Luc Tuymans at David Zwirner
A huge black canvas on which moonlit figures on a beach await execution is the centrepiece of a new exhibition of works by Luc Tuymans at David Zwirner gallery, London, from Friday January 30 to Thursday April 2 (all prices on request). The painting, The Shore, is typical of the artist's work in that it is inspired by world events, yet viewed fuzzily at a distance from them. What aren't typical, however, are its dark tones. Tuymans has made a name for painting snowy flurries and pale greys; images characterised by looking bleached, or as though faded by the passage of time. But this work, inspired by Goya's paintings and the 1968 film A Twist of Sand, is more completely black, in both palette and subject matter, than any before. Also on display is Tuymans' third portrait of Issei Sagawa (third picture), who killed and ate a fellow student at the Sorbonne in Paris in the early 1980s, but who now roams free.
Widely credited with having contributed to the revival of painting in the 1990s, Tuymans insists on its continued relevance. "I still indulge in the perversity of painting, which remains interesting," he says. Born in Belgium in 1958, he studied art history as well as painting, and his fascination with the Old Masters, in particular works by Sir Henry Raeburn, are the basis for a series of portraits in the show of three Scottish Enlightenment thinkers: John Playfair (first picture), John Robinson and William Robertson. Prior to the 2014 independence referendum, Tuymans visited Edinburgh and, on seeing the paintings by Raeburn, found in them "an element of disruption" that matched the current political climate. He took photographs of them with his mobile phone and then blew up the images to focus on the eyes, nose and mouth. The cool light of digital screens is reflected in their colour schemes.
Tuymans is also known for elevating the mundane, and two other paintings–Bedroom, which features a single white globe light suspended by a wire from the ceiling, and Wallpaper, inspired by the wallpaper in the hotel where he was staying in Edinburgh, which featured 18th-century parkland scenes–provide reflections on high and low living, a recurring theme in his work.
This show is a Tuymans masterclass, covering portrait, landscape, still life and history painting–all seen, as ever, through a veil, bleakly.