Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"A painter must think of everything he sees as being there entirely for his own use and pleasure."

- Lucien Freud, Man with a Blue Scarf

On my epic train ride to Eltham/Montsalvat yesterday (seriously, take the bus ALL the way there if you live in my side of town) I finished Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucien Freud by Martin Gayford. Yes, the purchasing of such a book went totally against the rules for myself but lets just say it was the guiltiest of guilty pleasures and totally worth it, even beyond the lovely plate reproductions of Freud's work and the lovely kodak snaps of the artist at work.

The book is a collection of anecdotes of Martin Gayford from his time spent sitting for a portrait. The anecdotes contain reflections on the process of sitting, Lucien Freud's painting process, conversations the two had and some historical background on Lucien both taken from the artist's stories and the writer's knowledge and research.

I loved it. It is not salacious look in to Lucien Freud's studio and life but rather a very mediative book that can really give an appreciator of his work and/or a would be painter a look into how one of the 'greats' went about his process; especially in the later years. (During the course of Lucien Freud's career he went through many changes in style and even at times subject but is best known for his mid to later works that are portraits developed out of strong and deliberate brushwork that both in reproductions and of course in person the tactile nature of the brushwork is especially compelling.)

I found Martin Gayford's insights about the sitting process a 'view through the looking glass' as it were since I'm rarely on that side of the canvas or camera. Its very apparent from the nuanced recounting of the experience that Gayford was studying his subject just as much as Freud was studying his. Gayford's knowledgeability about art and the way he inserted that expertise was both interesting and informative, especially the information on Francis Bacon, whom is usually paired with Lucien Freud as the 'big things' in the London art scene and international art scene at their prime.

Most of all though I loved how Gayford captured how Lucien Freud worked as a painter and artist not only because it can give someone like me, an aspiring artist; a sort of road map to procedure but also the very gratifying experience of finding similarities in between my process and Freud's. This of course is not at all shocking given that portrait painters working in oil are going to have a wide range in similarities in their process, but it was the little idiosyncratic things that aligned that I found truly gratifying being such an admirer of Lucien Freud's work. When I first came across one of his paintings, the one of illustrator John Minton; it kind of all came together for me.

To this day this is one of my very favourite paintings and Lucien Freud one of my favourite artists. So, when I read "When he is really concentrating he mutters constantly, giving himself instructions: 'Yes, perhaps - a bit', 'Quite', 'No-o, I don't think so', 'A bit more yellow.' Once or twice he is about to apply a stroke then withdraws, considers again, then re-scrutinizes..." or that his palette is typically incrusted with blobs and not cleaned, I felt ... assured? An assurance that yes I am meant to be a painter and maybe someday in the future there will be a book written like this about me with similar anecdotes and maybe even parallels drawn between my work and Freud's as Gayford does with Freud's and other artists.

While I really enjoyed this read I'm going go ahead and state that it's probably not for everyone. If you aren't into Lucien Freud, painting, contemporary/modern art then it might not hold the same interest for you that it did me. It's a bit of a niche book.

 c. esbenshade

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