michael kimmelman’s remembrance of his time with the artist is here and is well-worth the read.
our relationship is fairly young when compared to other artists whose work has influenced my emotional, visual, and intellectual acuity, but what it lacks in maturity with those other artists (here and here) has more than been made up by my deep visceral response to his work and i might add, my utter devotion.
he had floated around the periphery of my contemporary and modern art knowledge for a few years, but when the museum of contemporary art in los angeles hosted a one-man retrospective in 2003, my infatuation quickly turned into a case of full-blown art lust.
before you say, “well, the majority of his work is nudes, that must be what robert’s nattering on about,” i will disabuse you of that notion right now. to be in a roomful of lucian freud’s paintings is to be psycho-analyzed by them. he takes you down the dark forest paths of your emotional core, and at times skipping ahead as you stop to make sure you know where you are, even to catch your breath; when you suddenly realize he’s left you to your own devices (a breadcrumb trail behind you notwithstanding). somehow you manage to go on; to go back would be a far worse thing to do, leaving you emotionally vulnerable when the end, you believe (because he seems to hold out some hope), will allow you some insight, some enlightenment, some knowledge of yourself and your place in the world (as he sees it.) it’s not all bad.
oftentimes, his view of his subject is omniscient, standing above and looking down on, and not in a condescending manner, but, in a concerned way, he’s showing you (the subject and the viewer) his compassion through this thorough exploration of your body, your skin, your hair. all that paint! my god, he slathers it on in deep rushes of impasto, layer upon layer, looking at you (the subject and the viewer) as if you were under a microscope and i think, perhaps, even stripping away your facade to reveal the real you underneath all the artifice of your daily life.
and, and, you’ll see a look of what appears to be utter despair on the subject’s (and on the viewer’s) face, poleaxed with posing, holding onto that last shred of dignity that being naked/nude leaves you with after hours and hours and hours and perhaps days of his god-like examination (it is a bit of being pinned like a butterfly to a board–see nabokov for a companion in literature). except for many of his portraits of the performance artist, the gargantuan leigh bowery and these portraits are more straight forward, your view of bowery is less compromised and in a way, even more respectful, not to say that freud is disrespectful of his other subjects, but all that looking down and then suddenly your face to face with bowery in all of his obese glory–it’s a shocking shift in tone and intent (to my eyes and spirit).
then, in early 2008 i was fortunate enough to see an exhibition of his etchings, accompanied by related drawings and paintings at MoMA and once again i was stunned by his ability to strip away, isolate and present the essence of his subjects and by that very act of exposing them, the viewer too is revealed. this emotional use of line seemed to me to be without peer and it may be that his abstract way of looking at a subject reminds me of my love for clyfford still or it may be that his tender portraits of his dogs reminds me of my fondness for the delightfully insouciant work of marcel duchamp–it is that emotional tweaking that sparks a fire in me unlike any other representational artist i know.
i was surprised at how saddened i was to hear of his death this past week. it was like losing someone close to you that you don’t see very often, rarely talk to on the phone, but somehow always pick up where you left off the last time you shared a time and a place together.