Luc Tuymans

The Shore


Not on display

Luc Tuymans born 1958
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1945 × 3590 × 45 mm
Presented by the artist 2015


The Shore 2014 is a large horizontal oil painting on canvas by Luc Tuymans. At the centre of the painting stand a group of around ten figures, rendered in lighter tones against a dark ground. There are also some suggestions of a landscape on which they are standing. The figures are depicted in a deliberately imprecise manner: limbs are missing, heads do not join to torsos, and no facial markings are present. When viewed close up, instead of the figures becoming clearer, the individual paint strokes describing each one become prominent. Most of the figures are painted in a base of pale green with a few quick diagonal strokes of lemon yellow. The background and the land on which they stand are mainly greenish with some touches of the same lemon yellow. This entire horizon scene floats in a large field of very dark maroon. The paint in this background has been applied in mostly horizontal strokes, but there are also several vertical modulations where the tone becomes paler. This is the result of Tuymans working into the paint in downward strokes with a brush soaked in a thinning agent, removing and diluting some of the paint. As a result the background does not appear so much as a realist depiction of a dark night as a painted, textured surface.

Tuymans based The Shore on the opening images of a film from 1968 titled A Twist of Sand by the British director Don Chaffey. In the film a group of men appear on the seashore. They are far away from the camera and are illuminated by a light source that is out of shot. They seem to be waving towards the source of the light in expectation of rescue. Very shortly after they appear, they are gunned down. This scene opens a film whose subject concerns the smuggling of diamonds from South West Africa. This source material is important to an appreciation of Tuymans’s painting: it explains the cinematic scale, the unnatural illumination of the figures in the centre, and the sombre mood of the work. In Tuymans’s painting the central figure seems to be making a gesture that responds to the light source from a vessel out at sea. However, The Shore also departs from its source, particularly with the brushy and broken quality of the figures, as well as the texture of the background, which does not correspond to a naturalistic representation of a landscape.

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. The decision to base this painting on the opening sequence of A Twist of Sand connects it to his career-long interest in cinema and his brief career as a filmmaker in the early 1980s. In its representation of a moment just before a violent incident takes place, The Shore is also related to the many works by Tuymans based on places associated with violence and death, most famously Gaskamer (Gas Chamber) 1986 (The Over Holland Collection).

In other respects The Shore is an unusual painting in Tuymans’s body of work. Its cinematic size and proportions are rare, and rather than being based on a cropped section of a source image as is typical of Tuyman’s practice, it includes more space than in the original film still, with broad margins of dark paint added to either end of the strip of land. The dark palette is also rare in Tuymans’s work, contrasting with many of his paintings of the past ten years, where the light depicted is extreme and the palette seems bleached, suggesting the look of overexposed photographs (see, for instance, The Parc 2005, private collection, the self-portrait Me 2011, private collection, and Issei Sagawa 2014, Tate T14804). In press material for The Shore, produced on the occasion of an exhibition held at David Zwirner Gallery in London in 2015, it was stated that this painting marks Tuymans’s engagement with the Spanish artist Francisco de Goya’s ‘Black Paintings’ produced in 1819–23.

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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