Born in Morstel, Belgium, in 1958, Luc Tuymans is widely seen as having contributed to the revival of painting since the 1990s. His sparsely-colored, figurative works speak in a quiet, restrained, and at times unsettling voice, and are typically painted from pre-existing imagery which includes photographs and video stills. His canvases, in turn, become third-degree abstractions from reality and often appear out-of-focus, as if covered by a thin veil or painted from a failing memory. There is almost always a darker undercurrent to what at first appear to be innocuous subjects: Tuymans has explored diverse and sensitive topics including the Holocaust, imagery from 9/11, Walt Disney's ambiguous utopia, the colonial history of his native Belgium, and the phenomenon of the corporation.
Tuymans notes on the present work: "During the installation of the exhibition The Reality of the Lowest Rank - A Vision of Central Europe in Bruges [which the artist curated together with Tommy Simoens in 2010], we would have drinks in the same bar almost every other night. Almost every other night the same person was playing on an arcade gambling machine. Although the bar was totally full, this guy was fully concentrated on one thing only: the game. His face was lit up by the light of the screen in violent purples, blues and yellows. The name of the game in question was Deal - No Deal."
Tuymans presents this man alone in the center of the painting, his isolation enhanced by the large empty space above him and the empty chairs in the foreground. Playing at a red automat only accompanied by a glass of beer at his side, his concentration on the game is evident and his hunchback posture suggests that he has been here for some time. The electric blue light from the screen in front of him contours his face, highlighting his receding hairline and sunken cheeks. The background is hazy and indistinct, offering an apt parallel to his mental absorption and the almost meditative activity that he is engaged in. As if frozen in time, the figure takes on the appearance of a still life.
The present work is not directly related to Tuymans' ongoing exhibition in Bruges, but its concern with the aspects of everyday life considered useless or meaningless certainly relates to the core themes of the show. While many of the artists included in the exhibition make use of derelict found objects, or otherwise incorporate the "real" in their works, Tuymans' painting invokes another "rank" of reality altogether, which pertains to the universe of the video game, whose "parallel" reality is frequently blamed for leading to anti-social behavior and escapism. The crude title of the arcade game which so intensely occupies the lonely figure in this work enhances the separation that seems to exist between him and the busy bar, and somberly echoes the fact that more often that not in these games, there is no deal.