Luc Tuymans: dark visions and enlightenment
Luc Tuymans in his studio with 'The Shore'. Image courtesy The Financial Times.
The sky is leaden, the rain relentless, the wind so fierce that the bridges over the Scheldt are closed on the day I make my way to see Luc Tuymans in Antwerp. Across a courtyard behind a 19th-century terrace, a glass door opens on an expansive, L-shaped, dirty-white studio. A pale wintry sheen flickers through ceiling windows but a large, long painting on the dominant wall is so black that it commands the space: menacing, heavy, driving out light and hope. Only close up do you see a row of tiny blotchy white figures, stranded in darkness. The picture is called "The Shore".
Before it, in a torn low armchair, slumps the painter, dressed in black sweater and trousers, dragging on a cigarette, looking grey and exhausted. Tuymans, who has just finished the works for his first exhibition of 2015, opening at David Zwirner London this month, rises sluggishly as I admire his monumental night painting.
"For ages I tried to make a really dark painting," he explains. "This is the moment before these people are shot."
The blank-faced, minute, surrendering figures were delineated literally by wipeout: Tuymans smudged away patches of the dense indigo-violet monochrome with toilet paper, then painted the gaps white. "There is the element of terror," he says, nodding. "It's painted differently from usual. Normally I come from lightest to darkest, here I painted dark first. You feel the space, these people are exposed, it's more splendid and, therefore, more terrifying."