In The Studio: Luc Tuymans, painter

'Art can have a political stance at a certain little moment of time'

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

Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

booksReview: Lena Dunham, Not That Kind of Girl
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments