The Exorcist by Luc Tuymans

Luc Tuymans

The Exorcist, 2007, Oil on canvas, 84.8 x 118.4 cm, Private collection, © Luc Tuymans, Courtesy Studio Luc Tuymans; Photo: Peter Cox, Courtesy Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp

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The Exorcist

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This ethereal image is part of Luc Tuyman’s series of nine paintings on religion and the potent power of the Jesuit Order, created on the occasion of a solo exhibition in Antwerp entitled Les Revenants. Tuymans’ work often deal with the question how shocking and disastrous events from a recent past can be told, and how we determine our attitude towards such events. Reality and illusion are often merged in his paintings, as are beauty and discomfort (Molesworth 2011: 17–18).

This particular work is made after a movie still from The Exorcist (1973), directed by William Friedkin after a novel by William Peter Blatty. Based on the real-life event of an exorcism of a boy in Maryland (USA) in 1949, the story deals with Father Merrin and Father Karras, two Jesuit priests, trying to expel a demon from a twelve-year-old girl.

The film is often loud, threatening, and dark, whereas the painting is the opposite. The soft blue, purple, white, and grey colour tones generate a ghostlike effect, while the abstraction of the scene creates a certain stillness. Tuymans’s figures remain vague, without faces and therefore anonymous. This gives the beholder a feeling of distance, an effect the artist may have desired. As Tuymans once declared: ‘The two most important misunderstandings regarding my work concern “poetry” and “intimacy”. My work is anything but intimate’. (Dexter & Heynen 1994: 9).

Tuymans chose one of the most iconic scenes from the movie: the girl is levitating above her bed while the two clerics attempt to exorcise her possessor by repeating the line, ‘The power of Christ compels you’. Near the end of the movie, in his last attempt to heal the girl, Karras commands the demon to enter him. Once possessed, he jumps out of the window and dies. Parallels with the Gospels will not have been lost on the viewer.



Dexter, Emma, and Julian Heynen (eds). 1994. Luc Tuymans (London: Tate)

Koerner, Joseph Leo. 2011. ‘Monstrans’, in Luc Tuymans, ed. by Madeleine Grynsztejn and Helen Molesworth (Brussels: Ludion), pp. 31–47

McDannell, Colleen. 2008. ‘Catholic Horror. The Exorcist (1973)’, in Catholics in the Movies, ed. Colleen McDannell (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 197–225

Molesworth, Helen. 2011. ‘Luc Tuymans: de schilder van de banaliteit van het kwaad’, in Luc Tuymans, ed. by Madeleine Grynsztejn and Helen Molesworth (Brussels: Ludion), pp. 15–29

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