Luc Tuymans – art of negation

Luc Tuymans – Belgian painter (b. 1958), considered as one of the most influential and important painters working today, one of the key figures in the contemporary figurative painting.

Tuymans’ work is a vast repository of data, drawn from photography, television and film, combining a range of different styles and subject matter. His subjects range from major historical events, such as the Holocaust or the politics of the Belgian Congo, to the inconsequential and banal – wallpaper patterns, Christmas decorations, everyday objects. There are also paintings which express abstract emotional states, titled ‘Embitterment’ or ‘Insomnia’, which imply existential or philosophical responses to the human condition. (Tate Modern)

Tuymans paints deliberately ‘clumsy’ pictures, some of them look like a negation or a caricature of a ‘decent’ painting. He employs limited to the monochrome (in some works) colour scheme, stripped from any ‘decorativeness’ austere imaginary and a play on words (mainly in titles). He tries to express his distrust in making/dealing with images and strong feeling of isolation, which is being fed with everlasting fears and experienced/imagined mental/spiritual violence.

I came to know his work after being advised to do so, and what I’ve experienced was a sort of a blow – this artist seemed to ‘read’ my mind. From philosophy on art and some of the concepts to the practice. Above that, quite unknowingly, I’ve been producing images similar to his (obviously rather no on his level, yet similar)…

For me it appears like a kind of the common ‘contemporary experience’ being undergone with homogeneous sense has its result in this spiritual, being above space and time (but still quite surprising and mysterious) connection between people. For Tuymans it would be scarcely something unusual – he himself experienced unconsciously ‘copying’ another artist’s work. That’s why he believes that ‘everything has already been’, and art of today is a ‘representation of representation’, truly original work is impossible. Sad, cynical, postmodern but I guess – anyone aware of the world around has to come through this stage of negation, even ‘self-destruction’ – choosing ‘not to be’ rather than ‘to be’. What I sense is that overcoming this postmodern challenge would be a truly redeeming and force-giving existential state.

Here are some tips/clues Luc Tuymans gives (probably not knowing it) for contemporary painters. I find them useful:

– You can make a title too big for your image, the title can be more important than the image itself

– The banality of objects can be very meaningful, think what and why you put in your work

– Try to paint not for aesthetics but for meaning and necessity

– A painting should always have an entrance or a hole (‘the weakest point’) through which one can enter it

– Things shouldn’t be perfect – do like your mistakes

– Sweet, warm, banal can convey horrific, impenetrable

– Pay attention to the space of your painting, it should be visually/mentally/ emotionally challenging; try not to work form edge to edge, let your space go beyond the image itself


About kasia

Born in Poland. Lives in Ireland, Cork. Visual artist. View all posts by kasia

6 responses to “Luc Tuymans – art of negation

  • Mary

    Hi Katarzyna, thanks for the introduction to the work of Luc Tuymans. I’d heard the name but hadn’t seen any images. It looks unusually interesting.

  • skonieczna

    Thanks too. He is interesting and puzzling, though I don’t exactly have that grasp ‘why’, not yet, at least. I think that his deliberate, provocative ‘play’ with the most basic sense and function of a painting as a ‘sanctified’ form of an artistic expression has something to do with that. I remember – my first impression on him was: ‘OMG – he is so modern!’

  • Hans

    Great Blog, Katarzyna, by the way, your Blog image above is already almost a better Tuymans…
    Best regards, Hans

  • skonieczna

    Thanks, but if you mean my B&W header that I can only wish that it was mine… It’s a part of a great photo made by a great photographer (it’s all stated in ‘About this site’). By the way, you must be that positively ‘wild’ artist that Wojtek (from ‘New – Art’) has mentioned me about… All the best to you too.
    Your blogs, works, photos are sooo unusual…

  • ottenburgs raoul

    Hello artlover,

    The work of Luc Tuymans stimulates the observer to think about the state of being.The painter leaves us with the question if his paintings are on the way to achievement or on the road to degradation.The perfect stage seems to exist only one fraction of time, or is possibly impossible (if I can read the mind of the painter).He makes us aware of the uncertainty of our existence.Our scrutinizing mind is the only defence we have.

  • skonieczna

    ottenburgs raoul,

    This is a thoughtful comment, which, in general, I can agree with. Thank you.

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