Luc Tuymans Explores Domesticity, Re-photography, And Scottish Enlightenment

Luc Tuymans

The influential artist Luc Tuymans is back at David Zwirner, which is presenting an exhibition of 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 the space. Tuymans 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 – a portrait of Japanese killer Issei Sagawa, and ‘The Shore’, a ‘really dark’ painting of a German submarine crew about to be shot.

Luc Tuymans was kind enough to give Artlyst a tour of his new exhibition of paintings, which were created as a direct response to David Zwirner’s ‘domestic’ space. In this first part of his tour, the artist gave a detailed summation of his new works, explaining his fascination with wallpaper, what the artist finds annoying to paint, and alluding to the disquieting images that lie on the top floor of David Zwirner’s Gallery.

“So this is the second show [at David Zwirner London] – and I’ve always been fascinated by Britain for several reasons, for example it is one of the last ‘class societies’ – although I don’t know how long it will still go on – but I once tackled that subject in a small show, the first white cube show that I did called ‘Spelndid Isolation’, and one of the portraits in that show was also based on Henry Draper [American doctor, amateur astronomer, and pioneer of astrophotography] – these three works in front of you [portraits: ‘William Robertson’, 2014, ‘John Robison’, 2014, and ‘John Playfair’, 2014] are derived from the paintings in the professors room at University of Edinburgh. As well as having the Scottish referendum, there is also quite a history of Scottish enlightenment – and then you actually find out that six Scottish people wrote part of the American constitution – including the idea of the pursuit of your own happiness – Carey said without the Scottish, the United States would be a poor proposition, but the only thing we are left with now is of course James Bond.

These paintings were generated out of three portraits [in the professors room] – and I will explain painting by painting where it all came from, and how it actually came together, because it’s in two levels and there are two distinct modes – there are different painting modes – and there are different atmospheres. This atmosphere in the downstairs gallery is about domesticity. So I went to the university a couple of times and photographed the works with my iPhone, and then I printed them out, and then I proceeded to re-photograph them, but I blew them up – blew the faces up – and what was so distinctive and interesting is that they become really contemporary. I mean: painting is a modus operandi which works through time, with time, and over time, therefore it is not photography, they are decisively different.

What also happened is by printing them out they became blue. So we have the fact that the white became blue, if you look on the sides of the canvases here [Tuymans look along the length of the wall] you see this blue going through all the portraits, so in a sense it is a figuration but it becomes nearly abstract, in a sense it abstracts itself. I also made a big point of having the blurriness there which I have to paint, not like Gerhard Richter, I don’t erase it, I paint the blurriness, which is really sharp in a sense.

All the paintings sort of stick together in a way, they are then juxtaposed with things where I actually stayed, having been there [Edinburgh] twice, we stayed in the hotel Balmoral, and when they make the tea, in an enormous space – they have this wallpaper! – and here you see this cloud [in the work ‘Cloud’ 2014] which looked like a croissant at the time – and people think my work is not funny? – so the next work was also about part of this wallpaper [‘Wallpaper’ 2014] actually, when I do the show in the university in Edinburgh, there is an old space in front of it, and I will re-create my own wallpaper there. But this work of course is the epitome of the idyllic state of the gardens and the obelisk, the idea of classicism is in there – and this was really very annoying to paint also.

The next work [‘Fireplace’ 2014] is directly about domesticity – because it’s a chimney – but it’s actually based upon a part of a very old installation by Mike Kelley, who was a friend, but now is dead… it was created in a warehouse in New York, and he painted this chimney on a cardboard box, and it was a very, very violent orange. I painted it also in the same colour, but then threw that painting away, and made it again as I wanted it to have its own identity. You can see the lines of the pencil, because I don’t work with the painting on a stretcher, I put it against the wall to create a hard surface, and then I just paint from the lightest to the darkest colour. When I omit the pencil lines from a work, it’s quite interesting, as it gives it an immediacy and a freshness which is even new to me.

So this space downstairs deals with this specific element of domesticity, and is disquieting, but in a totally different way from when we go upstairs…”

Read the second 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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