beautiful things: lucien freud (this is actually some kind of love affair)

I love Lucien Freud. I love that you can’t just look at a photograph of his work on a screen and have any idea of its impact in real life. I love that in reality, I can stand in front of a canvas of his for half-an hour and lose myself utterly in the loving detail applied to the crevice of an elbow, or a roughly sunburned shoulder. I love the ruddy knees and the folded flesh.

Lucien Freud, Leigh on a green sofa, 1993.

I love the way Freud paid attention to that which we have been taught to perceive as ugly, and so his paintings render it worthy of notice, and thereby of aesthetic value. I love that his work is in every big name collection, and so when someone says ‘fuck that’s ugly’ they have to stop and think about why it’s still worth looking at; I love art that worries at the idea that easily recognisable beauty is the only marker of aesthetic value.

Lucien Freud, Bella and Esther, 1988.

I know he’s critically popular. I know it’s not terribly cool to love something that everybody nods their heads at and proclaims brilliant. But every time I go to see my mother, I visit the Freud in her state gallery, and I stand in front of it for quarters of hours or longer at a time, and forget my feet and the person I came with and everything around me, and all I know is the texture of naked stomachs and rough hairy legs and red-burnt cheeks; which sounds, yes, entirely unattractive. But don’t you see, that’s the point. These are the parts of people that we are meant to gloss over and air-brush out – mentally, as well as literally – but here they are. Close enough to touch, every wiry inch brushed in deliberately, to goad us into really looking, and perceiving that beauty is not the black-and-white mathematically smooth construct we are taught to imagine. It can be so, so much more than that. It should be.

Lucien Freud, Night portrait, face down, 1999-2000.

And I love that something stuck on a wall in a high-and-mighty institution can make me forget where I am. If I could see the world like that, always, I think I would forget to do anything but look.

Lucien Freud, Ib and her husband, 1992.

If you’ve never seen one in real life, you should track down a handy gallery. Trust me. Even if you loathe it, it’ll be worth your time.


4 Comments to “beautiful things: lucien freud (this is actually some kind of love affair)”

  1. lucien freud is the sylvia path of painting. amazingly real and gritty. Love the post.

  2. Thank you. That’s an interesting comparison – I always think a little of Margaret Atwood (for the brutal, loving portrayal of minutae and bodies), and a little of Virginia Woolf (at her most stream-of-consciousness). I may revisit Plath, now.

  3. You should check out – even thought you probably seen it – Boris Mikhailov. His work is like lucien freud’s, but so god damn Russian! Really honest.

  4. Thank you, I shall – the name sounds familiar, but that could just be because I’m reading Russian history right now.

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