David Zwirner, London
5 October–17 November 2012
by ANNA McNAY
Belgian painter Luc Tuymans (born 1958) is the one who has been appointed to carry out this task, with an exhibition of his haunting scenes, inspired by the 1942 film, The Moon and Sixpence, itself an adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s 1919 novel, loosely based on the life and Tahitian travels of Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). Albeit with none of the tropical colour of Gauguin’s own works, these dark and deliberately unfocused scenes nevertheless greet the visitor with flair.
The series came about as something of an accident, when Tuymans was asked, a year ago, to make a painting for A Room for London, the one-bedroom boat installation perched atop the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Having recently completed a series criticising the Congo and Belgium’s role there, Tuymans decided to continue with the theme of colonialism, but in a less direct way. The works in this series deal also with his longstanding fascination with film, the projected image, and the very particular light that comes with it. “I am a product of the television generation,” explains Tuymans, reminiscing about when his parents acquired their first colour screen and he saw the Albert Lewin film, which, at its climax, when the doctor of the deceased stockbroker-turned-artist returns to his studio, moments before his Tahitian widow sets fire to everything, turns from black and white into stunning Technicolor.
For his Allo!series of paintings (all 2012), Tuymans first made digital stills of the screen – itself displaying mock ups of Gauguin’s Tahitian works – then rephotographed these with his iPhone, in turn capturing his own shadow which became an integral part of the final works, which he then painted on to canvas, largely with just one brush, and using only five colours. “[This is] an aberration within my own oeuvre!” says Tuymans. “A challenge! I get easily bored, and, for numbers II and III, I even had to reproduce the same background twice.”
Allo! VI contains a mass of grey space, which, close up, looks like nothing, but, as you move further away, a sense of contours and depth emerges. Similarly, with the blurry brushstrokes, it is necessary to step back to focus the image and make its contents appear. Perhaps this is another reference to the pixellation of the television screen?
As well as the Allo! series, the show also displays a couple of isolated works, Peaches and Technicolor (both 2012), which use, as their source material, the earliest vintage Technicolor images Tuymans was able to find on YouTube. Again, unimpressive at close range, with their pencilled outlines and blocks of colour, from afar, the areas of uncovered white canvas shine through, almost incandescent.
Tuymans was one of the first artists to be represented by Zwirner after he opened his New York gallery back in 1993. This is his ninth solo show with the gallery, and will overlap with his tenth, The Summer is Over, opening in November in New York. If he continues to be this prolific, one thing is for sure, neither Tuymans nor his audience will get bored.