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Mat Gleason

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The Impact of Lucian Freud

Posted: 07/22/11 11:44 AM ET

I never gave two seconds of thought to Lucian Freud before 2003. He was always an antiquated backward figurative oil painter in my mind, something to whisk by in a museum on the way to the toilet, the exit or something trendy. I didn't care about his auction records, that he was the grandson of Sigmund Freud or that he represented the part of England that never really got over having the shit bombed out of it by Hitler. He wasn't modern, he wasn't postmodern and back then those labels seemed to matter... until I actually walked through a cohesive collection of his work.

His 2003 retrospective at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art stunned me and really cracked the ice in a jinx-busting dose of reverse psychology. Here was a painter neither postmodern nor modern whose prodigious ability to regularly produce masterpieces made both of those arch-movements seem like fads. Freud was working forever as the fads came and went. Whole epochs seemed to shrink in significance before I had finished seeing half the show.

After really seeing the power of Lucian Freud, my approach to viewing anything asserting itself as a finished product was recast. I went back every week to see that show. Critically, the way one could look at work seemed to need a new methodology. I began separating painting from art itself.

Painting became something separate from art in the map of my mind. Lucian Freud was the crowbar. My critical litmus looks at painting as an epic form permanently reflecting what no other medium reveals about its times in the utmost scenic simplicity. Painting is separate from the boring mainland of Art. Now art is just the byproduct of a bunch of masturbating dolts talking about what they are going to do when their parents lend them the money and a supporting crew of jabberjaw pseudotheorists more aptly described as groupies.

I had convictions about "Art" until I saw what Lucian Freud did with paint. Just about everything that isn't oil on canvas has since been found wanting. Every didactic assertion of historical importance has melted in the heat of a casual scrutiny of imagining some dull object or action standing the test of time next to a real painting. Encountering Lucian Freud forced me to rebuild the entire canon in my mind because it had been subsumed completely in my heart.

Freud was as conceptually brilliant as he was aesthetically dextrous. The unpredictability of his mundane subjects chattered like background conversations in a smoky pub while his orchestral brushwork sang like the fat lady reaching her high C. The cacophony of those abandoned to rags and the stench of their own naked decay was made majestic with the pictorial effort that Manet had approached and Bacon had approximated but only Freud consistently poured from his skin into the skin of his subjects and the souls of his viewers. Like car wrecks, their majestic grossness made me look closer and stare without shame. Like orgasms, everything about them was perfect in the mind and soul despite being the ugliest puddles in the room. And it was like this with every painting of his. A redefining of the natural order of things was the least my vapid mind could form.

Lucian Freud, 1922-2011. Rest in Immortal Peace. Your painting will be doing the work for a millennia at least.

 

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