Luc Tuymans - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Wednesday, March 7, 2018 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp
    Private Collection, New York
    Private Collection, Norway

  • Catalogue Essay

    Luc Tuymans’ cultural memory, from within a post-war European generation, informs his realist, political and evocative oeuvre. Scrutinising and delicately redrawing historic photographs and pre-existing imagery – from television, the internet, polaroids, magazines and other sources – the artist builds his image to conjure faint memories of the original image. With a characteristically nonchalant approach to memory, power and history, the artist carefully distils imagery with a ghostly lightness before committing it to the canvas. Employing minimal lines and ambiguous imagery, the artist creates distance from the subject whilst confronting the connotation of the topic at hand.

    Born in Mortsel, Belgium, in 1958, Tuymans began studying fine art in 1976. Initially concentrating on painting, from 1980 the artist spent years experimenting with filmmaking, gaining new perspectives on painting. ‘Cropping, close-ups, etc. Ideas came from looking through the camera, and I began to understand and accept that a detail could be blown out to become the image itself’ (Luc Tuymans, quoted in, Amy Bernstein, ‘Let Them Look: An Interview with Luc Tuymans’, Portland Art, 2 June 2014, online). The present work, Singing in the Rain, exemplifies Tuymans’ command of the cinematic framing devices characteristic of his work, as evident in Gas Chamber, 1986, Der Architekt, 1997, and Within, 2001. Three incomplete, anonymous yet familiar figures are centered against the vast wan blue plane, their recognisable silhouette’s emphasised through the delicate beige and grey strokes declining into the lower edge of the canvas. Considering himself the product of a ‘television generation’ faced with an overload of visual information, Tuymans examines the discourse between photography and painting. Influenced by the cinema, with its title mirroring Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen’s 1952 celebrated musical comedy film, the present work is exemplary of Tuymans' ability to capture moments in time, each image from his prolific oeuvre engaging with a distinct instant.

    Relying on secondary sources, the artist neither follows nor reacts against dominant movements, instead engaging with the world as he perceives it, driven ‘to start from something real’ (Luc Tuymans, quoted in Ben Eastham, ‘A Necessary Realism: Interview with Luc Tuymans’, Apollo Magazine, 8 August 2015, online). Singing in the Rain leaves the viewer contemplating the space beyond the composition. Fascinated by the relationship between the internal and external, the subjective and the objective, Tuymans’ viewer’s individual perspective shapes the representation. In the present work, the artist relies on a trigger from popular culture, anticipating the permeation of commercialised material. Often initiating objectivity through titles and distinct historical references, here, the artist leaves the reading to the viewer; the familiar silhouettes of the figures enforce an internal view, drawing on the viewer's own mental state and cultural memory.

    Though distilled through a deliberate degree of separation, the artist’s oeuvre is illustrative and predominantly engages with dissident and pertinent subject matter. Citing his veneration of the Northern Renaissance, Tuymans considers: ‘Van Eyck, the most effective, powerful painter in the western hemisphere, because of his hardened form of realism’ (Luc Tuymans, quoted in Jackie Wullschlager, ‘Luc Tuymans: The painterly pessimist’, Finanical Times, 11 February 2011, online). Through his regard for realism, yet reliance on secondary source material, the artist’s oeuvre maintains an enigmatic quality. Not drawing from life, but rather from life’s varied sources, Tuymans thereby analyses the power of imagery and recollection.

    Tuymans upholds the enduring power of the image created as a ‘construction of timing and precision’ (Luc Tuymans, quoted in Amy Bernstein ‘Let Them Look: An Interview with Luc Tuymans’, Portland Art, 2 June 2014, online). A careful moment chosen by Tuymans is evocative, unlike film it refuses to be conclusive, leaving the viewer unable to remember it accurately and in turn generating other images. Tuymans recognises the importance of the work of El Greco demonstrating that ‘painting should appear, confront the viewer, and then disappear, like a kind of retraction. In El Greco there was a sort of deconstruction going on with the imagery; he left out the middle part of the painting. I couldn’t remember the whole image’ (Luc Tuymans, quoted in Ulrich Look et al., Luc Tuymans, 2004, p. 12). Throughout his influential opus Tuymans has revealed his refined ability to conjure images which draw on the power of memory. The present work, a familiar scene with lyrical connotations, is exemplary of the urgency of Tuymans’ critically conceptual yet painterly oeuvre.


Singing in the Rain

signed and dated 'LUC TUYMANS '96' on the reverse
oil on canvas
90.2 x 147.4 cm (35 1/2 x 58 in.)
Painted in 1996.

£500,000 - 700,000 ‡♠

Sold for £729,000

Contact Specialist
Henry Highley
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+ 44 20 7318 4061

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 8 March 2018