Belgian artist Luc Tuymans exhibited new paintings in The Rumour at White Cube Hoxton Square. For Tuymans a show provides a vacuum around which he finds a subject or catalyst, enabling him to create a powerful series of images. For this exhibition, Tuymans' theme was the cult of carrier pigeons and their trainers. The resulting eight works included a portrait of an authoritative male figure dressed in a suit, a darkly suggestive painting of a bent-over figure, bleached out and seen from behind, as well as numerous paintings of pigeons. One work depicts a flock of birds on a pavement, another a pigeon's eye in extreme close-up.
The Flemish word for pigeon is 'duif', a word that seems to assert the familial relation between pigeons and doves. The dove, traditionally a symbol of hope, peace and redemption is here subverted by Tuymans who presents it as a signifier of pestilence, filth and degradation.
Tuymans often works in series, a method whereby one image can generate another and where images can be formulated and then reformulated. He continuously analyses and distils his images, making many drawings, photocopies and watercolours before making the high intensity oil paintings. Tuymans' paintings are quiet, restrained and persuasive. They are austere works that treat all subjects, whether a birdhouse or a prostrate figure, with equal emotional detachment.
Tuymans often takes a fragment - in this case the pigeon's eye - as the subject of a painting, at once elevating and dislocating it from the world through enlargement, cropping and editing. Sometimes the object is rendered so abstract it almost disappears and often the harsh corrosive light that pulsates in the paintings obliterates it further. His paintings are characterised by the seductive and sensual brushwork that simultaneously caresses and camouflages the surface. Jan Hoet sees Tuymans' paintings as highly subversive since they formulate a stubborn revolt against academic rules, classical aesthetics and even against his own skill, whilst still exploiting the viewer's perverse voyeuristic pleasure.
The modest scale of Tuymans' paintings belies their enormous psychological force. Each one generates its own disquieting emotional field, very often discharging a palpable sense of violence, suffocation and threat. Tuymans transforms worldly spaces and objects into internal landscapes so that the viewer encounters something already known yet forgotten.
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