Wednesday, 22 February 2012
A Painted Life....
I’ve been thinking a great deal in the last few days about ‘Lucien Freud: Painted Life’, the riveting film that was aired on the BBC on Saturday, about the life of the late painter who died in July last year. I was immediately gripped and very moved by the opening scene of him painting in his studio, filmed by his assistant David Dawson from his perspective as the model posing for what would prove to be his last, unfinished painting. In fact what moved me even more was the fact revealed that this would prove to be the last day he actually painted, as he died a few days later aged 88. I just found it unbearably sad when you consider the utter and total commitment he had towards his painting throughout his entire life, and here he still was still alert and so focussed still in his studio on this day, but looking frail. One sensed a feeling projected by him that time was running out, that there was a sense of fighting against the dying light. And yet maybe I’m projecting this idea a bit, because what came across in the film and in the work he created was that this was how he approached everything in his life: with a ceaseless energy and scrutiny totally committed to the moment of what he was working on at that time, usually portraits, often for months and months, pushing and pushing to something beyond mere appearances (In contrast if I could get my own portraits stripped further back to something even more minimal and essential I would).
It’s this side of things that I have never really enjoyed about Freud’s paintings: all the psychology that can seem heavily laden on in those early works and the later stagier paintings of Leigh Bowery etc. They can also appear very cold and clinical in their examination of the naked human sitter as ‘animal’. I prefer in his, and other painted portraits, the ones that do just deal with appearances, believing that the rest will follow if the other elements work. I think appearances are mysterious enough. The Freud paintings I really like are the portraits that are more intimate and restrained. I like most of all though his portraits of his dogs and horses, feeling these seem to project a warmth and love oddly not found in his paintings of people. The documentary talked about his love of animals throughout his life, especially when he was young, and I think this is reflected in these, compared with a deliberate distance and detachment from the people in his life. It was probably this that made him able to work as he did, and lead the life he wanted, free to just paint every day 24/7.
Someone remarked this weekend that my own paintings have a dispassionate quality too. I’m aware of this, and do try to be as objective as possible when I’m recording something as I like the idea of the subject revealing itself to me, rather than trying to force things into being. To be honest though, when trying to paint within the limited time I have, if I wasn’t so organised and practical I would never get anything done, and I think this can add to my work looking impersonal at times. But I’m also aware that this is part of my character; always on the outside looking in. I know many painters are like this. I’m convinced that for many, including Lucien Freud, it is why they do what they end up doing what they do.