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Lucian Freud --A Compelling Visual Contact of His Art

By CatherineYen(20,979) CatherineYen

Posted Thursday, April 17, 2008
View All Blog Posts submitted by CatherineYen

Oil painting by Lucian Freud , "The Interior"

Freud's big oil painting " Benefits Supervisor Sleeping" (circa 1995) will be auctioned in May at New York Christie's , which is estimated in US$35M and will break the record of Jeff Koons' "Hanging Heart" (US$23.5M), it will rewirte the record of existing contemporary artists.

Freud, Lucian (1922- ). German-born British painter. He was born in Berlin, a grandson of Sigmund Freud, came to England with his parents in 1931, and acquired British nationality in 1939. His earliest love was drawing, and he began to work full time as an artist after being invalided out of the Merchant Navy in 1942. In 1951 his Interior at Paddington (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) won a prize at the Festival of Britain, and since then he has built up a formidable reputation as one of the most powerful contemporary figurative painters. Portraits and nudes are his specialities, often observed in arresting close-up. His early work was meticulously painted, so he has sometimes been described as a `Realist' (or rather absurdly as a Superrealist), but the subjectivity and intensity of his work has always set him apart from the sober tradition characteristic of most British figurative art since the Second World War. In his later work (from the late 1950s) his handling became much broader.

"At the outset there is always a mystery. We cannot know what a painter brought to painting or what drew him to it. Yet everything he paints throughout his life adds to our understanding of one or both these things. When his last picture is painted in that predestined way in which, one cannot help believing, an artist's work, and therefore art, unfolds when the last predestined picture is finished and the trajectory of his meaning completes its curve then we know all there is to be known about these first riddles and understand what can't be known, what remains unknowable about the sources and the resources of a painter.

The book offers a chance to look at work by Lucian Freud. Generally the sight is not easy to come by, because most of the pictures belong to people, not museums. It is nearly ten years since as many of them as this were shown together. Unlike most noted contemporaries, Freud does not paint museum pictures, though if you come on one in a museum you may never forget it. Large groups of them hang in a few collections; his pictures are sought after and kept at home, as if there was something personal in their significance. This book, in which Freud has taken a large part, is exceptional in another respect. Not only the work but the view of it here (though not the commentary) is his own. Seen through his eyes, the pictures show aspects that are unexpected. In his comparisons, cutting sometimes a little across the order in which they may have been painted, they connect in ways that one had not foreseen. Seen in his context they show more of  something or other, which one had not noticed, more of a character that is peculiarly his. They not only complement each other; they reveal more of the unpredicted discords that are an elusive element in them. Led by the painter, one is aware at page after page of a residual shock from which familiarity does not shield one. One would not wish that it should. One rather, and shamelessly, prizes the frisson, without particular sentiment for whomever, in what unsparing involvement, inspired it. Familiarity does not shield but sharpens, engaging one more deeply in a relationship that is addictive.

"With modern art in particular one is always considering, or should be if one is not, the shades of indispensability that attach to the surprise. The way that Lucian Freud's world presents itself to him and to us has been inseparable from a chill of incongruity that preserves its particularity, its otherness, as if a coldness in the figurative substance made the visual contact electric and compelling.

"There is always something more or less unexpected in the unfolding of an original artist's work; because few of such people exist at one time we remain unaccustomed to the fact. One is never prepared for the edgy, restless mobility that continually implies something more and different until the artist's last picture has been painted. As I write Freud has just passed his fifty ninth birthday; this concluding and conclusive evidence is a long way off. The latest picture on his easel is as full as any of the peculiar personal momentum that one has known from the beginning, but in every other respect so different that I find myself understanding afresh and differently a condition of private liveliness that was already apparent when I became aware of him more than forty years ago. Apparent and slightly irksome; I was inclined to resent it, and was lately concerned to find that Freud regarded this evidently unconcealed inclination of mine as a positive qualification for writing about him. I first knew this quality of liveliness, for which I should prefer a word that did not suggest animation or wholesomeness, when I think as much of a coiled vigilance and a sharpness in which one could imagine venom (my critical equipment was primitive and my sympathies limited) knew it as a quality of drawing, one that was intrinsic to line and indeed to edges. Freud's view of a subject was marked from the first by a serpentine litheness in the ready, rapid way in which an object was confronted, the object of intellectual curiosity or sociable advantage or desire it was apt then to be all of them at once. A personal flavour that was unlike any one had known was communicating itself to art; it still does. Going to look at the heads in the new picture, I become aware that this uncommon condition is now a condition of the paint, of the material itself and the incomparable alertness with which it is moulded to the experience of people. In the paint itself, through its receptive granulation and equally through its miraculous lack of anything like the approximating mellowness that one had thought endemic to malerisch figuration, one feels the quality of sharpened perception and pointed response that makes one think of the lowered muzzle of some hunting creature, and think with involuntary admiration, unless it is apprehension.

"One may recognize the latest work and the earliest, as well as the successive styles between, as one man's uses for art. That is not to account for them. Painting offers itself unaccounted for, uninterpreted, unexcused. Freud's rather few remarks about art in general set store by the defiantly inexplicable spell that the image arts achieve at their peak. The viable, surefooted, impenetrability of his persona is intended. Again, one is now unaccustomed to a daemon like this in the polite community of the visual arts, but in the past art was full of such people. This is how the young men of the Renaissance must have been, with their eyes on anatomy and the main chance, on the street corners at evening when the botteghe came out and the virgins were hurried indoors. I have been able to confirm rather few even of the relevant details of Lucian Freud's childhood and how he came to painting. There is no evidence for most of the circumstances, least of all the highly coloured ones, that have been described. These myths were not Lucian's myths."

- From Lawrence Gowing, "Lucian Freud"

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Posted to ProBlogs.com on Thursday, April 17, 2008
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