PINKY SAYS:WHAT DO YOU DO WITH YOUR LIFE IF YOUR NAME IS FREUD?
Lucian Freud was the grandson of Sigmund Freud. Well Lucien became a painter, not just a hack painter, but one of the most renown artists in England. He achieved his exalted reputation by a self imposed working schedule standing at a canvas for a morning session of painting with one model and after a break an evening session with another seven days a week all year round. He did this for the last 57 years of his life dying midway through his 89th year. His work is easily recognized by its smooth passages of thighs and feet coupled with heavy impasto on chests and breasts then highlighted by white slashes of opaque paint and little dashes of green mixed with umber. A large portion of his body of work was the painting of nudes which Freud preferred to call naked portraits. (Recently I seem to be strangely involved in the cause of nude painting.) The painter would crank up the heat in his studio for his sitters to keep them comfortable and the heat also kept them still. For some strange reason it also had the effect of rendering an overall air of languor and decadence to the poses of his naked human sitters. Freud’s women sitters were often lovers, or women who became his lovers, and in some cases, lovers who became the mothers of his children. The count of his progeny brought a total of 14 children who also sat for him. Portraits would take anywhere from 6 to 18 months. There was about him an otherworldly charm and magnetism described by close friends as a starry quality, “something not quite like a human being.”
Freud’s nudes are not like those of other painters before or after him. The canvases are usually large and rather shocking. For a long period of time he painted the drag performer, Leigh Bowery . Bowery was a huge man lengthwise and girth wise, with a bald oblong head. There was a lot of him to paint, a lot to work with in terms of topography, physiognomy and the mountains of flesh of Bowery’s body. Then there was Sue Tilley, the hefty friend of Bowery who became the nude in Benefits Supervisor Sleeping. Andrew Parker Bowles sat for Freud in 18 months of time consuming sittings in one of the very few clothed portraits which I saw in an exhibition in New York composed primarily of naked women and dogs. Parker Bowles appeared in the uniform he wore as a commander of the Household Cavalry. It was a delightful painting of a distinguished British gentleman with a lumpy Freudian twist. Other nude portraits often had as their subject his wives, mistresses, children, and friends; all of these were completed over long tedious hours of posing. David Hockney once told of computing the time spent in posing for Freud to be about 120 hours. “He was slow very slow. Because he took a long long time, we talked a lot. He wanted you to talk so he could watch how your face moved. He had these incredible eyes that sort of pierced into you.”
Freud was an imposing figure although he stood at barely 5 feet 6 inches on good days. He had a fierce gaze and a severe aristocratic bearing which was magnified by the scarf he always wore knotted at the neck. He painted with a huge piece of white cotton sheeting tucked under his belt to serve as an apron. The process of painting the human form involved ever thicker paint which he layered, twisted and smeared to build up form with color. Depicting flesh was his passion and as he painted he would mutter instructions to himself, “Yes! A bit more yellow,” or “QUITE” or “I don’t think so”. It is fascinating to realize that Freud was painting during the heyday of abstract expressionism and pop art. He thrilled to the work of Constable and Titian for much of his life and was therefore decidedly unfashionable. His work was extremely sensual and this created in the minds of his viewers an intriguing association with his grandfather.
Parallels were drawn between the sitting process and psychotherapy, the controlled sessions, the contact between the observer and the sitter, the long hours during which the sitter endured self examination. As a matter of fact Freud would begin a conversation with the subject saying “Tell me about your childhood.” And yet Lucien Freud often expressed his disdain for the psychoanalytical process of Sigmund Freud. Nevertheless Lucien never seems to have had anger for his grandfather and had warm personal memories of their relationship.
Freud made a decision in the 1990s to take on an American dealer, William Acquavella, who took care of everything so as to allow Freud to focus on his painting. This included taking care of Freud’s small gambling debts which Acquavella settled up with Freud’s bookie to the tune of $4.6 million. This was not a problem for the dealer; he simply sold new Freud paintings for 6 and 7 figures. Freed of annoying debts Freud completely quit gambling. It simply lost its charm for him when he began to make money on his paintings. However the money was never important to him; he continued painting seven days a week because it was the raison d’être of his life. His sitters often learned about themselves as they sat the endless hours because they talked to him, watched him. One sitter said, “I learned an awful lot about myself. Not just by looking at the portrait, but talking to him….it’s an incredibly mediative experience. You do feel exposed.”
When Freud died he left a body of unfinished work. He had always stood while painting and one day he simply could not stand any more. He retired to his bedroom above his studio. Family and friends came and paid their respects. Freud had painted Picasso, Giacometti, Kate Moss, English royalty, sitters of gigantic proportions of fat and flesh, and the gangster Kray twins. Freud’s life was still vital, not the proper ending of a life well lived. His death was an interruption of his creative process and it was an inconvenience for Freud who had plenty of people who wanted to see and pay for his work because it had real truths to relate. ”My work is purely autobiographical. It is about myself and my surroundings. It is an attempt at a record. I work from people that interest me, and that I care about and think about, in rooms that I live in and know.” It is what Lucien Freud did with his life.