4 screenprints mounted on grey cardboard
Luc Tuymans's printed oeuvre begins in 1990 with a series of four screenprints, published by The Contemporary Art Museum Association in Ghent (which in 1999 became S.M.A.K. I Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst).
The series entitled Recherches also marks the start of Tuymans's long-term collaboration with Roger Vandaele, the Antwerp-based master printer. (Earlier experiments include an artist book consisting of a numbered grouping of photocopies, and an inkjet print, both reproduced as the first two entries in this volume.)
The title Recherches - French for 'research' - points to the methodological process by which this work came into being. Tuymans created these prints based on a number of preliminary watercolour and pencil drawings he made after travelling to concentration camps in Germany and Poland in 1986. The themes he extracted from this groundwork would reoccur throughout his artistic production in the 1980s and 1990s (including four paintings and a group of four watercolours from 1989, collectively titled Recherches). This title also suggests Tuymans's formal approach to painting and his reputation for technical proficiency, as well as his longstanding interest in German history and the persecution of Jews during World War II. For these works, Tuymans was able to create engaging visual forms through his sparse, essentials-only use of line and colour. Recherches no. I depicts the simplest of objects, a lampshade on a glass table.
The depth and meaning of what is portrayed is impossible to deduce from the title, which speaks nothing of this image's underlying menace and horror: the lampshade is an artefact from Buchenwald concentration camp, near Weimar, and was made from human skin. Further attesting to Tuymans's research-based practice is his willingness to return to and directly reference forms and content from earlier works. Printmaker and painter - Vandaele and Tuymans - sensitively considered all aspects of the aforementioned 1989 watercolours (now in the collection of the Kunstmuseum Bern) to produce the sober colours, semi transparent inks, and stained, wrinkled graph paper pasted to cardboard for these prints. Profound notions of great and small, weight and légèreté are suggested through the diminutive scale, material choices and presentation of these small prints mounted to large sheets of grey cardboard. This format requires the viewer to approach the works for close reading, to seek out details that may or may not visually exist in the images. What the viewer does find on approach, however, is an immense eloquence.
Rooted in the artist's ongoing interest in film and photography is the relationship between image scale and paper format, and this studied use of framing has remained significant throughout Tuymans's printmaking practice.