INTERVIEW WITH MARK TALLOWIN by Caitlin Murray

In early March, British artist Mark Tallowin exhibited three works in a show he titled “Bowling Ball Request.”  The pieces were conceived and created during Mark’s few month stay in Marfa, Texas.  The exhibition took place on the second floor of the Masonic Lodge in downtown Marfa off of Highland Avenue.  The following is a short interview with Mark about these pieces, a what, how, and why if you will.


Tell me about your show titled “Bowling Ball Request,” installed on the second floor of the Masonic Lodge in Marfa, Texas.

Its been very last minute, that’s my main thought. We only got the go-ahead on the venue a week and a half before the opening, everything that’s been made has happened since then.

Saying that, in a way this show is two years old, or at least it’s name is. Two years ago I was trying to track down a couple of bowling balls to make a sculptural idea I’d just stolen from a friend. So I made a quick poster asking anyone if they knew of any bowling balls around Marfa; I made my “bowling ball request”. A fair few people didn’t even notice the small print on top of the black ink and thought it must have been a poster for some kind of show. But magically the next morning I had a couple of bowling balls waiting for me on my door-step. I realized soon after that I was actually more into the weird wording of “bowling ball request” than the sculpture itself. I gave up on making the thing and let my mate keep her idea.

So when this Texas show started getting thought about, I figured that I’ve already got a decent title for it and a good poster too. The reason this poster is so plain is that I really didn’t have any details to put on it yet, I didn’t know how or what or where things were going to work out. But some people were already excited about the whole thing so I figured if I make the poster first then things have got to work out. I tend to have to make things difficult for myself to get anything at all done, and it all worked out because a certain Fairy Godmother worked her magic and got an amazing place for the show.

What about the works themselves? What exactly are you exhibiting?

I made three glass paintings, and placed one on each of the three little platforms, which were up against the walls in the Lodge. The platforms were all of different heights, but the pieces were each cut to differing sizes, so that when they were lent back against their supporting wall, they would reach the same vertical point up the wall; the first ridge of the wooden dado rail.

They’re text paintings more than anything else: the word pairings came before the glass. EGGS HEMINGWAY was the first I decided upon. Strangely enough some people read it as ‘Eccs Hemingway’ and started off down an ‘Ecce Homo’ track, not something I was expecting. They’re a pair of words that come together in a very particular way. I’m unsure if either term takes precedence over the other in this arrangement, if Hemingway belongs to the Egg’s or if the Egg’s are Hemingways.  A friend of mine who saw the show said (roughly, and with astonishing hand gestures) “Mark Listen, I can see that this thing has something do with the breakfast of Mister Hemingway, like Eggs Benedict, that sort of thing, but is it also his Heuvos, his ‘Egg’s’? The Balls of Hemmingway?”

I wanted to make two more sets of word pairings for the remaining two pictures. When my brain ran into a brick wall trying to track down the kind of words I was after: tight words, not fussy, nothing Street and nothing exotic or technical enough to let anyone feel smug that they know it; I resorted to the scrabble word tables. It was just a way to keep moving and keep the options open having already discounted so many.  To make myself understood before I muddy the waters; this work has got next to nothing to do with scrabble, not anything much to do with four letter expletives and absolutely nothing to do with the Masonic tradition. I guess Barney’s killed that for the rest of us. Blind luck and happy coincidence is what led to these pieces ending up in this particular place.

INK DENT, this was the next overlap I wound up with. I was working with things like ‘Nap Tank’ and ‘Loop Tank’ until I heard that Ian Hamilton Finley had cracked it earlier and better with his own two-word poem “Neck Tank”. So I had to console myself with INK DENT, trying to work out why it feels so strange in you head and in your mouth. I think its because neither word lets itself be acted upon directly by the other word – Ink can’t be Dented and Ink can’t really Dent. So you start groping around for a third term to fill the gap; A third thing to get involved in the tryst– a needle, some kind of flesh, something new to impress yourself on; a third term to get Inked up and Dented.

THE WOE BOLT was the last one and a little different than the others on account of it having an extra word involved. I am not sure if I even count ‘The’ as a word in this case, I stuck it in front to weld Woe and Bolt into a single (thought two-headed) lump. The ‘The’ is more a declaration of the cohabitation of Woe and Bolt. I needed them to remain solid if they were going to be treated as a duo.  If Ink Dent is an occasional threesome, Woe Bolt is a forced marriage.

The paintings themselves are a mix of acid etch and paint on glass. A few other things too– black board paint, silicone sealant, hi-vis reflective ground glass, Colgate toothpaste. I wanted to maintain a real distinction between the text and the other graphic content. Literally, if the text is on the front of the glass, the lines are on the back and vice versa. There’s also a kind of laughable separation within these paintings, a kind of aesthetic apartheid, a split forced between the precisely cut wording and the wobbly brackets in front or behind of them. I’m really suspicious about sloppy writing. It just seems some really limp legacy we’re stuck with from the punk days. As if writing anything in your worst scrawl proves how little you give a fuck about everything, despite the linen canvas and silken gallerist. To my mind its better to work out what it is you care about, and what you truly hate, and work from there.