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avid Zwirner was named the second most powerful art dealer in the world by Forbes earlier this year, so the arrival of his new 10,000 sq ft Mayfair gallery has been hotly anticipated. For the opening exhibition, Zwirner is celebrating Belgian painter Luc Tuymans, one of the first artists he ever represented and the man he credits with helping spark a revival of painting in the 1990s. Tuymans is known for his sparsley-coloured figurative works exploring diverse and sensitive topics including the Holocaust, the effects of images from 9/11 and the post-colonial history of the Congo. In Allo!, Tuymans’ first show in the UK since a major retrospective at Tate Modern in 2004, he takes as his subject one of the final scenes of the 1942 film The Moon and Sixpence, loosely based on the life of Paul Gauguin. After the artist’s death in the film, his doctor visits his studio in Tahiti and is taken aback by the murals he finds painted on the walls. In original screenings, these final scenes were in colour, while the rest of the film is black-and-white.

What was the most challenging thing about painting from a film? These paintings were an oddity for me because I usually get bored, and here I have to work with the same colours six times. Although the figure of the doctor moves in front of the background, the background stays the same. It was quite an ordeal to keep the same intensity going. Although you could perceive this as a sort of sequence, which it clearly is, it should not be held together as one body of work, so that means every work has to have its own intentional intensity.

Was it difficult making your work match the source material?

The section of the film is hand-coloured, which makes it more interesting. Normally I go from the lightest point and only at the end will I apply the darkest. Here, I did it the other way round because I had to measure the strength of the colour in accordance with the contrast.

How did you put your own stamp on the images? In all the paintings there is a reflection of my head or a piece of my body, which is in the image: this is the spectre of myself. So there is an element of multi-layering going on.

What inspired you to make work based on The Moon and Sixpence?

It came to mind not so much because I think it’s a great movie, but because of the part at the end. In one of the pictures you can see a face, which has nothing to do with Gaugin. So these paintings are mock-ups, which I found interesting. It is also one of the first movies where there is a depiction in Hollywood of what an artist could be. There is

an element of romanticism, which is an illusion because I do not believe that artists are necessarily romantic.

Do you think that most people don’t really understand artists then? Well, most people in their stupidity have always seen the artist either as a romantic idiot, or as somebody who is lazy, or as somebody who doesn’t work and has made a profession out of his hobby. People should get away from these ideas, because it is one of the hardest jobs. It does not go from nine to five, it is putting yourself at stake 24 hours a day. If you are not completely convinced of what you do, you cannot do it.

As an artist, do you think that your own life is relevant to your work? Or should artists only be judged on their work? I think that the artist is never relevant to his work. I always made quite clear that there was a huge separation for me between the work itself and the human being behind it. There are artists that try to make a mix of that, but that is not something that I would allow because it would be too narrow.

What about once you become successful as an artist, as you have? Does wealth take you away from the real world?

ART: Nuala Calvi

When it started to become evident that I would be successful, I was afraid that success would have


an effect on the integrity of the work. In order to not have sleepless nights about it, I decided to make a sort of schism between the art world and the artworks. For me the art world is totally different from the artworks. It is a schizophrenic existence and it takes a lot of energy.

You make a lot of your work from pre-existing imagery. Does the question of originality worry you? I don’t think originality actually exists. I came to understand that when I was 18 and I won a prize for a self-portrait, having thought I had made something quite authentic, and together with the money prize I got a book. And it fell open on a page where an 18-year-old had also made a self-portrait, and although it was formally different it meant exactly the same thing. There is no


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