Selected works by Luc Tuymans

Luc Tuymans
Still Life

2002

Oil on Canvas

347 x 500cm
Exposing the gap between represented image and historical event, Luc Tuymans’s paintings delve into the inner workings of how mythology is created. The reality of Luc Tuymans’s work is almost ’twee’, pleasing images of a lampshade or leopard-skin rug pass quite comfortably as aesthetic totems; it’s only their cognitive association with the Holocaust, or atrocities of the Belgian Congo, that encapsulates the true banality of evil - the unspeakable horror in a teacup, the monstrous potential of an empty bath. Luc Tuymans’s paintings consciously fall desperately short of the iconic, becoming vestiges posed as counterfeit emblems for that which cannot be conveyed.

Still Life is a monument to this inadequacy of language. Made initially for the 2002 Documenta, Luc Tuymans was expected to present paintings of images relating to 9/11 to coincide with the exhibition’s theme of political and social engagement. What he decided to show was a giant still life. The sheer scale makes the contemplation of this painting almost impossible: a vast canvas representing an absolute nothingness. Luc Tuymans chose the subject of still life precisely because it was utterly unremarkable; a generic ’brand’ of ’object’ rendered to immense scale; it is banality expanded to the extreme. The simplicity of Luc Tuymans’s composition alludes to a pure and uninterrupted world order; the ephemeral light, with which the canvas seems to glow, places it as an epic masterpiece of metaphysical and spiritual contemplation. In response to unimaginable horror, Luc Tuymans offers the sublime. A gaping magnitude of impotency, which neither words nor paintings could ever express.
Luc Tuymans
Maypole

2000

Oil on Canvas

224 x 116cm
If media images inadequately depict the horrors of reality, then Luc Tuymans’s paintings are even more disturbingly detached. Often taking his imagery from published photos (of war, violence, subjugation), the paintings are the antithesis of this historic iconography: dull tones, vague, nondescript scenes, stripped of emotional propaganda.

Maypole suggests only the mistiest remnants of a memory: men in lederhosen raising a mast (Cross?), with flags waving in the distance, they could be scouts, pioneers, morris dancers or Hitler Youth. Though it’s painted with the faded language of nostalgia, Maypole is strangely empty: void of sympathy or moral, Luc Tuymans renders a scene twice-removed, making it impulsively human. Without context of history or source, the viewer is left to engage with the painting on a purely instinctive level; being drawn into the evils of history, he adopts his own role as a silent and willing observer.
Luc Tuymans
Within

2001

Oil on Canvas

223 x 243cm
Luc Tuymans paints the indescribable. His dark muted scenes seem vaguely familiar, distant, like haunting memories. Drawing his inspiration from grand themes, Luc Tuymans taps into a universal social guilt: from the Holocaust, or imperialism, to child abuse. By minimalising his images, he creates a raw emotion through paint; each painting linking spiritually, somehow instinctively, to the rest.

Within is a tranquil vermin metaphor for contamination and disease. A close-up detail of a birdcage, this painting more than conveys feelings of hopelessness and isolation: through its sheer size and potency, it literally traps the viewer, swallowing him into a prison of collective consciousness.
Luc Tuymans
Pigeons

2001

Oil on Canvas

128 x 156cm
Luc Tuymans’s pigeons bop in dumb disarray. Dirty and disease-ridden, they’re a strangely curious mob, a metaphoric stand-in for ourselves. Painted in the muted tones of history, Luc Tuymans offers a chilling ultimate truth about humankind. He makes a cold comedy of a terrifying thought.
Luc Tuymans
Portrait

2000

Oil on Canvas

57 x 30cm
Ritual and tradition play a large part in Luc Tuymans’s work, drawing on the solace in repetition, the blind faith of unquestioned custom. Taken from a funerary tribute photo, the type of memento circulated to grieving loved ones in Luc Tuymans’s native Belgium, Portrait is an image of both commemoration and inconsequence. The woman’s melancholic expression and sickly pallor serve less as a reminder of a vibrant life, than a lingering forbearance of death; her cherished memory a mere ghost - faded and shrinking, as if she never was. Only her black dress and glasses remain, sinister and anonymous props, lonely relics without sentiment or intimacy.

Articles

Luc Tuymans talks about his "security"

By Daniel Birnbaum, ArtForum, Oct 1998

Before I begin painting I'm in an extremely agitated state. During the actual execution I experience enormous pleasure, but before that it's sheer agony. The act of painting really involves a kind of aggression or violence. I've thought a lot about my work in relation to the cinema and techniques of cutting and montage. The violence in question is fierce, but also distant and abstract. The green orchid is a violent painting. The flower is fleshy and has a sort of poisonous atmosphere about it. And there's something sexual about the cut.
All my works are executed in a single day. It's the only way I can work. I'm too eager to see the image finished to let it develop over longer periods. It's more like a take in filmmaking - I can always try one more time and start all over again, but I never return to a painting. I always go all the way. Speed is not the issue, though. My work is analytical, not gestural.It took me about twelve years to achieve the detachment that you see in my paintings today. The "Diagnostische Blick" series from 1992 was a crucial step. This harshness and detachment is something I've always desired in my work, and my shows are getting cooler and cooler. The work is becoming very foreign. I've never intended to create an aesthetic, but paradoxically that's what happens in the end. I think the work has also gotten clearer, and probably even more aggressive. Perhaps I won't be able to go on like this forever, but I've been able to create a steady stream of images for some time now. I probably had my time off when I stopped painting many years ago and produced films. Since then I've had the feeling that the more imagery I produce, the more images I need.

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Source: findarticles.com


Luc Tuymans: a painter for our times

By Bunny Smedley

Because its means are so obvious and so simple, Tuymans' handling positively invites pastiche, as does his palette - but so too, perhaps even more so, does his coolly detatched tone. In this sense, he makes things easy for his epigones, detachment being easier to fake than conviction. And by the same token, faced with work that appears to be slipping away into nothingness, into inarticulacy or incompetence, the sort of critics who spent much of the 1980s anxiously taking the pulse of painting, checking whether it was still alive at all, now fall over themselves to praise, in their readings of Tuymans' work, painting's pallid, flaccid yet still self-aware near-corpse. For make no mistake - Tuymans' oeuvre is an absolute gift to the essayist, too. All those gaps, the hieratic shortcuts, the absences either of specificity or allegiance create a vacuum that sucks in every bit of prose that post-modernity can throw at it.

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Source: socialaffairsunit.org.uk


Luc Tuymans

Inscrutable, intractable Luc Tuymans cultivates an austere momentum and gets more out of less than any painter alive…wrestling down post modern, multi-culti mania he has created an art pared to the bare essentials, like a Balanchine ballet. His deft work is a relief, a tease, an insider’s reference point for all that is hip, painterly and politically charged.
Delineating a consistent, pervasive unease Tuymans works are vaporized remnants, spare membranes that alternately ‘bait and switch’ the viewer’s focus…utilizing the imagery of found photographs, untainted by the contaminant subjectivity, with the plastic relief from Tuymans’ pliant, ‘hand’ moving consummately through every painting. This subversive high wire act tantalizes. The viewer is shell shocked, a deer in front of the headlights…his works are a mute scar, a ‘sonic welt’.
Morandi with a wily, bad attitude? Maybe, but Soutine he’s not and unlike his big sister Marlene Dumas, a provocateur who wrenches a range of coloration from her gorgeous, smutty palette Tuymans resides in a succinct quiet, ever so carefully evoking silent, haunting reprisal. He paints with the ashes of post war Europe then downloads universal anxiety and combines the northern predilection for ‘sober’ into serial utterances so perfectly loose, yet airtight. Random markers…no heroic stance, no histrionics…just a fragile, steady plaint, a reminder. So where’s the ‘insight’ as the painter’s inquisitor’s bulb burns brightly, ‘Proper’, the recent 2005 show at NY’s David Zwirner gallery is imagery suffused with klieg light…Condi, genteel table, the canopy bed, the ballroom dancers, S. Croce…Do these touchstones qualify for a check list unveiling what’s ‘Proper’? Is this a necklace of mendacious, amoral evil parading as rootless, sublime anomie? Each painting is at one and the same time a disconnect and then a steppingstone to a soft spoken allusion just beyond one’s reach…a relentless unfiltered honesty…political insight as moral reprisal with imagery all dried fragments…bloodless. ‘Proper’ meets all criteria for Tuyman’s intentioned autism, illuminating a dissertation on deadly propriety. Where is the victim…the trail of blood?
The gossamer wings with which Luc Tuymans utilizes to convey this rooted posture become a deep, residual ache… Holding his breath, cold endurance is key to Tuymans…Somewhere, somehow Luc Tuymans is relentlessly holding on by the skin of his teeth…

Stephanie Bell Behnke 2006