Sunday, 23 August 2009

Luc Tuymans

Bend Over, 2001
Oil on canvas, 60 x 60 cm
Tate Modern, London
8th July 2004

This remains one of my favourite Tuyman’s paintings despite having seen it a number of times. These notes are from when I saw it in the Tate retrospective. It shared a room with other modestly sized paintings some as early as 1988. Despite this non-linear hang and the different themes, the uniformity of Tuyman’s painting practice makes the room work.

Tuymans’s career began with filmmaking, and consequently his approach to painting often draws from montage so additional meaning is conveyed by the pieces’ adjacency. In this retrospective he must have used this room to set up a new dialogue between the works as this piece was originally shown in a show at “The White Cube” called “The Rumour” amongst a series of paintings of pigeons.

This painting, like the earlier works in the room uses short horizontal brush strokes to build the form and also blur it into the surrounding space. Also all the canvases are pinned around the edge onto thin stretchers, as and have no paint on the edges. I have read that he paints on the canvas prior to stretching, which would explain how he maintains this uniformity of look. The other common feature is the continued use of subdued pastel colours. The oils are thin and have a very flat dry look. The colours in this painting are perhaps best described as “sickly” greens and conjure up the institutional colour of old hospitals.

I suspect the source for the painting is a photograph but I cannot find a reference. The image looks like a man, possibly awaiting a thrashing but he or she could just be bending over doing exercises or picking something up. The background gives no indication of a location and the subject is tightly held by the close cropping of edges of the canvas. The former interpretation is perhaps reinforced by the command implicit in the title "Bend Over" rather than the posture i.e. “bent over”. Coming from a time when corporal punishment was still meted out in schools, I find it a powerful image that reminds me of the degradation we were subjected to. Maybe this painting helped Tuymans close an old wound, but it holds one open for me, and this memory isn’t made any more comfortable by Tuymans placing me (the viewer) in the position of perpetrator.

©blackdog 2009


  1. -Yes, "sickly" green, yes, I remember the 'dirty' green colours of the tiles in old hospitals - or prison cells (film memories) - an inhospitale, cold atmosphere! And I remember a painting of E. Schiele...
    -I'm sure: a man, a young man while I'm looking at his legs, back, and behind
    -naked: I have the feeling as naked person in this situation he is vulnerable (like the figures of Schiele), without any protection, being at the mercy of another person who could hit him, perhaps- in any case combining all the details/signals I'm fearing a kind of unknown- threatening danger and violence (at school, at army, at prison...)!
    -bend over: "exercises", "picking something up", ready for bathing- or a gesture of humiliation and degradation humiliated by others we don't see what may intensify this feeling of 'angst', short before getting hitten ("corporal punishment", never officially in my times at school, but possible in peer- groups and a theme in literature)? I don't know- in any case the corpus might look a bit like a (mutilated?) torso, I wonder that we don't see any arm or a kind of shadow in the front of him?
    A painting about the human being: fragmented, naked, exposed, helpless? - a painting about humilation and degradation, ignoring man's dignity - I'm afraid my imagination is going a bit astray..., but I like to follow your precise and very sensitive interpretation! The painting technique may be excellent- it is a really impressive and touching painting, and I would like to erect/ to help the person up and to look directly at his/her face and to give him/her again an erected position (so typical for the human being) and a human face and dignity!

  2. Sorry, I remember the following story (Luke 13:10-17) about the woman "bent over" (meant not only in corporal sense!) and healed (in more than a corporal sense); there is a wonderful etching by Rembrandt showing this 'event'!
    "Now he (Jesus) was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath, and a woman was there who had been disabled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten herself up completely. When Jesus saw her, he called her to him and said, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.” Then he placed his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. But the president of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the crowd, “There are six days on which work should be done! So come and be healed on those days, and not on the Sabbath day.” Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from its stall, and lead it to water? Then shouldn’tthis woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen longyears, be released from this imprisonment on the Sabbath day?” When he said this all his adversaries were humiliated, but the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things he was doing."

  3. Yes - the figure almost seems to be bony and short of flesh, very like some Schiele and you are right about the arms and head - strange we don't see a glimpse. But then that might dilute the impact. I am sure he used a photographic source, but I don't know what.

    I have seen the Rembrandt you refer to - I think it is in London.