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White Gray Black

Luc Tuymans (Belgian, born 1958)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

Belgian painter. He studied painting at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Visuels de la Cambre, Brussels (1979–80) and the Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp (1980–82). He abandoned painting in 1982, studying art history at the Vrije Universiteit, Brussels (1982–6), and spent three years experimenting with video and film. The technique of montage as well as the peculiar light of the television screen were strong influences on his subsequent paintings. He re-launched his painting career in 1985 by staging an exhibition, Belgian Art Review, in an emptied swimming pool of the Palais des Thermes, Ostend. He had by this time established his characteristically alienating, uneasy style; small, often shop-bought canvases, painted in oils in a dry, clumsy dour manner. As he was still relatively unknown, the exhibition was virtually unattended. His awareness of art history has led him to suggest the impossibility of originality, often referring to a concept of ‘authentic forgery’ to describe the way his paintings negotiate history. Many of his works refer to memory traces of individual and collective trauma, for instance Gas Chamber (500×700 mm, 1986; Amsterdam, Mus. Overholland), showing darkened patches floating on a dull Naples yellow ground that loosely suggests an interior space. The subject of this painting is indicated less by the title than by the failure of the image to represent adequately such a subject, implying the impossibility of such an undertaking. In the late 1980s he began to introduce increasingly figurative references in his work. In the series of ten paintings Der Diagnostische Blick (1992), based on images taken from a medical handbook of the same title, Tuymans uses the awkwardness and repressed rhetoric of his style to suggest painting itself as a symptom of illness. Works such as Der Diagnostische Blick II (585×390 mm, 1992; Krefeld, Kaiser Wilhelm Mus.) show blank, drained subjects who appear dislocated, as if caught in freeze-frame on a television screen. In another work of the early 1990s, Silent Music (830×700 mm, 1993; Amsterdam, Sted. Mus.), he shows a room cluttered with the furniture of a child’s bedroom. The paint is dull with no light source or luminescence. The room suggests boredom and stuffiness, and is typical of his ability to suggest dread, pain or failure in an extraordinarily economical fashion. Tuymans, who lives and works in Antwerp, has himself indicated this central tenet of his painting: ‘Anything banal can be transformed into horror. Violence is the only structure underlying my work’.

John-Paul Stonard
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press


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