Luc Tuymans Discusses His Dark Paintings, Japanese Cannibals, And Francisco De Goya

Luc Tuymans

The renowned Belgian artist Luc Tuymans has a new exhibtion at David Zwirner, which is presenting the artist’s latest paintings, on view at the London gallery, which Tuymans inaugurated in October 2012 with the exhibition ‘Allo!’. This new exhibition ‘The Shore’ includes work that the artist specifically made for David Zwirner’s space. The artist is known for his light washed-out canvases, handled with the artist’s characteristic short stabbing brushstrokes, Tuymans’ subjects are varied, from the Holocaust to the banality of wallpaper patterns. The artist is one of Europe’s most influential painters – and this current exhibition features some rather dark subject matters, from a portrait of Japanese killer Issei Sagawa, to ‘The Shore’, a ‘really dark’ painting of a German submarine crew about to be executed.

Luc Tuymans was kind enough to give Artlyst a tour of his new exhibition of paintings, exhibited across two floors of the gallery. In this second part of his tour, the artist gave a detailed summation of his new works in the upper gallery, explaining his fascination with his new dark painting style, his irritation at Goya, and explains the creation of his particularly disquieting images to be found on the top floor of David Zwirner’s Gallery.

“So again this particular type of painting is new to me too, probably one of the darkest paintings that I have made [‘The Shore’ 2014] if not ‘the’ darkest one. Which I’ve always wanted to do, to make a really dark painting, not that it’s black, because I don’t use black, I never use black, this is a combination of probably indigo, and violate, and green, in order to keep this density. This painting was also made in the opposite mode in which I usually work; mostly I work from the lightest to the darkest, but here I started with the darkest, and then with some tissue took out the figures and then painted them back in again. There’s another group of paintings which unfortunately we cannot view because they are in the States, that will be shown in one of the biggest exhibitions of my work in Qatar, Doha, which is based upon the idea of the arena.

I remember the last conversation that I had in Doha with the daughter of the Emir, she said that if I was a political artist, why didn’t I make something about the region? Whereas I said it was quite difficult because your father – also the founder of Al Jazeera – which is quite interesting to know, and now the brother who is the Emir, had been involved in Arab Spring and that it would be opening a can of worms so to speak, so I said that I’d make something ‘for’ the region – and last year with my wife, we were in Madrid in the Prado looking again at the ‘Pinturas Negras’, by Goya – and I’m getting more and more interested the older that I get in Goya, because I’m becoming more and more aware that Goya is actually the very old master on the brink of modernity in a sense, and he’s a very annoying painter in a very strange sense, he was also totally isolated, the enlightenment really stopped as his period ends.

So I thought back to an old body of six works that I’d made which were mixed media, during that period I was looking for other imagery that could resonate that but in one singular painting, and by accident I came across the beginning of a film on Youtube from 1968, it’s a British film, it’s called ‘A Twist Of Sand’ – and at the very beginning you see people coming over the sand onto the beach, with the sound only coming after this succession of imagery. You see I made a drawing also, but only picked this middle image, that I painted, the first image you see is a guy coming out like a blob, with a flag of surrender, and others come out onto the shore from a submarine, the second one is what you see here, and the third is when they get shot. So the work is an image of an execution basically. Now if you think, indirectly, unconsciously about the imagery you see from ISIS for example, or the Islamic State, with their masks of black, and white, unconsciously this probably prompted the imagery and the disquiet of it.

This next guy [‘Issei Sagawa’ 2014] I’ve painted three times now – and he’s still alive – I painted him as he is now, as he’s running around in Tokyo, and I painted him for an charity auction, when he was young, when he was in Paris, as a student at the Sorbonne in the 70s. In 74, or 75 there was a case of a Japanese cannibal who actually lured a girl student that he knew into his apartment, he killed her, and then started to eat her. He was apprehended by the French police but they couldn’t send him to trial because he was Japanese, so he was extradited back to Japan. His parents were wealthy, so he just disappeared into an institution and he was never actually tried for the crime, instead he wrote a book, and became a cult figure in Japan as there is an element of racism towards western people – and that made him quite popular, in a way – and so he’s still running around. But there’s a whole documentary made about the guy, when they look at what could have triggered this cannibalism. So we’ve had execution, cannibalism, domesticity – all those things together – and there is this little piece of film where the older brother was always sort of threatening his two younger brothers and to put them in a pot and to boil them; and right before that image comes up you see a little kid with a mask and a tropical helmet, the image is of Issei. This is the epitome of the scary image.

So putting these together in this space made all the sense in the world. It’s not always that straightforward because I don’t think that it’s necessarily the imagery, but the feel through which these things come together, and it’s not a thematic show either, but there are two of these elements that actually come together, which is the idea of status and the disquiet of things in two separate spaces.

And the last work in this show is a lamp in my bedroom [‘Bedroom’ 2014] So with this space I remember when I did the first show here – there were windows over there which they closed off – and this space was a viewing room. But this time I decided that we had to include this space as it created a vista [through the gallery space] and we have this one painting which again is about domesticity but it is also a lamp that is not lit basically, the first thing that I see when I wake up, looking from the bed up to the ceiling.

This second show for me, the second show in this space, is a bit more tailor-made than the first one – not that the first one was bad – but it was just different as you have to get to know the space. I also like this gallery because it’s still a house. I mean I just visited the gigantic displays of the Christian Marclay exhibition, which I hadn’t seen before at Jay Jopling, which is insane, like a museum space – and various places in New York that are bigger – and I started out with David [Zwirner] and I quite liked that element of domesticity of human proportions, as opposed to the antiseptic white cube gigantic space, and so it was pretty clear from the start that these works should be shown here, and not in New York for example, that was quite clear. This is where you can do this kind of show, that goes from expansion to intimacy, and I think that also has to do with the element of voyeurism, and that is why I showed here.”

Read the first part of Luc Tuymans’ tour here

Luc Tuymans: The Shore – David Zwirner Gallery – until 2 April 2015

Words: Luc Tuymans with Paul Black Photo: P C Robinson © Artlyst 2015 all rights reserved


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