I've just been acquainted with Belgian contemporary painter Luc Tuymans. I'm wondering how I could have missed him all this time considering his status as one of Belgium's greatest artists, along with Rubens and Magritte. Possibly the most intriguing aspect of his work is the incorporation of techniques from photography and film, such as cropping, extreme close-ups and desaturation. It's very interesting how his paintings can embody abstract moods and emotions such as melancholy and catharsis. This is partly due to his raw, flat, undemonstrative style of painting, which creates a haziness that obscures the subject.
Because I'm not nearly as knowledgeable nor eloquent as I wish to be, I'd quote the comments by some critics. This was used to describe another work, but I think it fits the above images very well:
"The simplicity of Luc Tuymans's composition alludes to a pure and uninterrupted world order; the ephemeral light, with which the canvas seems to glow, places it as an epic masterpiece of metaphysical and spiritual contemplation. In response to unimaginable horror, Luc Tuymans offers the sublime. A gaping magnitude of impotency, which neither words nor paintings could ever express."
"Luc Tuymans paints the indescribable. His dark muted scenes seem vaguely familiar, distant, like haunting memories. Drawing his inspiration from grand themes, Luc Tuymans taps into a universal social guilt: from the Holocaust, or imperialism, to child abuse. By minimalising his images, he creates a raw emotion through paint; each painting linking spiritually, somehow instinctively, to the rest."
I feel that his paintings have a sinister undercurrent even if the subject seems quite innocuous initially. In this sense he is akin to Belgian Symbolist artist Leon Spilliaert, one of Tuymans' inspirations. The feeling of anxiety, the lurking sense of menace, and the combination of violence and poetry is classic Symbolism. Formally, Tuymans' washed-out palette seems to have been inherited from Spilliaert as well.
I'll be writing more about Tuymans in the next post, including his influence as a contemporary artist and his treatment of the portrait.