On days like these when it should be a little warmer than it feels, a little kinder than is evident, a little less painful to hear the news; these are the days when I force myself to type a few words, if only to take refuge in the temporary comfort of the keyboard’s repetitive depressions, accompanied by the familiar clicks of the letters being arranged into a small meaning for the day. An existential activity, like many others, and a little harder but more necessary on days like these.
Write about Freud perhaps: all pain is loss, remembered and unremembered… The perpetual artistic discharge of that unknown void only squaring and cubing it in the case of Amy Winehouse who could only sing loss and pain to us, through, and about, thick layers of suffocation with analgesia. That particular road is No Entry for me today; it has no streetlights, and no bright sun or moon to light a way – I would simply be lost. I will make the journey another day. But make it I will. One step after another is all it takes after all, but the context is as yet unclear: an expedition, a pilgrimage, a maze…
Instead, back to Lucian and his friend, William Feaver’s appreciation in today’s Observer. Seems when I wrote about Freud’s landscapes I was seeing not only what I fancied, but what the artist intended.
About 10 years ago we went to Paris together to look at a Constable show. We both loved his portraits and were somehow trying to help lose, or shake off, the Constable that everyone knows. People tend to say that Constable was a boring English artist, but he was extraordinary in that he treated landscapes and portraits as if they were the same thing. This is what Lucian felt an artist should do. When it came to talking about art, Lucian was incredibly focused, and incredibly open-minded. His favourite word was “promising…
…He believed all his paintings were a kind of self-portrait. “They are all autobiography,” he would say. When I look at his work, however, I see his strange way of approaching things: slightly from the side, slightly awkwardly, but deliberately so, not cack-handedly so. When he was painting, at the point where you or I would probably say to ourselves: “OK. Stop. Leave it now,” Lucian would press on. Sometimes he did this to disastrous effect, but often not. His work, I would say, does not reproduce very well and that is often true of the work of a really great artist. However, when you actually see one of his paintings in front of you the impact is extraordinary. And that impact is him.
I know Freud will be described as the leading exponent of realist portraiture as the media pay tribute to his work in the light of his death, but if you look at his output, and some don’t really like to because much of his work requires bravery and honesty in the viewer, you may see what I do.
I see folds and shadows, valleys and mountains of flesh. I see rivers of veins in moonlight, bands of coloured estuarine sands in the sun giving way to dark deltas. And I have glimpses of the subjects’ inner landscapes as the eye is challenged to look, yes look, at demanding mounds of unruly skin eons away from the bland aesthetic of current consumer culture and I am forced to feel something, and to think.
Lucian Freud, the grandson of Sigmund Freud, and brother of Clement, shared with his grandfather the ability to offer a representation of people’s minds, and with his brother he shared a love of The Lowlife: dogs, horses and gamblings. His life was unconventional, hardly surprisingly.
To paint people in all their uncompromising truth and beauty, as he did, it is unlikely you would live as a satisfactorily domesticated subject with another for any great length of time.