The exhibition recently launched at the Centre de la Gravure in La Louvière presents a retrospective of Luc Tuymans’ graphic works. Last Friday, dressed in a splendid finely striped double-breasted suit, this giant of international contemporary art introduced the exhibition to the press with great care. With his eagle eye, his face tense with concentration, his presence and stature were impressive to say the least. The exhibition is remarkable and offers a great opportunity to discover the world of this artist.
In 1990, for the Friends of the Museum of Ghent, he decided to try his hand at engraving, under the teachings of master printer Roger Vandaele who is still his mentor today. “I paint a picture in one day. Engraving is a slower process. A lithograph print takes me one week. It is a process that also involves working with a master printer,” he explains. They began by turning small watercolours on the theme of the Holocaust into lithograph prints. A challenge considering that it is crucial to render the transparencies of watercolour and the artist’s use of light.
Luc Tuymans first approached multiple printing to produce more affordable works, a decision he has not regretted. He’s tried out as many printing techniques as there are media. This included, Le Verdict, this multiple lithograph printed on 7 strips of wallpaper (created for the Centre Genevois de Gravure Contemporaine, Geneva), which had to be pasted on the wall to display it, thus implying a death sentence for the artwork, since it later had to be torn off the wall at the end of the exhibition.
Tuymans’ works, whether painted or engraved, very often start with an image captured on a computer screen or with a smartphone, or a camera. Having collected and archived images or bits of reality from all kinds of sources, the artist has built up a significant image library over time which he uses as a reserve. He might retrieve those source images years later in some cases. World War II and reality TV are among the topics he addresses. The way he works as an artist seems to give him the possibility to digest all these images, first erasing them to reincorporate them subsequently like slightly faded memories. This to-and-froing from the conscious to the unconscious, from the known to the forgotten, from reality to dream, turns his images into the type of arwork that affect many people because they invoke our collective memory.
Luc Tuymans was born in 1958 in Antwerp, where he is now living and working. He studied painting in Brussels. Between 1980 and 1985, the artist wrote film scripts and directed short films. He resumed his painting career in 1985, never to interrupt it again.
This is the series of lithograph prints entitled Plates. “This is a 1920s service of plates I use every day. I was fascinated by the way the surface of the porcelain shimmers. I had to use 5 to 6 stones (one for each colour) for this series,” the artist explains.
A minor art?
“Multiple printing is often believed to be a minor art,” comments Centre de la Gravure director, Catherine de Braekeleer. “It’s a somewhat simplistic view. We especially observed that painters who learn engraving begin to think differently, because of the lengthy process of the technique, and to change the way they paint. These two crafts interact. It is this interaction that is so exciting.”
And now the Allo! series. These prints are based on a painting, the painting on a photograph of a screen showing a film, The Moon and Sixpence, by Albert Lewin, 1942, itself adapted from the novel by the same name published by William Somerset Maugham in 1918. These multi-layered explorations of culture and time are an intrinsic to Luc Tuymans’ creative process. This series was acquired by the Centre de la Gravure by means of a budget allocated by the municipality of La Louvière.
In The Spiritual Exercises, Tuymans explores in seven lithograph prints his fascination mixed with hatred for the Jesuits, whom he describes as both very erudite and very close to power. Further, The Temple, aquatints produced from almost washed-off watercolours: once again here, the light, which overexposes the scene, is ubiquitous and the central character.
Roger Vandaele, master printer: “I would never reproduce Luc’s paintings. I analyze them and I reintroduce the painting process in the printing process. I print like a painter would paint! The fact that Luc always paints on an unmounted canvas and very often tries out his colours on the edge of his work, testing with tiny strokes, is very useful in this approach. I use these colours as references for my own colour research. It is true that over the years I got to know Luc’s palette.”
The exhibition is complemented by the Catalogue Raisonné of the artist’s graphic oeuvre (in French), compiled by Manfred Sellink and Tommy Simmoens and published by Ludion. This is a new publication, also featuring works from the past two years, which complements the Dutch and English versions published in 2012.
This exhibition at the Centre de la Gravure is the first exhibition planned outside the city walls under Mons 2015 European Capital of Culture.
Centre de la Gravure et de l’Image Imprimée
10 rue des amours
7100 La Louvière
Until 10 May
Tuesdays to Sundays and festive days from 10:00 to 18:00h
(Closed during the Laetare i.e. 15 and 17 March)