I was saddened the other day to read that Lucien Freud had died. He was one of my favourite artists and one of those people who you knew you had on your side when you were trying to make an argument for the continuing validity of figurative art.
I didn’t discover him in the way I originally discovered artists, which was being told by someone learned in art that this person was a great person to look at. No, around the nineties I was engaged in the regular practice of searching through the Sunday magazines and cutting out articles and images that I liked and collecting them in folders as both reference materials and inspiration. This was how I found Lucien Freud.
Without knowing much about him, and not knowing for definite but definitely suspecting the relationship to Sigmund, I fell in love with his artwork. There are some artists who paint in such a way that you feel like the subjects are germs in a petris dish under a microscope – there is a certain elevation of the artist over those lowly human beings that he paints; with Freud you feel the affinity that he has for his subjects … he is putting their humanity on display, but not in such a way that suggests a dissected cadaver on a mortician’s slab, but a living breathing human being.
I recall all the controversy when he painted the queen and a load of stupid crap that was put across by the tabloids about how he couldn’t paint and it made me want to punch someone in the face – Freud is an honest painter and I think that honesty rankled the people who wanted some PR version of the queen on display.
I bought a huge coffee table book of Freud and it was something that kickstarted a lot of thoughts in my imagination – you should be able to look at any painting and read some kind of story into it. Is a painting ever a straight read of a person? No, course not – they are filtered through the eye and mind of the painter who posed them and composed the piece and chose the medium and every single brushstroke that puts the picture together … so you get a commentary as well as a representation, and it is always interesting to see the balancing act the artist performs to give you the truth of the subject and their own truth as well without one overriding the other. Freud is a master at this – you know one of his paintings when you see it, but you can also see the character of the person painted coming out of the canvas too.
Hunt him down, plug his name into google and sit back and enjoy the works, and if you can, hunt down the documentary on him, which was, I think put out by the BBC.