Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Lucian Freud (1922 - 2011)

On an autumn day in 1976 I was riding a motorcycle along Holland Park Avenue in the direction of Shepherds Bush Green when a middle-aged man and an elderly, neatly dressed female of Middle European appearance stepped off the pavement in front of me. As I applied the brakes they registered the threat to life and limb and smartly stepped back from the road to the safety of the pavement. When I rode past I recognised the sharp and compact features of Lucian Freud and for a microsecond sensed the famous penetrating gaze that so many have been writing about in the last few days since he died. I’ve always suspected that Freud’s companion was his mother – I vaguely recall she wore a fox fur or something similar – but I could well be wrong on both counts. Freud made productive use of the next 35 years as he transformed himself from a somewhat marginal figurative painter in an age of abstraction and conceptualism into a major star of the international art market, entirely on his own terms.

It seemed to me that Freud steadily migrated from a modified Surrealism to a Neue Sachlichkeit vision of the world. The preoccupation with human tissue and the tribulations of the flesh was perfectly proper but for me it was hard work looking at his paintings despite my admiration for the brilliance with which he manipulated paint into an disconcertingly brutal facsimile of the human form in all its imperfections without compromising the autonomy of each highly charged brush stroke. In the 1970s he briefly turned a cool and beady eye on to the urban scene with paintings of the backs of factories and Victorian terraces. His gaze seemed to linger longest on the most banal and displeasing forms and his brush paid its respects in full to the majestic squalor on display. Freud’s minute examination of all that is most decrepit and debilitated in the human condition seems many times more interesting than Francis Bacon’s soap opera of human cruelty and dissipation. A final thought – perhaps instead of wasting valuable painting time on a vacuous nitwit like Kate Moss, Freud might have been better occupied painting Amy Winehouse.


Isabel said...

I've always found it really hard to form an opinion of Lucian Freud. From a distance his paintings have sometimes appeared to me as little more than manifestations of a morbid and inverted sentimentality.

So it was very interesting to read what you say about the autonomy of his brushstrokes. I can't imagine what a different experience it must be seeing these works up close...

Perhaps Lucian Freud was one of those artists whom it is impossible to apprehend through photos and digital repros. If so, that in itself is something of an admirable achievement these days.

Phil Beard said...

manifestations of a morbid and inverted sentimentality

This had never occurred to me but the more I think the more it makes sense. Behind the façade of cultivated indifference lay a mawkish sensibility. Perhaps Freud was more like Alma-Tadema or Russell Flint than we ever suspected.

Thesis Writing said...

Thank you for sharing such relevant topic with us. I really love all the great stuff you provide. Thanks again and keep it coming.