I went expecting not to like them as the more recent pieces seem very brutal and harsh, but I was completely won over, and I can now see why he is described as one of the most important and influential artists of his generation. It was a fascinating story of his development from a very intricate and delicate painter using traditional painting methods into the complex and intense artist that we know today.
The exhibition was an amazing opportunity to see the breadth and scope of his talent. I am not a great afficionado of art, and I know little about traditional art, but the intensity of this man’s passionate attention to detailed observation of his subjects was incredible.
He would take months over each portrait – working all day on one of them, and then into the evening on another. This is of David Hockney. Every touch of paint was mixed separately and applied to a single spot. Then he would clean the brush, discard the paint, and mix a completely new tint from scratch. His studio was strewn with piles of ragged old hospital sheets covered in paint, as were the walls and even the door. A truly obsessional technique, but his subjects have so much depth and character – maybe not particularly flattering (his one of the Queen for example does her no favours) but full of drama and character. ‘Benefits Supervisor Sleeping’ is probably one that you will recall. In fact there are 4 or 5 of these, painted over more than a year, so given that the lady had to lie there for hours at a time after work, I’m not surprised she fell asleep. His self portrait was incredible.
The exhibition was, I think, 6 years in the planning and produced in close collaboration with Freud, who sadly died at the end of 2011. His last unfinished painting was the final one in the show.
“I’ve always wanted to create drama in my pictures, which is why I paint people. It’s people who have brought drama to the pictures from the beginning. The simplest human gestures tell stories.” Lucian Freud 1922-2011.