In The Studio: Luc Tuymans, painter
'Art can have a political stance at a certain little moment of time'
Saturday 22 September 2012
Squinting at the portrait of Queen Beatrix in Luc Tuymans's Antwerp studio, I observe that she has on a lot of blue eye shadow. Tuymans responds simply: "She likes her eye shadow." Tuymans has captured both humanity and strength in this portrait. Commissioned for Amsterdam's Stedelijk Museum, he photographed her in her castle amongst her extensive art collection, suggested here through cursory brush strokes.
Tuymans represented Belgium in the 2001 Venice Biennale with a pavilion that captured both public and critical attention. Focusing on Belgium's relationship with the Congo, Tuymans teased out questions of colonialisation in his detached yet haunting paintings. Although he himself claims he is not a political painter, he admits: "Art can have a political stance at a certain little moment of time. That series can be seen as the most journalistic series I have ever painted."
Tuymans's painting studio is in a nondescript modern building. Born in Antwerp in 1958, Tuymans has lived in the city his whole life. "The people here are quite reserved and they leave you alone." His personal troubled history is well chronicled and he needs little prompting to tell the story. "My mother was Dutch and my father was Belgian Flemish. When I was five there was a family gathering and there was a photo album out of which a photo slipped out, and it was Luc – the guy I am named after, an uncle who died in the war –and he is giving the Hitler salute. The Dutch side, the other side, was in the resistance."
Antwerp is a city that celebrates the work of Rubens, although Tuymans says he prefers the work of Jan Van Eyck, "who is probably the most important and best painter in the western hemisphere". He admits Van Eyck is a hard act to follow. "If you are brought up with that, what are you going to do with it? It is so f****ng perfect you are traumatised from the start."
Van Eyck, with his opulent figures, might seem an odd choice for Tuymans, whose unhappy upbringing may well be reflected in his favoured limited palette of earth tones, blacks, and greys. So it is a relief to see Queen Beatrix dressed in her favoured mauves, with her popping eye-shadow. Famous for painting his works in one sitting, Tuymans confirms: "I painted her in a day, starting at 10am and finishing at 1am the next morning."
Tuymans is dressed stylishly in designer black, with his silver hair sleekly cropped, albeit wreathed in smoke from the cigarettes he chain-smokes. I ask about one of his most notorious works – an unflattering portrait of Condoleezza Rice. He says: "My painting has become more important then Condoleeza Rice by now. A museum director actually congratulated me because what I did for Condoleezza Rice is what Andy Warhol did for Marilyn Monroe."
Luc Tuymans, 'Allo!', David Zwirner Gallery, London, 24 Grafton Street W1, 5 October until 17 November
Luc Tuymans, 'The Summer is Over', David Zwirner Gallery, New York, 1 November until 19 December
There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turningTV
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Rihanna 'nude photos' claims emerge on 4Chan as hacking scandal continues
- 2 Frank Lampard equalises for Manchester City against Chelsea: how the internet reacted
- 3 Stamford Hill council removes 'unacceptable' posters telling women which side of the road to walk down
- 4 Kim Kardashian 'nude photos' leaked on 4chan weeks after Jennifer Lawrence scandal
- 5 Hitler’s former food taster reveals the horrors of the Wolf’s Lair
Downton Abbey series 5, episode 1, review: Revolution still seems far off
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written
Friends 20th anniversary: The highs and lows of the cast's careers since TV series ended in 2004
Downton Abbey series 5, episode 1, ITV, review: There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning
Foo Fighters: 2015 tour dates announced for Sonic Highways
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Hilary Mantel 'should be investigated by police' over Margaret Thatcher assassination story, says Lord Bell
Plebgate MP Andrew Mitchell called officer a 'little s**t', claim court documents 'exposing ex-Chief Whip's 'record of abusing police'
Archbishop of Canterbury admits doubts about existence of God