The painterly pessimist


That is a very famous painter!” exclaims the taxi driver at Antwerp station when I present Luc Tuymans’ address. “Are you his model?” If only … Or perhaps the suggestion is not so flattering. Using photographic sources, Tuymans paints subjects that are emotionally or morally loaded – Albert Speer or Condoleezza Rice, a patient just diagnosed with cancer or a lamp made from human skin in Buchenwald – only to transform them into bleached-out, blurry, depersonalised images, at once banal and sinister. When these quiet, subversive pictures appeared at the end of the 1980s, they challenged the era’s neo-expressionist art scene so successfully that Tuymans was hailed as the saviour of late 20th-century painting. Conceptual but painterly, engaging with the big themes of history and of today, he has not put a foot wrong since. An impressive retrospective recently toured the US and now comes home to Belgium, opening at Bozar in Brussels next week. The taxi drops me at a sleek, neutral-looking office, and it is at once obvious that, for an artist who made his name painting corruption in the corridors of power, establishment success sits uneasily. “Yes, it had a good reception,” Tuymans answers warily, as I take a seat at a desk opposite him and ask about the US tour. “Because the work is understated and clearly European, an element of exoticism played itself out. European painting is about deliberate space, American painting is about accidental space.”

more from Jackie Wullschlager at the FT here.