The greatest living painters in the world
In our world of loud images, all jostling and barging to grab our attention, the paintings of Tuymans are as reticent as ghosts. Why choose so ordinary a subject? Why paint it in so muted a way? The only answer to the question is to take a longer look. Working in thematic series–his works address subjects from Belgian colonialism in the Congo to post-9/11 America–he sifts through visual residue (internet images and newspaper articles, TV programmes and postcards) and examines the ways in which facts filter down to us. The evidence cannot be trusted, he suggests. His bleached-out images–the products of prolonged study, poured out in a single sitting–feel at once vaguely familiar and yet depersonalised and detached. That empty room is a gas chamber, for instance, but you won't necessarily realise it. Tuymans' cryptic images take the tradition of history painting into disturbing psychological territories. As the viewer decodes them, a discomfiting realisation dawns. Tuymans, whose latest exhibition, The Shore, opened yesterday at David Zwirner gallery in London, demands that we peer through the filters of our collective desire to explain and compartmentalise and instead to face experiences afresh. It can be unnerving, but this is an artist who has played a major role in making painting again feel relevant.