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.
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
Luc Tuymans (born 14 June 1958) is a Belgian visual artist best known for his paintings which explore people's relationship with history and confront their ability to ignore it. World War II is a recurring theme in his work. He is a key figure of the generation of European figurative painters who gained renown at a time when many believed the medium had lost its relevance due to the new digital age.
Much of Tuymans' work deals with moral complexity, specifically the coexistence of 'good' and 'evil'. His subjects range from major historical events such as the Holocaust to the seemingly inconsequential or banal: wallpaper, Christmas decorations or everyday objects for example.
The artist's sparsely-coloured figurative paintings are made up of quick brush strokes of wet paint. Tuymans paints from photographic or cinematic images drawn from the media or public sphere, as well as from his own photographs and drawings. They often appear intentionally out of focus. The blurred effect is, however, created purposefully with painted strokes, it is not the result of a 'wiping away' technique.
Formal and conceptual oppositions recur in his work, which is echoed in his remark that while 'sickness should appear in the way the painting is made' there is also pleasure in its making – a 'caressing' of the canvas. This reflects Tuymans' semantic shaping of the philosophical content of his work. Often allegorical, his titles add a further layer of imagery to his work – a layer that exists beyond the visible. The painting Gaskamer (Gas Chamber) exemplifies his use of titles to provoke associations in the mind of the viewer. Meaning, in his work, is never fixed; his paintings incite thought. A related characteristic of Tuymans' work is the way he often works in series, a method which enables one image to generate another through which images can be formulated and reformulated ad infinitum. Images are repeatedly analysed and distilled, and a large number of drawings, photocopies and watercolours are produced in preparation for his oil paintings. Each final painting is, however, completed in a single day.
Film and audio
We visited Tuymans in his home city of Antwerp in Belgium