Monday, July 26, 2010

LUCIEN FREUD (et moi) AT THE POMPIDOU

I'm about to make sweeping statements but this is my blog and I'm allowed to sweepstate as much as I like. You are encouraged to refute, agree, elaborate, contradict, and I hope you will do one or more of these things because, frankly, comments are few and far between over here lately and I'd like to boost the participatory factor. So, here goes. 

There are two types of creatives: receptives and obsessives.


Receptive-creatives have hyper-sensitive antennae which are continually picking up visual, verbal and subliminal information and sensations from the surroundings. Receptive-creatives are easily distracted because of the abundance of stimuli bombarding them. When an object or subject captures their attention, they will give it total concentration but only until the next stimulus becomes impossible to ignore. The variety and intensity of input vibrating their antennae is such that the degree of success (in worldly terms) which their creativity achieves depends on the amount of time they are able and willing to give to any particular message the universe sends. A state of readiness to absorb, combined with uncertainty about whether the material really merits absorption, is the receptive-creative's normal modus vivendi. I, ahem, am among those who fit into this category. 

Obsessive-creatives are driven by a compulsion which demands single-minded focus on a chosen path and the avoidance of anything which might disturb, distract or question this choice. They too are receptive but in a one-track way and they arrange their lives so as to feed their compulsion and insist that anyone who comes close should either support it or stay out. Dedicated, opinionated, blinkered, uncompromising, workaholic, eccentric, egocentric, extraordinary, are some of the adjectives frequently used in describing them. I would prefer to be an o-c rather than an r-c but I have never succeeded in remodelling myself. Lucian Freud is among those who are probably born into this category.

I have not been one of the many admirers of Sigmund's grandson's painting (or of his grandad for that  matter - don't let me get distracted!) but I didn't want to miss this exhibition because I hoped to be goaded into pursuing a completely contrary path. So I took my lethargic body to the Pompidou - nowadays ressembling a decaying community centre designed by committee - and escalated, via a bird's eye view of the Rue Beaubourg, to the sixth floor galleries where Freud's Atelier paintings were impressively hung. 


Pompidou Centre entrance hall.

View from sixth level of the Pompidou Centre. 

I did not expect to be impressed. But I was. Not impressed as in awestruck but as in, this is important stuff - must sit down and take it in slowly.

First of all, his colours. They are greys, browns, ochres, meat-red, black and the occasional dusty yellow-green. They are Old Master-ish, museum-ish colours, destined for posterity and weighty gold frames, defiantly academic, you could even say anti-modernist. 

Then there's the light. The grey light of London bed-sitters in lonely winters and sweaty summers. The cold light of dawn, post-coitum triste. The sleepless night light of regret, apathy, desperation. The merciless light of hospitals, morgues and bus stations at 4 am. 

Then there's the flesh, his subject. Passive flesh offered up to be penetrated by his dominant, hypnotic gaze. Naked but not erotic bodies splayed in apparent abandon on the bed, sofa or floor, seemingly obeying the master's stage-instructions to "be themselves" but, in truth, being only what he requires them to be. He says that what interests him in people is their animal side and that he likes seeing his subjects "as naturally and physically at ease as his dog." However, far from being at ease in their theatrical set-up, Freud's actors are more like tranquilised laboratory animals, their vitality suppressed, coerced by the painter's will into becoming still-life - even the dog must relinquish all doggy energy if he's to play a part in a Freudian tableau. But in the coruscating self-portraits, perhaps the only time the artist allows his model to confront him as an equal, Freud achieves magnificent, courageous insight. 

I understand the necessity of establishing rules of engagement when absorbed in the intensely difficult process of looking at and transcribing a human presence. The artist may be inwardly saying to his subject: go away! I mean stay, but don't talk, don't move, don't interact, just be still so I can observe you without being observed. So it makes sense that Freud prefers his models to be asleep or in a kind of trance induced by long hours of posing, but his determined focus on flesh as meat, to the exclusion of any other aspect of identity (as far as he's concerned, the matiére of his portrait of a person is that person) must be the reason I left Lucien Freud's Atelier very impressed, but ultimately disappointed. The old Peggy Lee song ran through my mind..........Is That All There Is?

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4 comments:

Rachel Fox said...

Here via Dominic R.
I like your receptive/obsessive types. Whether they're always going to fit folk... unlikely, I suppose, but still I like the distinction.

Like you, I would fit in with the receptives (and I wonder how often that would be true for women... far too often?). Also I guess the obsessives (being so focussed) are more likely to have obvious signs of success! Damn them...

Natalie said...

Hello Rachel, thanks for coming over, hope you'll stay.
Indeed the obsessives are more often male (and frequently have women in the background making it possible for them to pursue their obsession).But I recently saw an Alice Neel exhibition and she certainly fits the obsessive category, including putting art before family etc.
Maybe it takes a great big ego, of either gender, to have that one-track focus?

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, a consistently big one! Or just a very clear path...

Natalie said...

Rachel, even a very clear path if it doesn't have the consistently big ego stomping along doesn't necessarily lead to big success. But then those Big Successes aren't necessarily the best either. Some of the best creations are unsung.