Confronting an artwork by Luc Tuymans often involves a modicum of bewilderment. The Belgian artist’s images have a paradoxical habit of relinquishing a great deal of information while simultaneously withdrawing and masking an equal quantity of detail; he may force us into close scrutiny of a particular facial feature even as his desaturated palette conceals the subtleties of the subject’s skintone. These are not purely aesthetic exercises—steeped in historical research, Tuymans’ work chronicles human brutality, from war to imperialism, but does so almost surreptitiously.
His recent screenprint triptych, Surrender, is therefore unexpected in its open disclosure and generosity. The image, depicting the submission of one naval combatant to another, was borrowed from the 1968 film A Twist of Sand. Arranged vertically, the topmost print shows a solitary figure waving a white flag; in the middle print, more figures have joined the first; the lowest print shows prone figures, presumably gunned down by an unseen enemy.
In this final disturbing image, we witness the violence that Tuymans so often masks with the seemingly innocuous. The use of the triptych format is a candid gesture: the animation of action across the three frames alludes to the images’ cinematic origin. While Tuymans has frequently relied on photographic resources, their relation to his finished works has usually been left obscure.
Tuymans has long complemented his work in painting with the production of prints and multiples, deftly exploiting the aesthetic traits of screenprint and lithography. Surrender goes further, matching the open exposure of process and sources to the inherent generosity of the edition, its multiplicity and distribution.