Friday, July 22, 2011

Death of a Modern Realist

Lucian Freud died this week at the age of 88.

During my time studying 'art' in college, Freud was one of two living realist painters we were encouraged to look at. Odd Nerdrum and Lucian Freud were two painters that managed to straddle realism and the modern in an art world  too tired and self important for truth in painting. Since I believed the sole purpose of art was a faithful representation of nature's beauty, study them I did.

While I must admit, after moving out of the study of 'art' and into my study of painting, I do not look at the work of Freud much these days. He was a realist for sure. His paintings are studies of life with crumbly, thick surfaces which are something to behold in person. You can see the journey, the study and the learning. He painted his subject warts and all. As a result he was a brutal painter. His work is often not pleasing. He never idealized his subjects, he painted what he saw. I think it is important to note that he did not refer to his models as "nude" but preferred the term "naked".
He was a hero for me in college, as living heroes were hard to come by. I still admire his work. When you look at a Freud painting you have to wonder if it is about the struggle the artist had visually or if it was something else in the painter. It is not surprising that the grandson of Sigmund Freud's would be so psychological but it often results in paintings that are not fun to look at. They tend to be confrontational and uncomfortable, much like listening in on a therapy session.

A few quotes from Freud:

"A painter must think of everything he sees as being there entirely for his own use and pleasure. The artist who tries to serve nature is only an executive artist. And, since the model he so faithfully copies is not going to be hung up next to the picture, since the picture is going to be there on its own, it is of no interest whether it is an accurate copy of the model. Whether it will convince or not depends entirely on what it is in itself, what is there to be seen."

"Painters who use life itself as their subject-matter, working with the subject in front of them, or constantly in mind, do so in order to translate life into art almost literally, as it is this very knowledge of life which can give art complete independence from life, an independence that is necessary because the picture, in order to move us, must never merely remind us of life, but must acquire a life of its own..."

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