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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