Lucian Freud Portraits at The National Portrait Gallery 17.04.12

Lucian Freud was the first living/working artist to catch my excitement during O-Level art classes of the mid 80’s. I was literally obsessed with observational drawing – usually natural subjects, preferably things that didn’t move, like plants and stones, so Freud was immediately up my street. There must have been a show of his work at the time because I monopolised a big glossy book and began attempting plant subjects like Freud’s, trying to copy the style. Of course my attempts were very not great – I wasn’t using oil, or working at the right scale or observing sufficiently well – but I did get a better understanding what was possible and it set a standard that naively seemed more realistic and attainable than my other dead drawing heroes. His work also lead me on to people like Stanley Spencer, Maggie Hambling and the American photorealist movement of the 60’s and 70’s.

At the time I was almost totally concerned with drawing “realistically” and I missed the emotional dimension of Freud’s work. I’m still in awe of the brutally solid drawing and the ballsy painting but the relationship with the sitters is now as intriguing. His influence on the i-D photo aesthetic of Corinne Day, Juergen Teller and Wolfgang Tilmans seems very likely to me – maybe.

I visited the show with portrait photographer friend Richard Legge and we each came up with a “favourite” image – he chose the late self-portrait of Freud in his grey suit which looks like it’s a bit too big for him with his age reduced frame. I chose the portrait of his wife Kitty Garman from 1950 “Girl With A White Dog” in a yellow dressing gown, floppy grey breast exposed with a pained “not another portrait” look on her face. It’s a withering look, sort of familiar, can’t think where I’ve seen it though…