art Fair. The first artist to have used QR Codes in Canada, Jeff Tallon comments, “Like an early Roy Lichtenstein that provides narration, these works communicate textual material. By using QR Codes that encapsulate a message, viewers can take a photo of the work with the mobile phones and receive a text message or a link to the Internet.”

Looking at Jeff Tallon’s I Want you to Know (2011) a mixed media on canvas piece where the cell phone QR code is expanded to large-scale painting size is to see a full scale abstract whose ancient Mayan-like geometries also recall Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie-Woogie (1943) for its patterns. Scanning I Want you to Know with your cell phone you receive a QR code text message right back that reads: “I know we don’t always see eye to eye, but I want you to know, I love you.”

Art as a visual, art as text, and an artwork that involves a stream of very personal associations communicated seemingly abstractly through a canvas/artwork. And yet these visuals, and text, MP3 or video fragments we receive on scanning the QR codes, exist in a tendentious and difficult inter-relation between ourselves and the tools of technology that seemingly drive our destiny. Tallon’s innovation with a painterly form that crosses over into the world of Internet and media technology is convergence, a merging of identity with cell phone technology. This art form could be called relational art, or an aesthetic of connectivity! In this case, the new hybridity breeds a new art that Marshall McLuhan long ago presaged, calling it the “electrical re-tribalization of the world”.

Tallon’s great innovation is to integrate a dialogue between the painting and new technology. The QR code becomes a bridge to a world that is challenging the physical and direct experiential basis of culture. Visual phenomena exist on the screen as much as in the real world. These two worlds co-exist in Tallon’s painting. Text quotes have now evolved into media clips with Tallon’s QR Code paintings. One relays a You Tube video where one man recounts his near death experience and unconscious encounter with Satan after a swimming pool accident!

Sometimes the painted style underneath the geometric grid structures recalls Gerhard Richter’s painted squeegee style sweeps of paint. In so doing Tallon blurs the boundaries between the brush and the image. The result is often a kind of parable on painting in a world of transmittable transmutated images. We see this in The Falls (2010), a diptych that alludes to Niagara Falls and juxtaposes a swath of paint that has been cropped and set onto a pale blue background. The painterly element is isolated, set apart from the neutral pale coloured background.

Jeff Tallon’s most recent Courtesy of Jack Layton (2013), is homage to a celebrated and down to earth Canadian who played a major role in Toronto’s urban political scene takes a different tack than most. Talon is as exacting as a contemporary anthropologist of the everyday, for he seizes on the period of late August 2012, when the cityscape around Toronto’s City Hall (designed by Finnish architect Viljo Revell with Heikki Castrén and Bengt Lundsten) became a “people place”. Tributes to Jack Layton covered the public space, and this popular movement expressed how Jack Layton permanently and with a true sense of democracy transformed Canada’s political scene. The entire space became a performance piece with the public as collective actors in expressing their admiration for Jack. Whether on the concrete pavement, on the walls, as signs or messages, even hangings, the people’s admiration for Jack Layton was manifest in Nathan Phillips Square, and all over Toronto. Tallon’s re-configuration of the mediatic age, communicated through painting, using a QR Code presents video images of the public’s identification with, and love of, Jack Layton.

This world becomes a window of memory, a band of memory seen through the eyes of the new media, an environment of information. Images and information acquire a higher value than the physical necessities of life – homes, shelter, food. Transitional, at a point of experimentation, Jeff Tallon’s latest output brings art once again closer to the lived experience and out of the realm of fetish object. Links are established; bridges built between the physical act of painting and the powerful informational text or video fragment, the language of the media in today’s cyber world. Jeff Tallon’s art represents one of those seismic tremors in the world art’s shift from the physical material forms of art to the new emergent media technology that are so changing our sense of identity, of place, of culture. 

Engine Gallery, Toronto
May 2, 2013 – May 15, 2013