Tuesday, 6 July 2010


5/07/10, Pompidou Centre, Paris

A major retrospective in which the reclusive Freud evidently collaborated wholeheartedly, since it contains a video of him at work (well, almost... it chronicles the lengthy preparations for continuing work on a large nude, including the coffee drinking, fussing about getting the easel into the right position for the light, comparing the colour of paint on the brush with the colour of the model's flesh, and then fades out just as the first brush-stroke is applied) and another which features the great man himself walking along the Regents Canal with a hawk on his arm, wandering round a skeletal studio set of his atelier with a naked dancer and a zebra (reference to an early picture in which a bright red zebra sticks its head through the window of the artist's studio) and film of what I take to be Freud's (unbelievably decrepit) studio on the top floor of one of those splendid white millionaires' houses in Holland Park, with views of Westfield. The naked model in the first film is also the maker of the second and responsible for the still photographs in the exhibition, a man called David Dawson.

There are the expected massive nudes and a clutch of paintings of the artist's garden, all dense unkempt foliage with the light shining through it, unbelievably detailed and obsessive. There are also etchings, which at first glance look like charcoal drawings but which on closer inspection turn out to be made up of thousands of tiny scribbles and cross-hatched lines. There are self-portraits, portraits and paintings apparently based on works by other great masters.

The principle memory is of the infinite variety of Freudian flesh. Where you and I (and it seems from one photograph which includes the real-life model and the picture painted of her, the camera) see a more or less homogeneous pinkish tone, Freud sees a dozen or 20 different colours, reflecting not only shadows but also presumably different textures.

There is lots of evidence of repainting and overpainting and reworking; flashes of humour (a recent picture entitled The Artist Surprised by a Naked Admirer has a fuzzy, ageing Freud standing at the easel staring at the viewer, with a naked woman sitting at his feet clutching his legs; a painting called Sunny Morning, Eight Legs in which a naked man sits on a bed next to a sleeping dog while an extra pair of male legs poke out from under the bed); and a tendency to return to the same subjects, same poses, same corners of the studio with a regularity that can only be called obsessive. He loves crumpled sheets and paper, pipework (there's a lot of plumbing in his works, from radiators to ageing geysers and dripping taps) and deliberately awkward and gawky compositions.

Not always a comfortable artistic presence but a very considerable one.

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