Part 5 – Essay

Research project into the historical and contemporary use of oil paints looking at Francisco de Goya and Luc Tuymans.

The heart of my creative practice lies within expressing darkness so the key areas that I have focussed on in Tuymans’ and Goya’s work are 1) light, 2) truth and 3) horror.

Light – Tuymans’ use of light is over saturated and startling, exposing uncomfortable truths with sparse and pared down compositions. ‘In order to show something, I paint a lot away” (Cantz, 2003:11).  I find Tuyman’s use of light more challenging than Goya’s. I feel this is partly attributable to the opacity of his colours – the light is stark and yet hidden simultaneously. The Fates (Atropos) and  ‘The 3rd of May 1808 in Madrid’ or “The Executions”   glow, as though light is emanating from within – Goya’s use of chiaroscuro in these hints at something different, almost religious, and his use of glazes and layering is something I would like to try in my work.

Truth – Goya is said to have been an artist that sought truth in his rendering of subjects ‘(both Velasquez and) Goya aimed to represent their sitters as directly as possible, devoid of pomp or superficiality‘. (Bray, 2015:30).  All Goya’s portraits speak volumes of the people he portrays – experiencing who they were seems almost tangible when viewing the work and yet Tuyman’s work is the opposite – there is a deathly, haunting quality to his representations and both of these approaches seem pertinent to my practice.

Horror – A prime example of expressing horror would be to look at   ‘Saturn Devouring one of his children’  and  ‘Issei Sagawa’ 2014.  Both these paintings are truly horrifying but I also experience something glorious within them.  Perhaps it is because they are what I am not, somehow my foibles are let off the hook.  Goya’s work is rich in historical context because he lived it, he experienced the horror, however, I need to find a way to connect with this subject matter without also assimilating the trauma. Perhaps using Tuymans approach in using second or third person images provides a safer environment to grapple with such challenging subject matter. I can, therefore, see the need to extensively search for images from a wide range of sources so that I am able to select appropriate resources when planning new work.

There is something reverent in attempting to honour Goya’s traditional way of painting, and to juxtapose it with the contemporary immediacy of Tuyman’s style of painting. I note below the basic methodology of each in the hope that I may begin to experiment with both their ways of working:-

Goya – ‘Maria Josefa de Bourbon y Sajounia’ 1800 helped me to understand the construction of Goya’s work. The main areas of the composition are marked out in black lines on the earth coloured ground and then the skin and clothing is added.  The final layer is the dark background around the head (Bray, 2015:117).  As mentioned above, Goya uses a multitude of layers – his understanding of the interplay of colours is vast and the layering of glazes is a key component within that.

Tuymans – Tuymans paints in one sitting, often using sideways brush strokes that seem to animate the image.  ‘The Heritage VI’ 1996 is described as being ‘rendered with neat, careful – almost nervous – horizontal brushstrokes‘ (Cooke/Simeons, 2015:292).  I also note that he sketches and plans his work using watercolour and gouache – something I can start to adopt in my own practice to enable me to start to envision layers and construction.




Bray, X. (2015) Goya: The Portraits. London: National Gallery Company Limited

Cant, H. (2003) Luc Tuymans, The Arena. Osfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz Publishers

Cooke, L./Simoens, T. (2015) Luc Tuymans, Intolerance. Antwerp: DeckersSnoeck

Wiseman, G. (2012) Luc Tuymans: Loosening Up. At (Accessed 5 July 2017).

Luke, B. (2015) Goya inspires Tuymans to conjure spectre of Isil in new work. In The Art Newspaper [online] At: (Accessed 5 July 2017).

Glover, M. (2013) Great Works: Gas Chamber (1986) by Luc Tuymans. In The Independent [online] At: (Accessed 5 July 2017).

Black, P. (2015) Tuymans Discusses His Dark Paintings, Japanese Cannibals and Francisco de Goya. In The Artlyst [online] (Accessed 5 July 2017).

Brown, M. (2015) Japanese cannibals and German executions: Luc Tuymans goes over to the dark side. In The Guardian [online] At: (Accessed on 5 July 2017).

Wollschläger, J. (2015) Luc Tuymans: dark visions and enlightenment. In The Financial Times [online] At: (Accessed on 5 July 2017)

East ham, B. (2015) A Necessary Realism: Interview with Luc Tuymans. In Apollo Magazine [online] At: (Accessed 5 July 2017).

Hughes, R. (2003) Goya’s unflinching eye. In The Guardian [online] At: (Accessed 5 July 2017).



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