Thursday, May 22, 2008

The majority of paintings and etchings of the painter Lucian Freud set out to disturb, astonish, and convince the viewer of the underlying desperation, negativity, depression, and ugliness of the human psyche, as he sets out to capture these traits upon painting his subjects. We the viewers of these gruesome pictures are to look into the mind of the subject and realize the aura that these models exude. Freud sees these underlying quirks of those he paints, giving us a look into ourselves that possibly we did not see before. No one is ever safe from such imperfections, as humanity, individually and as a whole, is far from being flawless. And yet these painted traits all seem to be unconscious. Being the grandson of Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, Lucian Freud seems to capture the very theories of unconsciousness that his grandfather theorized.
When one views the paintings Girl with Leaves, Ib and Her Husband, Interior at Paddington, and Reflection With Two Children (Self Portrait), the atmosphere, the subjects, and their underlying emotions are all completely different. However, on inspection of these paintings, one realizes that all four of them capture the negative aspects of just about everything in the picture and make the viewer feel uncomfortable in their realism and hopelessness.
Lucian Freud was born in Berlin, Germany on December 8th of 1922 to Ernst and Lucie Freud. With his father Ernst being the youngest son of the psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, Lucian was naturally the grandson of Sigmund Freud. He lived in a non-practicing Jewish family surrounded by the everyday comforts of bourgeois society, until Adolf Hitler was appointed Germany’s Chancellor. The family then moved to London. Lucian moved around to many different prep schools and art schools, and became "the self-proclaimed bad boy", who "learned early on to ride on the coattails of his own talent and lineage" (< >). By 1939, the seventeen-year-old Freud had published many paintings within the magazine Horizon. Having many gay friends, Freud began to express the importance of "all counter-culturalism in all artistic pursuits" (< >). After "literally burning his art school to the ground, joining the merchant navy, losing his naval license, getting re-accepted at school, and entertaining the realist elite with surrealist still-life paintings and other adolescent wonders"(< >), Lucian’s exploration of the "elusive, faithful"(< >) portrait began.
In his adult years, Freud began to paint his first wife, Kitty (married in 1948), continually. After their divorce, Lucian married his second wife, Caroline Blackwood (married in 1952), and began to paint her as well as his array of family and friends. The results of such paintings were admittedly "uncomfortable, disconcerting, and suggestive of the existential crisis that drove Freud’s work during the early part of his career" (< >). In 1956, Lucian began to explore expressionistic chiaroscuro techniques that "would illuminate his figures from novel perspectives" (< >). His "pursuit of the liberated figure" (< >) was not realized until 1966, when he began to paint portraits of nude women, which became a vast majority of Freud’s work. Freud painted nude portraits of everyone from his relatives, to his friends, to his lovers, or even his own three daughters. In 1977, he began to paint naked men as well, sometimes with dogs by their sides. He occasionally painted urban landscapes and pieces in other mediums besides paint, but these were few and far in between. He is now in his late eighties, and is still living and working in his studio in Holland Park, London (< >).
For those that know him personally or have come across him, it is agreed that Freud is quite an interesting person. However, he is very reclusive. As he is hardly ever seen, there is much mystery surrounding him. It seems that he "has become a figure of popular myth, an artist poised between the underworld and the aristocracy, a kind of slumming Faust who prowls lowlife pubs and eats woodcock for breakfast"(Warner, Marina "The Unblinking Eye."). Though Freud begs to differ:
My world is fairly floorboardish (Feaver, William "The Freudian Muse Without a Slip.")
Yet he is quite famous. It is apparent, then, that "in order to have stellar fame thrust upon you, just shun it vigorously"("See You Anon." The Times). And while he is "no doubt conscious of the benefits of the fascination that surrounds him, there would be, as he says, no real fascination without the art"(Kimmelman, Michael "Critic’s Notebook; Lucian Freud, From the Studio to the Gallery.").
Lucian Freud’s artwork is composed of mostly paintings and quite a few etchings. Painting, to Lucian Freud, has been "an identification of masculinity: to paint was to be manly" (Kuspit, Donald "Uncensored Flesh."). Drawing was always "implicitly feminine for him" (Kuspit, Donald "Uncensored Flesh."). Drawing pictures "meant submission to the sitter, while in painting he could dominate the sitter- forcefully overcome his or her resistance in what was in effect painterly rape" (Kuspit, Donald "Uncensored Flesh.").
When painting portraits of his models, his pictures "always depict a likeness but he often distorts figures"(Malvern, Jack "The Freudian Muse Without a Slip."). While his artwork is usually of the same style and his models are essentially similar, "the descriptive and cumulative miracles that Freud regularly achieves without lapsing into lazy repetition are unusual in any kind of painting"(Whitford, Frank "Art: Lucian Freud."). He sets out to basically "lift the censorship imposed by the conventions of seeing to reveal the truth about what is seen" (Kuspit, Donald. "Uncensored Flesh."). When one views Freud’s paintings, it is apparent that "what seemed everyday and boring becomes unexpectedly strange and exciting"(Kuspit, Donald. "Uncensored Flesh.").
Lucian Freud’s "strenuously worked surfaces portray bodies and faces in ways that convey a punishing sense of life lived- of too, too solid flesh weighed down by experience, indulgence, and cowardice"(Smith, Roberta "Lucian Freud Stripped Bare."). When painting his sitters, he leaves "the extremity nakedly displayed" (Gowing, Lawrence "Lucian Freud."). On speaking of the images on his canvases, Freud, as do all the viewers, realizes that:
If you look at the forms, it is clear that some of them want to be liberated (Gowing, Lawrence "Lucian Freud.")
These pieces of art that he creates "tell us more than we imagined we would ever know about their owners, but they also tell us about ourselves"(Warner, Marina. "The Unblinking Eye.").
A great many of Freud’s paintings contain models with aspects of a strange sort:
I don’t think I’m drawn to oddities themselves, but I’m drawn to people, and their oddities may be part of the attraction. In the end the oddities are secondary to the nature of the person (Feaver, William. "Seeing Through the Skin.").
Freud also explains his infatuation with painting his models nude:
I’m really interested in them [people] as animals. Part of liking to work from them naked is for that reason. Because I can see more: see the forms repeating right through the body and often in the head as well. One of the most exciting things is seeing through the skin, to the blood and veins and markings (Feaver, William "Seeing Through the Skin.").
As was mentioned before, Lucian Freud is a grandson of the founding psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. Sigmund Freud studied what is called the unconscious, which is a group of feelings and thoughts that is hidden and suppressed, which the individual is not aware of. He "believed that the majority of what we experience in our lives, the underlying emotions, beliefs, feelings, and impulses are not available to us at a conscious level. He believed that most of what drives us is buried in our unconscious"(< >).
Apparently, our conscious "makes up a very small part of who we are. In other words, at any given time, we are only aware of a very small part of what makes up our personality; most of what we are is buried and inaccessible" (< >).
Lucian Freud seems to use the unconscious in his paintings: he captures the models’ inner thoughts and feelings, which are basically invisible to the human eye, and even to the models themselves. With these inner emotions and urges, Freud creates a picture of a being clothed in the unknown aspects of the model’s mind. And in doing so, "Lucian has no intention of liberating his model from the slavery of inner suffering. Instead, he exploits it to paint a "telling" portrait- without quite realizing that it tells more about his inner life than the model’s" (Kuspit, Donald "Uncensored Flesh."). However, Freud "has never been absorbed in symbolic meanings. Quite the reverse. Freud is, above all, preoccupied with the empirical challenge of scrutinizing the posed human figure"(Cork, Richard. "The Master and His Muse.").
The painting Girl with Leaves is, essentially, an adolescent girl with a branch of leaves hanging above her head. However, the look upon her face is anything but ordinary. Her staring, overly wide, asymmetrical eyes have a look of subtle horror, disbelief, bewilderment, and yet acceptance about something that the viewer cannot see. Her eyes are too large for her long face, and look slightly unfocused, as though not viewing something in front of her, but inside of her mind. Her large lips are slightly parted. She looks a bit gaunt, and almost colorless. Her hair is wavy and a bit unruly, with numerous hairs standing up at odd angles all over her head. She has shadows under her eyes and her whole being is a bit shadowed, yet her face is almost glowing.
Her face is outlined, accentuating it and making it stick out more from the rest of the painting, which is completely plain, colorless, and devoid of any features except for the leaves dangling above her head. Most of the painting is colorless in a sense, as the colors cannot be defined as, say, gray or brown. Everything is deadened and dull. The only color of any vibrancy is the branch of leaves. The branch is pretty much out of place and seems to come from nowhere.
Girl With Leaves seems to imply that this girl is being haunted by something that no one else can see. It seems probable that she is being haunted by images within her own mind. Due to the fact that the background of the picture is devoid of color or features, the picture almost seems like a telltale sign of emptiness and delusion. The illusion is that the girl is surrounded by nothingness. And yet there is a single random branch above her head, which could further imply that everything is out of place, disordered, and chaotic. Its origins are unknown, and the viewer cannot know where the branch is coming from, or what it is attached to, if it is indeed attached to anything. The branch could also symbolize the fact that this young woman is ‘rooted’ to the spot in fear, and that she is grounded to the earth while in this dream-like state.
Lucian Freud would be defined as Realist painter, as he undoubtedly specializes "in painting his sitters with raw realism"(Alberge, Dalya. "Friends, Admirers, and a Joint Draw."). His former wife, Caroline Blackwood, stated that "when Lucian paints a sink, you have never seen a sink look so sinkish"(Warner, Marina "The Unblinking Eye."). However, "anchored in the real world, obsessively in pursuit of its appearance, he makes reality seem weird, even cruel and threatening, the object of a passion that can alarm with its intensity"(Whitford, Frank "Art: Lucian Freud."). Freud’s gaze "scans outward appearance, all its observable particulars, hairs and bumps and pores, with great powers of discernment" (Warner, Marina "The Unblinking Eye."). It has been said that Freud "almost dares you to look at his pictures more skeptically than he does, and the easiest response to that is to say that they are simply a glum and pitiless fixation on the transience of the flesh"(Kimmelman, Michael "Art Review; Raw Realism that Dares You Not to Flinch."). The majority of the paintings of Freud "offer unstinting views of flesh, thick and folded, or stretched thin over all-too-visible bones, of faces sad or pensive or blank" (Smith, Roberta "Lucian Freud Stripped Bare."). These portraits are "paradoxical in that they are in no way conventionally flattering, but seem to be universally approved of by their subjects"(Taylor, John Russell "Lucian Freud and Beauty in Ugliness.").
The painting Ib and Her Husband is a picture of a woman named Ib sleeping with her husband upon a bed. The man is holding his wife from behind, with his gnarled, veined arm tightly around her midsection. His other hand is sticking out from between their sleeping forms. The narrow, lumpy bed they are lying upon does not look particularly comfortable in any sense, as it is designed for a single person to sleep on. The room does not look very comforting either. The walls are covered in little specks of yellow, brown, white, and gray filth. Behind them is a lone dirty radiator. And yet this couple is noticeably peaceful, with contented smiles fixed upon their faces. Their skin looks raw, sweaty, and filthy.
The man in the picture looks to be middle aged, as he has slight wrinkles covering his face. He is wearing a black shirt and jeans that have rips along the legs. His tanned, upturned face is oily and shadowed. His slight smile shows contentment. The woman also looks to be middle-aged, with gray-ish hair and slight wrinkles upon her pallid face. Her face is a bit shadowed as well. Her eyebrows are raised and her teeth show through her grinning lips, giving her a look of happiness. She is sporting an orange shirt and black and white patterned skirt. Her hands, curled up under her cheek, are noticeably red in places and her bare calves and thighs, which are hanging off the tiny bed, are shiny. It looks as though she had drifted off to sleep in a fetal position.
This painting most definitely conveys a romantic desperation between the woman and her husband. The desperate closeness of the couple is almost heartbreaking in its intensity. Despite the filth and dirt that surrounds them, their love has seemed to conquer all, as they escape the gross world around them in a dream of a better world, and most likely of each other.
While it has a very romantic overtone, it has an underlying sense of slightly sneering disbelief and defiance in the power of love. It’s almost as if Lucian Freud has a grudge against romance and its powers. When one looks back at Freud’s many broken marriages, it is clear why he would feel that way.
An argument could be made that the disgusting room that they are occupying symbolizes their life. When one inspects the picture, it is apparent that the room most certainly has a look of chaos. There is the mural of dirt upon the wall, the grunginess of the room, the man’s red knuckles, and the fact that the woman looks to have fallen asleep in a fetal position with bright red hands. It makes one wonder if perhaps their lives are such a mess, and if their love is only truly shown when in the confines of their dreams. The lone radiator behind seems to be the only spectator of the lives of these people.
In his paintings, Lucian Freud is said to "invoke the influence of past masters- Titian, Rembrandt, Ingres, Constable, Renoir, Degas"(Warner, Marina "The Unblinking Eye."). Freud is described as painting with a "harshness of tone, an apparent misanthropy that thrives on the frank contemplation of human sexuality"(Warner, Marina "The Unblinking Eye."). It can be said that it is Freud’s "taste for a harsh reality- strikingly unsexy yet charged with sex- that slaps you about the chops with the impact of a wet fish"(Januszczak, Waldemar "Tomorrow’s Old Masters."). However, he is "not sensual in the way Titian is. The sensuality of Freud is of chilly underheated studios, dirty rags, London" (Jones, Jonathan "The Guardian Profile: Lucian Freud."). Yet, even so, Freud’s work "is unwaveringly traditional" (Smith, Roberta "Lucian Freud Stripped Bare."). His "preferred and emphatically old-fashioned medium is oil paint (he wouldn’t dream of using acrylics), seemingly unaffected by anything that has happened in painting in the past 150 years" (Smith, Roberta "Lucian Freud Stripped Bare."). Lucian Freud "has not so much been to break new ground as to dig incessantly deeper into the old. By doing so he has intensified our understanding of figurative painting’s familiar landmarks to the point of discomfort"(Smith, Roberta "Lucian Freud Stripped Bare."). Freud’s work wholeheartedly "flaunts resistance to fashion" (Whitford, Frank "Art: Lucian Freud."). However, as with most artists who paint portraits these days, Freud is "using it as a foil"(Holmes, Pernilla "In Your Face."). That is to say, he uses his portraits to say something of importance, namely the underlying emotions that people possess but don’t know about. In his striving to get this message across as flawlessly as is possible, "he will hazard the success of a nearly finished painting, possibly worth millions, on one decision that can’t be undone. If he realizes that he’s made the wrong choice, he’ll slash it, destroy it"(Cornwell, John "Face to Face with Freud.").
Freud’s paintings are "grotesque and erotic. For him the ugly is the beautiful. Everyone is ugly, and every body intrigues him. Everyone looks pretty dreadful in his new paintings, and yet these are pictures of fascination. Freud inhabits a world of heroic freaks" (Jones, Jonathan "The Guardian Profile: Lucian Freud."). The idea of an artist "persisting with "seeing them [those he paints] as they feel" may seem quixotic. Moreover Freud aims to achieve mixed feelings. He talks about the need to catch disparities between one side of the face and the other and to get more than one expression brimming there"(Feaver, William "A Speaking Likeness.").
The portrait Interior at Paddington essentially depicts the image of a mysterious man and a large unruly plant in a room. The eye is drawn to the seemingly 20-30-year-old man in the picture and his strange position. Each of his hands are closed upon and grasping something. One hand is lightly holding a cigarette between his index and middle fingers. This hand is held against his stomach. The other is tightly enclosed upon something that the viewer cannot see. The corners of his mouth are slightly upturned, which gives him the appearance of having a small smirk on his face. His hair is quite unruly and mussed. His pants look slightly wrinkled. His black shoes hardly shine. He is also wearing a wrinkled, long olive or tan overcoat with an untidy white collared shirt and a gray vest. He has round, oversized glasses upon his face, which partially conceal his eyes and make them hard to see. The eyes seem to be fixed upon the plant. The plant is very large, seemingly larger than the man is. It looks desperately unruly and neglected. It is covered in long, sharp leaves in various brown and green shades. These leaves point up every which way and look to be on the verge of dying. The pot that the plant resides in is a mundane and cracked brown clay pot.
The man and the plant are both standing erected upon a bright red carpet that is wrinkled in the front, and the hardwood floor can be seen under this lump of carpet. The walls are gray. They are both standing before a huge, uncovered window that leads out to a balcony. The balcony has a black, bent fence. The viewer can glimpse the outside, which shows a pale yellowed building across the street with a dead tree in front of it. The light from the outside seeps into the room. It is a dull light, as the outside is overtaken by a gray sky.
This painting seems to convey a sense of overall neglect. The thin, peaky man in the painting is wearing wrinkled clothes. His hair is tangled and sticking up, and his skin looks slightly dirty. His shoes are dull and unshiny. His cigarette is seemingly not even lit. The plant is even worse, with the browning leaves sticking up every which way. The walls look to be graying and the carpet is lumpy and wrinkled in the front. The fence on the balcony is caved in, the building across the street is yellowed, and the tree in front of it has died. Even the sky outside is being neglected by the warmth and brightness of the shining sun.
What is interesting about this painting is the fact that the man seems to be slightly smirking. He seems to be looking beyond all of the kinks and wrinkles of the room, as his fist encompasses something tightly, like a sort of amulet that he is using to gather his strength. His gaze upon the plant is so concentrated that he looks to be looking beyond the plant and daydreaming, almost meditating in deep thought. The look on his face suggests contented, mild interest. The gloomy atmosphere is apparently not going to bring him down.
Freud’s subjects are "more or less the same as they have been for twenty years- portraits (of dogs and horses as well as family and friends), nudes mostly reclining on a bed, and patches of nature, such as the matted undergrowth in his unkempt Holland Park garden" (Whitford, Frank "Art: Lucian Freud."). His style has not changed much during the past twenty years either. His paintings "continue to feature passages of gritty and pock-marked paint that give the pictures’ surface the abrasive appearance of rough sandpaper and would look mannered if they didn’t have a purpose: they trap the light and thus enhance both the descriptive and expressive power of the images" (Whitford, Frank "Art: Lucian Freud."). The "life of the paintings comes from the manipulation of texture rather than variations of palette" (Taylor, John Russell "Lucian Freud and Beauty in Ugliness.").
Lucian Freud’s Reflection with Two Children (Self Portrait) shows a large middle-aged Freud looming over everything and looking down at the viewer through slanted eyes. Two children stand off in the corner of the picture, also looking to the viewer. The ceiling above is a void of gray all around them except for the ceiling lamps, which cast a dull, barely noticeable glow. Freud’s face draws the viewer into the picture, as his long, gaunt, heavily wrinkled face stares at you. He looks to be weathered and completely worn down. His eyes are slightly closed and asymmetrical. His smirk is also asymmetrical. He is wearing a gray suit, and his arm is wrapped around his stomach, where his gnarled hand is curled. The painting cuts off at his thighs, where there is a greenish line and a larger gray one.
And yet the children are cut off below this line. They are much smaller than the figure of Freud is. They are a young girl and a little boy. Unlike Freud, they look straight ahead at the viewer, and not down at them. The little girl has long, blonde tresses and greenish gray long sleeved sweater. Her cheeks are flushed red, and the expression on her face gives her a forlorn look, as she is frowning. The pale and equally flushed little boy beside her is taller and leaner, with a dark shirt and light brown hair. Unlike the girl, he is smiling. Yet his grin is rather frightening. It looks almost devious and evil, and completely menacing. The picture cuts off at their midsections.
Upon viewing this painting, it seems as though Lucian Freud is looking down at his viewers with a certain contempt, as though he knows something about us that we could never fathom. Of course, this would make sense, as he seems to be able to pull out each person’s internal unconscious feelings and paint such a heart-wrenching calamity upon a canvas. The lamps above his form seem to be shining a dull, almost dark light upon the viewer, analogous to the typical image recalled of spotlights that detectives shine upon criminals when questioning them. And yet he looks a bit tired and weathered, as though he’s seen so much of we criminals that it is wearing him down.
The children in the painting seem to represent Freud’s feelings when he looks into each person’s mind and tears them apart. The girl in the painting looks quite sad and a tad bit bored, and represents the aspect of Freud that has seen it all, and feels rather depressed upon the realization of the human condition. The little boy, however, shows Freud’s sadistic glee and mischievous joy in finding each person’s negative aspects and painting them in all of their hideous glory. Freud’s gift for spotting a being’s anguished or horridly ugly soul is apparently a curse and a blessing.
When people see Lucian Freud’s artwork, what seems to strike them most is the "stubborn way the works stick in the mind. They are mirrors. This is their virtue"(Kimmelman, Michael "Art Review; Raw Realism that Dares You Not to Flinch."). The images that he portrays are "vividly real. Their manner implies an inner life. Each sitter finds a place in a viewer’s consciousness, as portrait subjects rarely do"(Kimmelman, Michael "Art Review; Raw Realism that Dares You Not to Flinch."). This puts many people off of Freud’s work. Many critics "acknowledge his capacity to paint well only grudgingly, if at all; the level of their grumpiness ("cruel", "affected" and "manipulative" are adjectives still repeatedly employed) seems to increase in proportion to his celebrity"(Kimmelman, Michael "Art Review; Raw Realism that Dares You Not to Flinch.").
In conclusion, the Realist painter Lucian Freud paints distorted, yet realistic portraits of people, and even himself, at their most vulnerable and portrays them in a personal and negative light that reveals their hidden thoughts and emotions. The portraits Girl with Leaves, Ib and Her Husband, Interior at Paddington, and Reflection with Two Children (Self Portrait) reflect this observation.
Girl with Leaves portrays a horrorstruck girl haunted by her own unfathomable mind, while Ib and Her Husband tells a possibly grim yet romantic story of two people desperately in love. Interior at Paddington shows a man who escapes the melancholy neglect of his life through his reveries, and Reflection with Two Children (Self Portrait) symbolizes a misanthropic yet amused Freud staring into the minds of the viewer. In unison, these four paintings conclude that the paintings of Lucian Freud set out to disturb and intrigue the viewer with a realistic portrait of everything he paints, yet with a veil of their deepest secrets showing through, which, in all actuality, make the paintings seem even more real.
Lucian Freud is a most fascinating artist in that he can actually see through peoples’ exteriors and force out their innermost fears and faults. When his gaze seeps into one’s core, he paints upon his subjects a mask of negativity in a sort of bewildering perfection. What’s even more fascinating is the fact that he does this with possessive care, and that the slightest mistake will, as was stated before, make him destroy his painting, no matter how much money he would’ve obtained from selling it. One can also appreciate the fact that Freud keeps himself and the stories behind each painting a mystery, which adds to the grandeur of everything he does, and everything he creates. He puts it upon the viewer to see what he or she sees, and to form their own opinions and come up with their own conclusions. With his astonishing works and his absolutely fascinating vision, it is easy to see why "the fastidiously reclusive Lucian Freud is Britain’s most famous painter"("See You Anon." The Times).

1 comment:

Caitlin H 5 said...

This research paper took up a lot of time and effort. I think, under the circumstances, I wrote a pretty solid paper. I liked finding out about Lucian Freud, his technique, and of course, I liked analyzing the paintings. He is quite an interesting guy, it appears, and his work is beautiful in a strange sort of way. It is very revealing and it means something to each person, as all paintings should do.