Artist biography

Luc Tuymans born 1958

Luc Tuymans was born in Mortsel, Belgium in 1958. He studied fine art and painting at the Sint-Lukasinstituut in Brussels (1976-79) and then at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Visuels de la Cambre, also in Brussels (1979-80). He left Brussels for Antwerp, where he studied painting at the Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen (1980-82), before returning to Brussels to take a degree in History of Art at the Vrije Universiteit (1982-86).

The first showing of Tuymans's paintings was a solo exhibition at the Palais des Thermes in Ostend in 1985. Since then he has exhibited widely in Europe, with solo shows at the Provinciaal Museum voor Moderne Kunst, Ostend (1990) and the Museum Haus Lange, Krefeld (1993). In 1994 his work was included in the London exhibitions Unbound: Possibilities in Painting, at the Hayward Gallery, and The Institute of Cultural Anxiety: Works from the Collection, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. He was subsequently given a solo exhibition at the ICA in 1995.

Although Tuymans's main activity is painting, he has also worked with film and, recently, printmaking. His concern is with the mediation and translation of images through the mass media, and through the processes of painting or printing. Many of his images appear blurred or reduced, as though viewed at several removes, or camouflaged in some way. They are frequently based on photographs or film stills, which the artist photographs and re-photographs until much of the original detail and clarity is lost. This gradual deterioration of the image has its parallel in the apparent deterioration of the painted surface, a result of the cheap materials and distressed finishes which Tuymans employs. In his words, 'the work is about the loss of meaning, but also about the failure of representation' (interviewed by Faye Hirsch, 'Working Proof', in On Paper, vol. 1, no. 2, Nov.-Dec. 1996, p.34).

Tuymans's paintings are characterised by a sense of anxiety and impending doom. He has described their atmosphere as representative of his own personality, one of 'constant fear and constant uneasiness. A constant restlessness' (Ulrich Loock, Juan Vicente Aliaga, Nancy Spector, Luc Tuymans, London 1996, p.16). His subjects are mundane, everyday objects and places, or portraits of unidentified sitters. However, the apparent tranquillity of the images is frequently disrupted by titles such as Child Abuse, Silent Music, Gas Chamber, The Murderer, and by a sense of narrative action taking place beyond the edges of the picture.

Further reading:
Ulrich Loock, Juan Vicente Aliaga, Nancy Spector, Luc Tuymans, London 1996
Adrian Searle, 'False Memories', in Frieze, issue 17, June-August 1994, pp.42-5

Michela Parkin
June 1997