press release

Luc Tuymans. Premonitions

Luc Tuymans (born Mortsel, Belgium, 1958) is one of the most influential artists on the contemporary art scene and his contribution to the renewal of painting in the 1990s is unanimously acknowledged. However, during his student days at Brussels’ Sint-Lukas Instituut, La Cambre Higher School of Visual Arts and Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Artshe was far more interested in the immediacy of photographic and cinematographic techniques. Between 1980 and 1985, he set himself to writing screenplays and made several short films.

His love for painting resurfaced after 1985, and he has never stopped since. He used a personal repertoire of source images, mostly his own photographs and news media photographs. He would borrow them from various newspapers and magazines or from television or computer screens and rephotograph them using a Polaroid camera or smartphone. “From the very first, I had the idea I refer to as ‘authentic falsification’, in other words the idea of creating not new things but rather working with images that already existed in the collective memory and that everyone appropriates in their own way. That’s what makes a painting contemporary. Contemporaneity really deals with a document’s substance, breathing fresh life into it.”

His figurative canvases, spectral images painted in pastel hues with a reduced palette, tackle such historical and contemporary subjects as the Second World War, Belgium’s colonial past, religious authority, the power wielded by big companies, mistreatment of children and reality TV. Nevertheless, he enjoys directing the sets of images provided by reality, the media and our civilisation, dissolving them all the better to bring them back into view as archives or vague, fading memories, like phantoms or spectres.

Through this back-and-forthing between conscious and unconscious, known and forgotten, real and memorised, Tuymans’ works reflect both the most intimate individual depths and the most general collective memory, and by doing so resonate in each and every one of us. As Tuymans himself asserts, “It’s a way of creating an inner distance vis-à-vis the image. I don’t believe that all images are true. I distrust them, and mine too. You must always be wary, always ask yourself questions.” Between subject and object, reality and representation, he forces us to look afresh at the image he provides every time we cast eyes upon it, to suspend our judgment and feelings so as to better reconsider our memories, reference points and ability to perceive and understand.

Since the 1990s, works on paper, from drawings to prints, have become an intrinsic part of his work. He has experimented with as many different reproduction techniques (including use of multiple limestone blocks, one per colour, for lithography, stencils set between ink and substrate for screen-printing, aquatinting with acid, and direct inking of substrates for single-print monotyping) as he has substrates (the traditional sheet of paper, wallpaper, PVC, etc.) and conditions governing image visibility (size, framing, materials, colours, tints, transparency, etc.).

Following the exhibition devoted to him at La Louvière’s Centre for Engraving and the Printed Image as part of Mons European Capital of Culture 2015, the exhibition scheduled to be held at LaM in autumn 2016 will use this corpus of images as a starting point. But it will also highlight the full range of his experiments and the lines of thought that lead to a work’s creation, from source image to choice of medium: pencil drawing, watercolour, print or painting… For his Le Temple series (1996), Tuymans based his work on a documentary on the Mormons and their huge personal databank. “I painted watercolours of surveillance camera images, then took Polaroids of the watercolours, then made watercolours of the Polaroids, and so on… I asked my printer to remove all the black and only use Van Dyck brown in its place, which he had never done before.” This ghostlike series of prints provides a perfect illustration of the border between representation and reality and its dissolution in the image that is at the root of all Tuymans’ work.

Exhibition curator:

Marc Donnadieu, Curator in charge of contemporary art, assisted by Marie-Amélie Senot, associate curator