Like grandfather like grandson? Dripping with psychological commentary, Lucian Freud gave precisely zero shits about his subjects’ ‘best side’ when immortalising them on his canvases. With extreme realism, the breakdown of the models’ exteriors portray the spliced, multiple, and complex layers on the inside. Considering the tone of Lucian’s work, people are onions, not parfaits.
Grandson to Sigmund Freud, Lucian artistically mirrored his famed grandfather’s unfalsifiable, and somewhat pseudo-science, theories in the world of psychology, threading out the troubled, repressed inner chaos so laboriously placed in the depths of the psyche. Everybody looks like the haggard, worst version of themselves – Freud was essentially the antithesis to Instagram filters. Lucian, though, took Sigmund’s work further, bringing the unconscious conscious in a visceral and tangible form made public and not just as a personal revelation or begrudging acceptance. Art critic and one-time model, Martin Gayford, described his portrait as seeming to, “reveal secrets—ageing, ugliness, faults—that I imagine…I am hiding from the world…”
Like granddaddy Freud, little Freud was up to his family jewels in thoughts of sex — though a little less anal and a little more full-frontal, genital in focus. Lucian cultivated a lengthy repertoire of nudes sprawled out on beds (reminiscent of Sigmund Freud’s famous psychoanalytic couch) and floors: sometimes alone, sometimes with others, and often with little canine beast. Of course with every piece sombre and depressing, they seem to evoke the precise moment when the human trash bag, one-night stand leaves your dingy New York apartment, and you’re lying on the bare part of your mattress totally lost and in anguish questioning every element of your life.
Naked, vulnerable, and with a look of slight malaise or lack of clarity… just the way the Freud’s like them. Lucian brought out all of the experiences and mental turmoil through the thickly painted, multi-hued skin of the subjects. The textured, brutal shades show the constant fight of the layers of the mind: id, superego, and ego or instinct, morality and reality – all the madness of truth together in one sad, confusing creature. Freud himself said, “The longer you look at an object, the more abstract it becomes and, ironically, the more real.”
But aside from his love of the nudes, there’s no denying Freud’s infatuation with his mother, and the Oedipus complex bells start going a-ring-a-ding-ding. 4000 hours of painting a series (made in 1970) of his mother makes one question how well he coped with his phallic stage. Not to mention his preoccupation started after her attempted suicide, and he followed her with his paintbrush all the way to and on her deathbed.
Whether he harboured a confused boner for his mother or not, Lucian Freud’s grand strength was his talent for creating uncomfortable and thought-provoking images. If portraits of the 16th -18th century glorified the subjects, Freud gave the practice the middle finger and penetrated into the dark depths of his subject to bring out foibles, flaws, and failures for all to see. Grandpappy would have been proud.
See what other artwork got Lucien’s blood flowing at Painters’ Paintings: From Freud to Van Dyck” at the National Gallery, London, starting on June 23.
By Alice Bauer
Cover picture: Benefits Supervisor Sleeping. 1995. Oil on Canvas, 151.3 cm x 219 cm. Private collection.