Tuesday, 3 July 2012

DAMIEN HIRST RETROSPECTIVE -Tate Modern -Wednesday 20 June 2012

Room 1
8 Pans, 1987

8 brightly painted colour saucepans on a white wall

The early works begin with the eight pots and pans covered in bright household gloss that Hirst assembled whilst still at Goldsmiths. It is apparent even here that space will quite literally occupy a delineating and central role in typifying his work.
Never mind the flat round bottoms of frying and sauce pans pre-empting the spot paintings, (the first of which hangs to the left in the same room) it is equally the case, that  Damien is obsessed with order and display. The dripping hurried look of the circles on his first spot painting reveal far less about his emerging fastidiousness, than the necessity to lay things out as though they are on a grid. The gaps in between are absolutely uniform. There are tiny drips and runs on the pans, and some of the early cases because household gloss will do that, but there is nothing but intention and definitiveness in the scrupulous attention to revealing space.

His works then are not merely as many would have you believe about reconciling painting and sculpture; they are about the techniques of both disciplines. The measuring of perspective with pencils and brushes is not the way he arrives at his truth, it is not even in present in the laying down of paint. It is for him merely a way of revealing something new in the spaces in between. The early snapshot of him posing with a nervous grin next to a dead man’s head is all too easily seen as confirmation that the big themes he works with are life and death, but that is true of all art. It is obviously a recurring narrative but not so insistent as the patterns of emptiness revealed between pill boxes and butterfly wings, the two rooms of A Thousand Years and In and Out of Love. There is dichotomy and tension in his examination of the permanence of death and the fleeting brevity of life, but really it is the images that rush in and fill the vacuum he leaves, that burn long in your brain.

several coloured boxes of differing sizes arranged closely on a wall

Boxes, 1988

Boxes from Freeze again reflects his attention to order and removing chance, (with this reincarnation being even more meticulous), but also his habit of making work specifically for spaces. In this show he has co-opted the walls, with paper and symbols, and brought the outside in with his butterflies and flies. He has spoken of making specifically for spaces like the Saatchi Gallery and his arrival here in the Tate Modern does seem somewhat overdue.

Rooms 2 & 3

The first small medicine cabinet in this room is dwarfed by the fish swimming in opposite directions that make up the biological naturalist Piscean species textbook made real* in three dimensional form, and the spot painting opposite them. The human is here breathing laboured breaths within medicine cabinets, and the animal frozen in the two sheep heads, the lone, bleat free whole specimen and the shark and bovine figures glimpsed in the adjoining room. Again the space between subjects is dominant, this time human and animal. How we humanise animals and how we ironically rarely acknowledge the animalistic truth of being Homo sapiens or “knowing men”. This is perfectly demonstrated with Away from the flock. Here the lone sheep is made an individual inviting us to endow it with human qualities, like personality. This is again apparent in room 9 with the aptly named Mother and child divided. The tenderness, with which these specimens are presented, their pristine, washed and brushed white hairs rendered immaculately and carefully stretched and fixed onto acrylic mounts inside the vitrines is very touching. There is a Dove later mounted as if in flight and presented like an angel, its vitality revered by the glistening soft feathers appearing washed by man made detergent achieving a brightness not found in nature.

A Shark preserved in 3 welded steel tanks full of formaldahyde

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, 1991

The shark does little to frighten or instil any sense of mortality in me, it suffers I think from overexposure and while knowing it is not a great white you still expect to be overwhelmed by it’s scale and menace, and yet the fear barely breaks the surface. The ripples are not there, and only the thick glass of the three heavy cabinets offers any distortion. The formaldehyde renders the menace impotent. In all the tanks bubbles rise to the surface and stay frozen in time as an impression on the glass lid. Duchamp may have sought to remove the hand of the artist but like a sucking sock pulled out of the sand the shoe of Hirst remains indelibly etched in these captured bubbles. The artist has said that he liked the fishes because even in formaldehyde it was as if they were in their natural environment, but I think the opposite is true. Water moves and reveals the motion of creatures that move through it. Those tell tale trails of transit are missing even when posed as if swimming.

Rooms 4
chair,table,cigarette,ashtray and lighter in black framed glass case

The Acquired Inability to Escape, 1991

Here again there is much to be found in what is missing. The lack of a smoker leaves an indelible impression as present as the gaps between butt ends in Dead Ends Died Out. It is a kind of poetry that reminds me more of the dulcet tones of T.S .Elliot than Francis Bacon. A year earlier and in the previous room Hirst had made A Thousand Years the now infamous living and dying physical embodiment of the life cycle of maggot to fly, helped along by the severed head of a cow some sugar and water and the glowing blue scythe of the tiny vomiting disease carriers own personal Death, the insect-o-cutor. Here the maggots are not hidden in a box they are laid out in neatly measure rows like the pill cabinets, each space between measured out like the breaths of a lifetime. The seeds of decay ignited with a blue flame and resurrected should they falter by sucking on their dry caramel innards. As I move towards the butterflies I can hear again the voice of Eliot reading aloud his poem, The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?                    

Rooms 5 & 6

You are as a visitor encouraged to move, steadily and slowly, through the live butterflies, something I needed encouragement to do. Strangely and unexpectedly I found myself comfortable, if a little bored by dead butterflies and unsure about live ones. For me In and Out of Love was a very fleeting, transient and all too brief experience to draw many conclusions about it. Again surprise has been surgically removed from the installation by it’s familiarity and context in such a building.

Rooms 7

The work Pharmacy seems to lose focus at such a scale. Ten years later in Lullaby, the Seasons a work mounted in four cabinets in room 3 Hirst nails it in a beautiful three dimensional evocation of his spot paintings reflected in having colour and the spaces in between perfectly symmetrically realised whilst incorporating the anatomical themes of his first medicine cabinet. In those he replaces belief in pharmaceutical drugs with lullabies and the poetry of seasons. Each season’s colour is presented almost impressionistically per cabinet but here in Pharmacy there seems to be no emotional presence. There may be a reference to A Thousand Years with the Insect-o-cutor but there is none of that works surrendering of control. Here the Artists grip is vice like and no amount of Pharmaceuticals is going to stop the patient dying. 

Room 8

The spin paintings and a giant remaking of Room 1’s excellent What Goes Up Must Come Down in the floating beach ball of Loving in a World of Desire. Again scale does not help and I can not engage with it as much as it’s original inception, humble and ready made it may have been but it also creates more volume than this industrial version. However many tins of gloss you ejaculate over a spinning canvas you will never capture much about love and desire when your method is so meticulous and predictable. They all look like spin paintings. Spewing over a record deck would at least introduce unpredictable cuboid matter. Gloss paint has been developed to give uniform results and that is exactly what it does.

Room 9

A giant white ashtray full of cigarette packets and ash

Crematorium, 1996

close up shot of titled artwork, cow sawn in half

Mother and Child Divided (detail), 1993

The exploration of the space between things and the gap between ideals is manifested here in both cow and calf. Hirst has said that his work is about everything and nothing and it is easy to buy this as a neat explanation for the polar aspects of his work. The reality though seems not to be so neat.  Whilst these huge mammals are neatly and surgically torn asunder it is not merely to reveal the inside and outside, the spiritual and the physical, the tangible and the ineffable, the soft white coat and the dried bloodied innards. The artists invites you to once again explore the space between these ideas. Is the cow mounted in two tanks or in one divided? Where does the division lay? Is it between the calf now separated from it’s mother, or in the walkway opened up between each body and traversed by the galleries pilgrims in search of truth? Maybe the real gulf opening up here is the distance between secular society and the Christian story of virgin birth.

From birth we hurtle to life’s end. In the same room one’s olfactory senses are assailed by the stench of death, but this is not the reek of abattoir, the bovine carcasses now odourless and forever sealed in stasis. This is the somewhat more pleasant caramel like dusty waft of cigarette ash. The huge ash tray Crematorium is again undone by its scale. There is too much artifice here in the choice of fags, all Marlboro and Camel, Regals but no tobacco or cheap brands and to much neatness. No dirty ash skid marks up the sides and a Disney like surrealism that has me expecting the arrival of a giant slobbering dog from Honey I Shrunk The Impact .

Room 10

A bit like an Art lesson this room feels a bit cold and desperate. The convoluted juxtaposition of the three works Still, Doubt and Lapdancer with the work Trinity- Pharmacology, Physiology, Pathology suffocates engagement. The first three bright glimmering stainless steel cabinets, carefully laid out with surgical instruments and implements are too busy and utilitarian, the objects crowding any sense of space, their shiny reflective surfaces imposing on each other much more clumsily than the tools themselves would cleft, lacerate or buttress gaping wounds. The opposing Trinity of teaching aids in three white wooden cabinets are all too domestic. The anatomical models and cutaway sections of wombs, heads and uteruses reveal nothing but the workings of a body and nothing about the artist or his reaction to anything. Like the formulated plastic it is all very practical but the viewer is distracted by this and too enamoured with the illustrative lessons the objects are giving than any message hidden in the art.

Room 11

Marble Angel with body open revealing organs and intestines etc

The Anatomy of an Angel, 2008    

close up of multi coloured Butterflies on black gloss surface

Doorways to the Kingdom of Heaven, 2007 (detail)

Rendering the ineffable and transient as immovable flesh rendered in Marble is nothing new. The sculptor responsible for this angel though has realised Hirsts vision by following directions to continuing chipping away at the    white marble, long after the languid form of one of God’s messengers has been revealed. The renaissance style statue is peeled open like a medical teaching aid, creating an internal anatomy of human fallibility and evoking more wonder and awe than that engendered by a traditionally ethereal angel. Deep cavernous lines, like heavy bold set type, and a new lexicography to an ancient art, with nods to Da vinci and the twin Gods of religion and Science.

thousands of butterflies arranged in mandala circles on canvas

 I am Become Death, Shatterer of Worlds, 2006

While Sympathy in White Major – Absolution II could easily be transferred to the ceiling or floor of any holy building, Doorways to the Kingdom of Heaven would make most sense transposed to the stained glass arches of a Christian chapel or cathedral. It is a very English work suffused with a pastoral beauty and grandeur that befits its religious overtones. It is at once, both awe inspiring, and modest. I am become Death, Shatterer of Worlds is hypnotic and rhythmic, it’s pulsing circular motifs beating an eastern karmic raga of reincarnated butterflies into your brain. All three of these works are so much more astonishing in real life, the symmetrical application of jewelled and many hued butterflies onto canvases covered with household gloss amounting to so much more than the sum of its parts. Yet here in these works the space between things is the big element again, the frame work and grid on which all his work hangs. It is a stunning tour de force which could so easily collapse into decoration. Opposite these intertwining cogs of reincarnated beauty, in the next room, he presents us with a massive full stop that tempers any over exuberance, and explodes into ones consciousness.

Room 12

Big black circle composed of dead houseflies

Black Sun, 2004

close up detail of flies piled up to create black sun

Black Sun, 2004 (detail)

Black Sun is like being punched in the face by an acorn headed Ernie Shavers. It is as if Mark Rothko had given alien birth to Guernica and the bastard fly encrusted canvas is sucking not only your face off, but siphoning out your soul through the hot dusty orifices of your fleshless skull. It presents death as a real and three dimensional reality. Not an easily dismissed printed full stop or two dimensional painting. This death is not an abstract thought, this is the real deal, presented as the end of space, of air to breathe, of gaps in which blood can flow and cells can move, this is the all encompassing suffocating decomposition of stasis. An orgy of corpulent flies, their conflagration no longer concerned with copulation, fucked but not fucking, piled up like monuments to decay. There is a Black sheep in the room, and I notice the pleasing blackness of its case but really I am rooted to the spot and transfixed by Damien’s big gob. He began this journey nervously smiling next to the head of a dead man and just thirteen years later he is howling into the abyss.

Room 13

All this death makes Damien sick, so sick that four years later in 2008 like some Cronenbergian nightmare, he regurgitates Lullaby, the Seasons from 2002 as an opulent and soulless exercise with Judgement Day part of the two day Sotheby’s  two day auction project Beautiful Inside my Head Forever. I worry about what is inside his heart at this point, because although he is clearly still concerned with beauty he is rehashing a facsimile of pills with manufactured diamonds and a gold cabinet. It is a curious case of Gerald Ratner inverted, in which an obviously more luxurious and valuable yet inferior copy of something precious is sold for millions.

close up of man made diamonds on gold shelves in gold cabinet

Judgement Day, 2009

Room 14

Hirst hints at the polar opposites of life and death with The Incomplete Truth but like the Holy Spirit, this dove seems to hover in between. It is so achingly beautiful after the ugly gold cabinet of Judgement Day, that it seems however much Damien tries to say everything and nothing with his work, he can never clip the wings of his own humanity. The moment is captured perfectly, rising up in flight with tiny air bubbles of formaldehyde caught between its feathers this symbolic bird is all about the soul, and the definition of inner space. Like a tiny piece of heaven flying through water, its dichotomy, as a symbol of peace and freedom, trapped forever in a glass vitrine, is a demonstration of the invisible space between ideas that holds everything here together. Without air to fly through it is nothing, and yet the artist’s mastery over space has freed it even from this earthly tether, preserving it floating impossibly like a hallmark anointing his work for all eternity. 

White Dove preserved in blue formaldahyde hovering within white cabinet

The Incomplete Truth, 2006
* Isolated Elements Swimming in the Same Direction for the Purpose of Understanding (Left) and (Right) 1991

PORTRAITS -Lucian Freud -The National Portrait Gallery -Wednesday 24 May 2012

lucien freud,painter,lucian freud portraits, exhibition

Francis Bacon
Pencil, 1952

Francis Bacon Portrait by Lucian Freud  from National Portrait Gallery

He effortlessly captures the great man’s potent mix of coyness and danger with a deft and economic use of line. In a pose staged by Bacon himself, with the open trouser and hands on hips presenting him as both coquettish and Machiavellian, Freud presents to us a practised seducer, luring the viewer into a world of surprising tenderness with an underlying threat of violence. The pencil portrait of his friend is executed on white paper with two conté crayon sketches on either side. These are black and white works on Ingres paper from ’46 & 48 respectively. In these the hard square lines of compressed graphite and wax enmesh themselves into the chain and laid line surface. The effect is a softening one in which a radiant and glittering white surface is kissed with graphite details, like metallic etchings revealing fine hair and more detail but not quite containing the substance and hard reality of the Bacon. It is a great pity his unfinished oil painting of the great man is not here, reminiscent of a cross between Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s “Secrets & Lies” and Harry Redknapp, the earthy painting is a fantastic study, painted with huge empathy.

In the same room as the Bacon are three paintings of his first wife Kitty.

Girl with a kitten
Oil on Canvas, 1947

Painting, artwork, Girl with a kitten, Lucian Freud, contemporary art

Girl in a dark jacket
Oil on Panel, 1947

portrait artist Lucian Freud's painting of Girl in a dark jacket

Girl with roses
Oil on Canvas, 1947-8

artist, portrait artist,Lucian Freud's, Girl with roses,great art, oil paintings

Almost Illustrative, in the best and most beautiful sense, very green, flat and with Kitty sharing the same expression, what is most striking about them is how very different they are from the later works.  Like Magritte without the surrealism, or Miro without the abstraction, they contain a huge amount of information below the flawless flatness of their immaculately worked surface. It is not the last time in this exhibition that I can sense something Hitchcock like and stylized in the composition and style. Much has been written to align this period of Freud’s work with early Netherlandish painting such as the work of Jan Van Eyck, (he of the Arnolfini Portrait) and while the hyper detailed sable brush work can be seen to have been applied with the same painstaking patience, the huge eyes and  stylized outlines hint at something else. The war may have ended but the art world was still deep in the eye of a storm. Abstract art had given birth to action painting and had thrown the post war canvas on to the floor for artists to violently flick, dribble and hurl there pigment at it. Freud’s friend and contemporary Francis Bacon had rendered his own shocking and violent, existentialist whirlwind in his Three Studies For Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, three years earlier. Yet here was Freud painting like Dali without the sur prefix, his own realism almost old fashioned and art nouveau like, the hard outlines of this poster work crisply delineated but with each hair and detail perfectly realised.

Sleeping Nude
Oil on Canvas, 1950
Oil Painting, by the great modern artist, Portrait painter,Lucian Freud

I am already shedding my preconceptions and am struck by the lack of blue. In reality I thought the acres of flesh would haunt me, skewing my chromatic calibration and drowning me in deep fathoms of sallow blueness. Maybe it is the years exposed to the habitual colour lies of computer monitors, or the generational nature of Televisions unfaithful reproduction, producing a facsimile of diminishing accuracy, like the texture free print and its inability to reproduce the reality of a great painting. Curiously I return from the exhibition unable to locate the source of this blue preoccupation or any evidence of it in any format. It is as though the power of witnessing the original work has somehow irrevocably established a new treatise between viewer and artist.

Great horizontal light throws a much more sympathetic green light on the model, modestly voluptuous, and luxuriant, both fabric and skin are allocated a depth and sumptuousness that makes your thumbs itch. It is only two years since the feline and flat Girl with roses but already it seems a lifetime away, nearly another artist and yet here it is in the same room, demonstrating a marked move towards something deeper.

Interior with plant, reflection listening
Oil on Canvas, 1967-8
artwork, by, famous painters, Lucian Freud's Interior with plant

Freud top left peering out without the benefit of eyes, only shadow where they normally reside. I cannot help but imagine a 360 degree sound field, and can not decide if interpreting it would place him in the front or rear left speaker. The perspective is not uniform and the whole composition is wrong headed. A nod to the secret life of plants? Surely this can not be an example of Jungian symbolism or Freudian psycho babble?  It seems like an aberration, a curiosity or drug induced audible hallucination in a straight man’s world.

Reflection with two children
Oil on Canvas, 1965
Oil Painting, reflection with two children,great art, contemporary art by Lucian Freud

Looking down into a mirror on the floor, the painter gathers his jacket with a claw like hand. The hand has a tortured spasticity as though the tendons are shrunk by some neurological calamity. It is a view that encourages dislocation, the painter looming and looking with contempt and disdain, his one claw like hand grasping his jacket with a weird scale that show’s little deference to his small children below. The perspective and cinematic nature once again reminds me of Hitchcock. It is very much a product of it’s time. He is like an actor with his place in the frame echoing the same aesthetic of films from the time. Freud is Michael Cain as Harry Palmer, or Jack Carter, all London chic and brooding machismo.

Frank Auerbach
Oil on Canvas, 1975-6
portrait painting, of Frank Auerbach, by Lucian Freud, artist

What I originally thought was Freud turns out not to be. Surely this is a boxer or physically engaged man?, the strength of  his bone structure revealing his massive forehead, almost weaving away from incoming blows, his intensity, square and solid, but no it is the Painter Frank Auerbach. The robust nature of his own work is mirrored in the solidity and unmovable bulk of his great brass like and sculptural head, and yet he is presented abridged, cramped into a narrow frame leaving you to imagine his heaving shoulders, rolling like bowling balls beneath his grey t-shirt.

The Painter’s Father
Pencil on Paper, 1970
one of the famous painters, pencil on paper, portraits, The painters Father, Lucian Freud

His apparent difficulty in capturing his father says much. Rather than being concise and economic like the Bacon it seems unfinished. Each absent line suggesting a misapprehension, or misunderstanding, of his Papa. The broad nose and Hesseltine/Tarzan like receding floppy fringe reveals only the inherited physicality and none of the emotional content. Perhaps all sons and fathers suffer from this sense of unfinished business whatever the relationship.

I do not go along with the assertion that Freud’s paintings of his mother are Rembrandt like. I can glimpse little of her character in what seems like an effort on the painter’s part to avoid darkness she seems over studied, posed and photographic only in

The Painter’s Mother Resting
Oil on Canvas, 1976
The painter's mother Resting, a,painting, portrait painting,art pictures,

does both painter and sitters guard fall and glimpses of a connection reveal themselves. The soft cotton woolly bed cover and silky paisley nightdress hints at the uncomfortable familiarity they shared.

A man and his daughter
Oil on Canvas, 1963-4
A man and his daughter, by, portrait painter, Lucian Freud,oil paintings. great modern artists

The scarred bank robber looks strangely at ease and flushed with colour, from the crimson gash of his old wounds to the depth of his fallen brow and orange nose. His daughter in contrast looks pale and yellow rigid with if not outright fear at least a little apprehension. Her heavy square face betraying an awareness of life’s brutality her father’s precarious profession has exposed her to. It is as though somehow she has revulsion more of his betrayal than the scars his colleagues have left on his face.

Boy Smoking
Oil on Copper, 1950-1

The national Portrait gallery, Lucian Freud Exhibition,Boy smoking,The art gallery

Small, intense, and detailed, the young man's furrowed brow reveals a laconic attitude that emerged along with the idea of being a teenager in the nineteen fifties. There is a whiff of James Dean about his hair and pose but he looks like a British barrel boy, comfortable smoking. For him it is neither a prop nor studied affectation. Though apparently caught in the act of breaking into Freud’s studio with his brother, there is not a hint of judgement in the artists rendering of him, only empathy.  

Hotel Bedroom
Oil on Canvas, 1954

artwork, by, portrait painter, Lucian Freud, Hotel Bedroom

Freud looks elfin like and small in the background. There is an amazing and fastidious facilitation of his fine sable brush in rendering the detail in the texture of the fabric he is wearing. The light is on his wife and he looks like a Gaiman/Sandman character, from another god like dimension while his pale glowing wife nibbles her finger, lost in thought on how two people in one room can be so far apart as though in different worlds.

Oil on Canvas,portrait painting, by, Portrait artist, Lucian Freud

Painter and Model
Oil on Canvas, 1986-7

Not shying away from having his cock, balls and ass hole occupying the apex of the picture, Freud tries to look uninterested as if he is the passive model in his painter wife’s portrait. She plays along not engaging the viewer in eye contact, and while her face is bright in contrast with her paint sodden smock, it is Lucien who dominates this composition. He does not exaggerate his boyish arms.  From here on in the scale of both paintings and subjects gets ramped up. It begins with

Two Men in the Studio
Oil on Canvas, 1987-9

Two men in the studio by Lucian Freud,great art, arts,

Is it Cerith Wyn Evans who dominates this picture? Like a pale Welsh Giant crushing Angus Cook? His feet are huge like hooves and I do not recognise him without his waxed moustache. Much is made of the crumpled material painted in the studio background and whilst the technical accomplishment is no doubt well executed it is the figures that dominate. Freud was a great painter of people. Not adequate or good, great. His portraits of Leigh Bowery are huge, monumental works that fill my minds ear with cellos intoning themes from Beethoven and Wagner.

Lee Bowery Seated
Oil on Canvas, 1990

artist Lee Bowery painted by portrait artist Lucian Freud

Sue Tilley Room

Big Sue the Benefits Supervisor

Curiously the big one made little impact until I sat down and viewed it at eye level. Almost as though one had to join her in recline to fully empathise. At this juncture and maybe simply because of scale, texture becomes a more obvious ingredient. Like drying porridge the rendered goose bumps and flecks of whirling cellulite add a hyper real dimensionality to these gargantuan grand canvases. Predictably

Benefits Supervisor Sleeping
Oil on Canvas, 1995

Sue Tilley painted by Freud hanging in one of the greatest art galleries

draws huge numbers, but unlike many other works in the exhibition, people’s attention is rather briefer than the model’s ample Titan like proportions. They gaze and then look really closely, as if hoping that close examination will reveal a hidden layer of Gold or map showing the location of Bullion and then they are gone. It is a fine painting but perhaps they are right in adjudging it as not his best.  To my untrained eyes it is not even the best in the room. The two other Tilleys, hung on the opposite wall are more expressive.

Benefits Supervisor Resting
Oil on Canvas, 1994

great art, oil painting by Lucian Freud

sees Tilley on the other end of the sofa, head thrown back with the black screen that recurs in many of his works behind her. The sole of her right foot is revealed, her left resting in the alcove of her ankle. She is lit by God and seems to revel in her bodies inviting pose.

Sleeping by the Lion Carpet
Oil on Canvas, 1996

portrait painting from the national portrait gallery,The art gallery

Here Tilley is sleeping on a chair or chaise longue with what looks like a tapestry or painting of an African Savannah behind her. A lion and Lioness stalk a Gazelle maybe ironically as the woman sleeps with in eyeshot of Freud and his painterly hunger for the rendition of her flesh. His eye ravaging her as she sleeps, Lucien the gazelle stalks her in the pursuit of another kind of capture. Here is his brilliance, his unstoppable pursuit. The fact that many paintings span two years reveals his unrelenting hunger for the hunt. While Lenkiewicz and other modern masters reveal their own voracious sexual desire in their works, Freud seems to focus in revealing his subjects desires, fears and actuality. While obviously no monk, Lucien was clearly in love with both his medium (overwhelmingly Oil on Canvas) and the unabashed non prettifying documentation of portraiture. His towering technical prowess, whilst never failing to illuminate the detail, the light and the darkness, the broad wash of colour and the minutiae of every drape, crease and layer of texture never gets in the way of capturing the essence of the model. He utilises perspective (the screen) colour and composition but only in service of the person inside the model. It is this element that takes you out of the Gallery and through the paintings, not only into the lofts and studios of Freud, or indeed merely into the lives of the sitters. By being so focused and relentless, one is gifted a glimpse into the mind of a true great, a modern master.

Ria,Naked Portrait
Oil on Canvas, 2006-7

Ria,naked Portrait by the portrait painter Lucian Freud

 The porridge effect is most pronounced here in the head of the girl, in fact all over this canvas. Pushed to the back and top one senses tenderness, a painting he wanted so much to get right. I thought that maybe this was because she was a relative but it turns out it was probably more to do with his advancing age and determination to do his best work

Self-Portrait, Reflection
Oil on Canvas, 2002

Self portrait by one of UK's most famous artists Lucian Freud

Seeming not to recognise himself Lucien looks old and frail almost as though he needs the distance of a mirrored reflection to face his aged self. The arms length perspective measuring of extending an arm and capturing the proportions of a model have been replaced with an assessment of his own features only bearable at  a distance and through the bent refraction of a mirrors inverted image.

I am beginning to see why in 1997 the excellent Waldemar Januszczak asked, Is painting dead? The infamous Turner prize television debate, in which Tracey Emin left to be with her mother, outraged at the suggestion that such a thing could be seriously considered. To learn to paint requires time and dedication, to become proficient and expressive takes longer still. To develop and master a personal style with which to voice such expressiveness will drain yet more grains of sand from one’s own personal hourglass and that is before any consideration is given to art, the works and artists who have gone before, and navigating this conversation, to establish a place in paintings long and distinguished history. The task is momentous, a huge undertaking of almost unfathomable difficulty.

To attempt it is worthy and commendable, to touch it’s unmatchable directness must be magical, but to throw your soul into the fire and fight long and hard, through every waking hour, day and night, well and sick, ecstatic and dejected, to rein it in and master it, that can only be said of a select few. When it comes to portrait painting Lucien Freud was certainly one of those few and possibly in modern times, the greatest.