Because I find some of the most striking visual art when prowling through people’s Instagram posts.
I intended to feature living artists from their own posts, but this Freud leapt out from my feed as an amazing and audacious painting.
I think I can safely say that Lucien Freud is the greatest portrait/figure painter of the 20th century. The grandson of Sigmun Freud explores the flesh and sensuality of the body to the degree his infamous ancestor probed the mind.
Famous critics disagree with me. Peter Schjeldahl, art critic for the NY Times had this to say about Freud:
I don’t like Francis Bacon or, for that matter, Lucian Freud a whole lot…. Enthralling as Freud’s brushwork can be, his art goes numb when viewed from a distance of more than five feet or so—the remove at which paintings become pictures. I defy anyone to recall, as a vivid mental image, a whole composition by Freud, complete with objects and background. ~ Peter Schjeldahl
What a FAIL! When you see any image by Freud online, you are seeing it as if from five feet. Peter Schjeldahl is F’ing blind. His pronouncement is as shockingly myopic as a Rock critic saying that Black Sabbath never came up with a memorable riff, or anything heavy enough to call “metal”. Unbelievable. I find that the most famous art critics frequently hate painting — Robert Hughes excepted — unless it sucks, in which case they praise it (Schjeldahl, Jerry Salz, and Jed Perl come readily to mind).
For a thorough dismantling of the inanity of the anti-painting top critics, read my article In Defense of Artist, Francis Bacon.
This is the flaw of approaching painting through the rational intellect rather than the eye, and to the point where the intellect denies what the eye sees. Pardon me for calling this approach uber-sophisticated fuckwittery.
Whether one objects to the subject — it’s safe to say the woman’s vagina is the immediate focal point — or to Freud’s private life, or the condition of the couch…, this is a masterpiece of painting.
The first thing that hits me, after the obvious lure, is the overall play of colors, textures, form, composition, and illusion. It’s a visual smörgåsbord.
Freud’s capacity for rendering texture might strike us next. We can sense how the skin feels, how the couch feels, and how they feel against each other. The couch itself suggests several consistencies of texture: where it sags, where the stuffing is revealed, and the graduations of browns at the bottom of the sofa appearing to get more firm. The floor and wall are unforgivingly hard. All this is complemented with the wooden leg of the sofa, the fabric wrapped around the woman’s leg, and the sole of the upturned shoe peeking out from under the sofa.
Freud’s portraits are outstanding because of the way he exaggerates in an entirely persuasive way. If you were to overlay a photo of the model over the painting, there would be quite a bit of disparity. I doubt she was THAT muscular. Her left thigh belongs to a speed skater. He’s exaggerated the thickness where the thigh meets the hip in order to emphasize her lower body strength, which he also does with the tension between the sheet coiled around her left leg and held taut with her right foot.
Here, a woman reclines on a couch, and yet compositionally she is very dynamic, powerful, and energetic. The juxtaposition of strength and vulnerability heightens each (don’t make be spell it out for you). Her conspicuous underarm hair adds to the naturalism. This is a warm, vibrant, fertile, powerful, female animal in her prime.
And notice the superb shadows delineating the separation of the body from the couch. None of this is easy to achieve, and we’re looking at skills honed over decades of long hours in the studio.
But Freud doesn’t stop there. If you cover the body and only look at the head and hands, they succeed on their own. There’s a tenderness there. Her hand lightly poised on her forehead is particularly affecting. Is she partly covering her eyes? How often in a portrait do you see someone’s hand covering the majority of their forehead? Freud uses the parallel lines between her fingers to rhythmically accentuate her expression. Both hands are softly curled and even the muscles and fat of the fingers are palpable. [Aaaand, there’s a stain or tear on the couch adjacent to her thigh that looks conspicuously like both bodily fluids and an excited male part, along with its trusty sidekicks.]
Critics who deny the quality of this level of painting have sacrificed the visual in visual art for pet theories and mind games that merely aggrandize theoreticians such as themselves. I’ll take real art over artificial theory any day.
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9 replies on “Instagram Gem O’ Th’day #3: Lucien Freud”
I don’t know, I find Freud’s nudes deeply unsettling. They’re so primal, wonderfully rendered, but my gut reaction is to turn away. I see no warmth or vulnerability in the woman, her nakedness is a tense power pose. It’s like he brings out the repressed animal nature and it comes out with a vengeance. I often get a sense of morbidity too, in some of his other paintings.
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Hi Gabriela. Your reaction, if I hadn’t seen Freud’s art, would, for me, be an endorsement, because it’s already a strong reaction. You use words like unsettling, primal, gut reaction, and repressed animal. Any art that achieves all that, if nothing else, already has so much going for it. How to achieve THAT in painting people?!
You may not see any tenderness in or warmth in this painting (other than the woman’s body, which is nearly sweating), but I think it’s more apparent in some of his other portraits, especially the ones of people with their dogs, and in his early portraits of people with over-sized eyes.
His early work is more illustrational and psychologically routed. Later he focuses on the physical with a vengeance. Considering his long-standing friendship with Francis Bacon, and the kind of existentialism of the time, that’s not surprise.
Come to think of it, I would never, I don’t think, portray such a woman like THAT. Especially if she were one of my daughters. Note that I know he painted his daughters nude, and this woman’s name is Rose, and one of his daughters is Rose Boyt (who is a novelist), but I can’t find anything to connect if this is the same Rose.
Let’s face it, quite literally, this painting is about the woman’s sex, so to speak.
And while Freud has a very different artistic sensibility than my own, and a different relation to people, that’s not reason to not like his paintings. It’s a very good reason to like them. He can see things I can not, and he can manifest those things in pigment.
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I guess it was an endorsement, for I appreciate his skill. I also like his earlier portraits and even wrote about “Boy Smoking”. There is something in the way he depicts the flesh, his color palette and the twisted body positions, that makes it painful to watch for me. But I would never dare say he wasn’t an accomplished artist.
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His early work, like “Boy Smoking” is almost as if from another artist. It really has a different feel. One of the reasons I say he’s the best portraitist of the 20th century is that when I think of who is number two, his early works come immediately to mind: http://bit.ly/2DHf1id
And still your reservations about him continue to be unintentional praise. I’m sure he intends to be somewhat shocking, while he is only doing portraits. This is what separates him from the conventional.
With any great artist I judge them by their dozen or so best works (even just one), and not their others so much. Some Freud seems gratuitously physical and jarring, but his painting of family is an absolute masterpiece: http://bit.ly/2FSIGKY
And what of this woman and dog? His muzzle in the palm of her hand. Is that not tender? Well, it is to the touch, it is physically. And I can’t think of any painting (other than other Freud human and dog paintings) that has better contrasted the body of a human with that of an animal, and this is partly due to the intimacy: http://bit.ly/2IEO5Da
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Yes! Those examples are so much better. I especially like the family portrait. I guess it’s the nudes that I find most uncomfortable.
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Well, yes, there are some of the nudes that I’m not so in love with either.
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As much as I’d love to experiment with the race-changing app, I think I would be courting disaster and being masochistic to share any of the results, knowing what the reaction would be. Just consider the criticisms (OK, extreme denunciations) of Cindy Sherman for her bus-rider series (in which she depicted herself as all the customary types of bus riders), or the calls to destroy the work of Dana Schutz and shut down her shows and career for having the audacity to think she could empathize with black people. Her works was necessarily seen as inciting violence against black people, and bolstering the continued genocide of indigenous peoples (and that’s not an exaggeration, as extreme claims need to be made to justify destroying work or shutting down someone’s show).
It is impossible for a white person to make a positive statement or do anything positive about race unless it is to denounce oneself as a racist, otherwise, at very best, you are stealing the position of POC in leading humanity in the struggle against the racism of all white people. It is not the job of the white man to be the crusader against racism! THAT is stealing jobs from POC. For there are two kinds of people populating this Earth: POC and white people. One is noble, and the other a blight on the universe.
I’m being hyperbolic, or wish I was. My grad school experience has taught me that it’s easily possible to convince oneself that anything and everything someone does is automatically bad, and you just have to find some, any reason to support the foregone conclusion.
Even this series would be attacked and denounced in some quarters as sexist, narcissistic, ageist, hetero-normative, trying to put white identity at in the center of art, privileging white identity, and so on. The more ridiculous the accusation, the more it will be believed. Those sorts of criticisms are such charicatures, and so predictable and threadbare that I can pen the best of them myself (and I do have a graduate degree in political correctness and identity politics, which is what I was taught in lieu of art).
Ex., “How can the male artist presume to know what it’s like to be a grandmother? This is the white male assumption of being the default human identity from which he can branch out to infiltrate, occupy, and subjugate all other identities: his excuse for colonization! He only has his own rather puny identity, which he tries to magnify in a desperate attempt at relevance. No, Mr. Wayne, you do not speak for women or the aged. You only speak for yourself, and nobody is interested in what you have to say.” (Note that the art is itself a repudiation of such an argument.)
There need be no relation to reality. Most likely nobody will see it my art, and that allows me the freedom to make it. If I were an established artist in the art world I might resort to non-representational art as the final refuge of those who aren’t allowed to say anything that isn’t a self-indictment.
Sadly, well-intentioned formerly-liberal positions (also formerly intelligent, and insightful) are now becoming extreme, reductionist, and the enemy of art. And I have to reject a paradigm that rejects my very existence (ex., it is impossible to see myself as the “evil other” or the defacto enemy).
The radical left is not only preaching to the converted, they are denouncing the converted and throwing stones at them.
I can only hope I am exaggerating, but my own college experience painfully recollects that I am not, as do the recent spate of over-the-top attacks on artists for being perceived as politically incorrect from an extreme, reductionist, and over-zealous standpoint (which, by the way, embraces essentialism, biological determinism, behaviorism, and otherwise grouping people into collective identities based on biology at birth. The irony is so thick you couldn’t cut it with a chain saw.)
And I have already been threatened to shut up by a group with a manifesto declaring their dedication to ending white art.
It used to be the (religious) right I feared as an artist, but now it is the supposed “liberal” left.
Sorry for the rant. I think I was using my reply to your comment to formulate some ideas.
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What if you stepped back and saw this in the continuum of time? How would people see your art 200 years from now? Let them be the judges. By then the demographics will have changed and, I hope, wounds would heal. Maybe we’re just getting too sucked up in the present to admit that people and societies do change. Hopefully, for the better.
Oh, yes, I think we are doing better overall as a species. But I do think we rather suffer from an inclination to reductionism, ideology, and scapegoating. I see the same systems on the far right and the far left, as well as in other circles. Only the ideology, the scapegoats, and the filtering of reality change.
I think my art in general will be appreciated more in 200 years, just as anyone’s would, other than the over-hyped stuff which can only go down.
If the current series were to get any traction, which I sincerely doubt, I might ask the creators of the banned app if I could somehow get a copy to work with.
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