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Star Belgium artist's home-coming smeared by 'vile' politics - Daily News Egypt

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Star Belgium artist’s home-coming smeared by ‘vile’ politics

Luc Tuymans, the star Belgian artist known for works on the Holocaust, 9/11 and his nation’s dark colonial legacy, this week brings his life’s work home — to an almost equally "hallucinatory" political trauma. "The situation in Belgium is vile, I have no idea what will happen," the 53-year-old painter viewed as one of Europe’s …


Luc Tuymans, the star Belgian artist known for works on the Holocaust, 9/11 and his nation’s dark colonial legacy, this week brings his life’s work home — to an almost equally "hallucinatory" political trauma.

"The situation in Belgium is vile, I have no idea what will happen," the 53-year-old painter viewed as one of Europe’s great living artists told AFP as his first retrospective at home opened in Brussels.

Seven years in the making, the show comes to Europe for a one-stop Brussels display after a tour of major US museums unveiling a quarter-century of canvases, mostly on loan from museums and private collectors worldwide.

Held up as one of art’s rare commentators of history, Tuymans, a tall fast-talking smoker with a crew-cut and piercingly blue eyes, had more to say however about the political crisis threatening to break up Belgium, than the 70 oils on show.

"We’re growing further and further apart," he said of the widening divide between Dutch-speakers in northern Flanders and the French-speaking south.

"It’s hallucinatory, on the verge of criminal in a world of recession."

Born and bred in Flanders, switching smoothly from Dutch to French to English, Tuymans denied being "a political painter" while admitting one of his strongest visual statements followed the 1990s rise of the ultra right Vlaams Belang, which wants independence for Flanders under the slogan "Belgium, Die!".

"Painting is born from time, painting is all about timing and precision," he says. "I need to know why I choose an image. But I don’t believe in political art."

A figurative painter unlike many of his contemporaries, Tuymans’ vision on canvas titillates for the way it explores history, memory and, in particular, the mass media.

From canvases inspired by Disneyland, to portraits of former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, slain Congo independence leader Patrice Lumumba, or still-life table-settings and ballroom floors, much of his work re-hashes photographs spotted in magazines or ads clipped from papers.

For weeks or even months, Tuymans mulls images gleaned in the mass-media before finally pinning a canvas to a wall and throwing out his vision in oil in a single sitting that never lasts beyond a single day.

So a large and eerie canvas featuring a tree-trunk in a park — titled The Parc — to the casual eye seems a painting of a park, but in the artist’s mind is a park seen through the lens of a ground-level security camera, to suggest the climate of insecurity in the United States in the aftermath of 9/11.

"He brings a critique," said one of the US curators of the show, Helen Molesworth of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. "It is difficult work for the general public."

Tuymans’ bleak view of the world is highlighted by a taste for understated pastel colors — no bright Van Gogh yellows or reds here. His iconically blurry lines, the end result of much work and effort, suggest the image may not be quite what it seems.

But the artist opines it doesn’t matter if the public doesn’t see the message. "I’m me, I’m not my work. My works are silent. The painting is an object in itself."

His message, he said, "is distrust. I am always distrustful all the time towards everything, towards images."

Sold for six-digit figures at auction, his work made a huge buzz at the 2001 Venice Biennale, when a series titled "Mwana Kitoko: Beautiful White Man" played up Belgium’s controversial role in the Congo.

"Luc is a history painter for our times," said co-curator Madeleine Grynsztejn of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. "He mirrors our history in a visual way. He is a public intellectual in the grand European sense."

Viewed on the art circuit as quintessentially Flemish for his brush, his eye and his subject matter, Tuymans says "I’m proud to have that label" and adds that Jan van Eyck, the 15th-century Flemish master in Bruges, is "probably the greatest painter in the world."

But harking back to the poisonous politics of Belgium, and the rise of nationalist sentiment in his native Flanders, he said: "I don’t even want to live there!"

Luc Tuymans, Retrospective, runs until May 8 at Brussels prestigious Bozar Centre for Fine Arts (www.bozar.be)

Luc Tuymans, Retrospective, runs until May 8 at Brussels prestigious Bozar Centre for Fine Arts (www.bozar.be)
 

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