freud / gayford 15-11-2010

a fascinating book about an artist whose work i love (most of it, and the etchings especially). freud is a notoriously private man and seldom gives interviews and i'd never previously read anything about his studio or his working practice. looking / thinking intently about how he makes his pictures while reading the book made me realise several things...

1) how close he comes to be a very bad artist, especially in his later looser work. this risk seems somehow vital to his work (like bacon he was a prodigious gambler). i think you can see something similar in van gogh, whom freud reveres.

2) there is something about his portraits which is almost-but-not-quite caricature. in the early work you can see precisely what is being exaggerated (eyes, fine details, clarity of line...). in the later work it's much harder to see what freud is doing to an image to make it bigger, bolder, more gripping (see below).

3) artists, critics and models talk a great deal about how a good portrait can reveal a subjects true self, or aspects of that self of which they are unaware. i think this is probably bollocks (i think the idea of a 'true self' is probably bollocks to start with). i think there is parallel with writing here. if you write / paint with enough verve and character and confidence the reader / spectator thinks, yes, that's absolutely right. whether it maps directly onto the world (as most photographs do) is neither here nor there. it's all sleight-of-hand. very difficult, very impressive sleight-of-hand, but sleight-of-hand nevertheless.