Marlene Dumas on Luc Tuymans
Luc brought us relief from the loud, large, heavy overload of neo-expressionism of the 1980’s, dominated by Germans like Kiefer and Baselitz, and Americans like Schnabel. He offered painting a break from all the romantic mythologies around and brought it back to the real world: the traumatized post-colonial world in need of critical introspection.
Here was a young Belgium guy who started his career by taking on historical subject matter that no contemporary painter dared to touch, not only the Second World War but also the holocaust .He deliberately delivered bare, tonal and undramatic minimal paintings: high anxiety concentrated into an intimate and small scale.
I first saw an exhibition of Luc’s work in 1991, called Disenchantment. I couldn’t place these works in any of the ‘ism’s’ that were around at the time. It wasn’t about a ‘return to figuration’, a plea for ‘abstraction’ or a flirt with ‘sensationalism’. It was actually about disenchantment. Not how it looks, because disenchantment isn’t a thing, it’s about how it feels. It is about universal psychological truths and at the same time it is about the specific and limited meaning of images as images and confronting that understanding.
I don’t find his work impersonal or cool at all. These works vibrate with inner tensions. They brood. They are nervous. Just because he plays the doctor doesn’t mean he’s not the patient too?! What one finds so disconcerting is not that he is so distant or indifferent, but that despite its unpleasant subject matter, the works show a very vulnerable state of mind. His unexpected moments of tenderness move me. His explanations of sources and intentions I find touching (I am also blamed for talking too much).
In the end his works are not really about the past but about the future. To me they speak of the sad realization that tomorrow we will say yet again, that we did not know and did not see what was happening today.
Luc Tuymans | Luc. Written for and partly published in AnOther Magazine, London, October 18, 2012; and included in Marlene Dumas, Sweet Nothings. Notes and Texts | On Others, second edition (revised and expanded) Koenig Books London, 2014 [published accompanying Luc Tuymans Allo! by Skye Sherwin].