Luc Tuymans

Issei Sagawa


Not on display

Luc Tuymans born 1958
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 745 × 825 × 41 mm
Purchased with funds provided by Tate Members, Tate International Council, the Nicholas Themans Trust and Art Fund 2017


Issei Sagawa 2014 is an oil painting on canvas. It is a portrait of a man wearing a large hat that is too big for his head and whose wide brim forms two large dark areas either side of his cheeks. The face is rendered with very loose brush strokes whose directions do not correspond to the posture of the body. Several colours, including greens, greys and pinks, mix across the face, picking up the dominant colours of the figure’s pink clothes and the green-grey background.

Belgian artist Luc Tuymans based this painting on a photograph he took with his phone of a scene from a documentary film about Issei Sagawa, a Japanese man who became notorious after he killed and cannibalised a fellow student while studying at the Sorbonne Academy in Paris in 1981. He was imprisoned for several years before being released and returning to Japan. Here Tuymans depicts Sagawa as a young man, before his later crime and notoriety. Prior to this painting Tuymans had painted Sagawa twice before (see, for example, Issei Sagawa 2012).

Issei Sagawa is one of several portraits by Tuymans based on images of people associated with acts of violence. His series Die Zeit 1988 included a painting of Reinhard Heydrich, the deputy chief of the SS in Nazi Germany, while Der Architekt 1997 (Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Galerie Neue Meister, Dresden) was based on an image of the German architect Albert Speer, who served as a minister under Hitler. Whereas in Der Architekt white paint covers the subject’s face, in Issei Sagawa it is the vigorous and loose brushwork that effaces the murderer’s image. Issei Sagawa exemplifies Tuymans’s use of cropping to focus the viewer’s attention on the painted subject and the materiality of the work. He previously used this technique in works such as The Secretary of State 2005 (Museum of Modern Art, New York), a painting based on an image of Condoleezza Rice, who served as America’s Secretary of State under President George W. Bush.

Tuymans is known for his transformations of photographic and cinematic source images into paintings characterised by visible and often quite loose brushwork, most of which are completed in a single day.

Further reading
Ulrich Loock, Juan Vicente Aliaga and Nancy Spector, Luc Tuymans, London 1996.
Emma Dexter and Julian Heynen (eds.), Luc Tuymans, exhibition catalogue, Tate Modern, London, and Kunstsammlung Nordrheim-Westfalen, Düsseldorf 2004.
Madeleine Grynsztejn and Helen Molesworth (eds.), Luc Tuymans, exhibition catalogue, Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco 2009.

Mark Godfrey
May 2015

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