Lucien Freud: A Painter’s Painter

Yesterday for the first time in weeks I managed to write today’s post and schedule it for publication this morning. I thought it would be nice to wake up, potter into town for a haircut and then traipse into the studio without having to remember the blog. Then just before going to bed, I heard the announcement of Lucien Freud‘s death, and decided it was one of those Life and Art moments which could have waited a day, but should really prevail over the as-yet-unpublished effort. Loads of far more knowledgeable and insightful material will be appearing on the topic over the next few days, so I may as well offer my spontaneous pennyworth immediately.

Freud for me is a painter’s painter for a number of reasons.

First, the joy of his work lies as much in the detail as in the whole. A bit like the Taj Mahal. Getting up as close as the barriers allow, I could spend forever peering at the luscious marks crowding the surface. The subtlety and softness of the edges belies the hours, weeks, months he would apparently spend on a painting. The marks carry a freshness and bravura more often associated with finish-in-a-session work. If he scraped back and worked fresh each session, there are no obvious signs of it. Maybe he was just very good at oiling out.

Second, his work is better in real-life than in reproduction. I have written before on this for me being one of my acid tests of great work. Digital photography is both flattering and forgiving to most mark-making, and there is frequently a sense of disappointment when encountering shows which promised so much on the strength of the publicity shot, but in reality demonstrate a crude insensitive handling of paint. Freud’s work never disappoints in this way.

Third, his handling of the subject in such a way that he retained respect and critical acclaim in an era when figurative, and more specifically portrait painting, has struggled to command serious attention. For those of us addicted to the depiction of the human form, his continuing devotion and commitment to paint honestly and with integrity, searching for no more than the essence of who we are and our humanity, is inspiring, encouraging, and a beacon of the continuing relevance and importance of ‘just’ painting.

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