Thursday, October 30, 2014

“Easter” by Luc Tuymans

Poetry, the French writer Paul Valéry once wrote, is that 'long hesitation between sound and meaning.' To judge from Belgian painter Luc Tuymans’s 2006 canvas Easter, art might similarly be defined as that long hesitation between sight and sense - so long, in fact, that stable meaning never fully materializes. Characteristic of Tuymans's work, Easter relies on seemingly straightforward gestures comprising what should, on the surface, cohere into an easily interpretable narrative. The simple linearity of the painting's three figures, progressing from left to right along a low path against the sparest of overcast skies, dares the viewer to detect any complexity at all in the story from which the moment has been removed.

But lean closer and the scene suddenly unravels into a string of ambiguous signs, as opaque as the humid horizon Tuymans has occluded behind them. The three figures, clad indistinctly in ecclesiastical robes, appear to be either exiting or moving towards some kind of congregation or ceremony. Though the middle figure is frozen in mid-salute, arms either rising or falling, what has puzzled some writers is whether these gesticulations are intended to bestow goodwill or shame onto the hooded penitent who strides in front of him. Is this an excommunication, a blessing or a desperate appeal to the departing that he return? The shadow-faced figure behind him turns his countenance towards us, the haziness of his features serving only to amplify the fuzziness of our comprehension. - Kelly Grovier

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