Sunday, July 31, 2011

Two painters

Freud and Twombly: preliminary notes
by Jay Rothermel

Lucian Freud (1922-2011] has died in London. He spent his entire professional life focused on one concern: the depiction of the human figure. Early paintings of friends and colleagues [like Francis Bacon] were sometimes minute affairs in thin and meticulously applied veils of paint. The paintings were sometimes on canvas, but in the case of the Bacon portrait, made on a small rectangle of copper. Craft and control were evident from the first.

Like Goya, Freud pursued the human body in extremis. Unlike Goya, however, Freud conveyed the extremis in Intimist surroundings. Men and women strained under the awful oppression of corpulence or morbid obesity or simple silence at the display of their milky, sun-deprived flesh; they pushed against restricting confines of floor, furniture, and the edge of the canvas itself.


Painted applied with a bees-wing delicacy disappeared as the career proceeded. In the last few decades the canvases Freud produced were turbid lakes and seas of roaring, cresting, palpable brushstrokes. Not quite as thickly impastoed as his peers Leon Kossoff, Frank Auerback, or as outre as Bacon, Freud’s later paintings [the fogeyish word “portrait” doesn’t come close to conveying their intensity] recall the stifling interiors of city life where another decrepit building is the only thing heaving into view out the window. Contours, lines, and volumes of the models’ bodies replace, in their geographic fecundity, any need for a room with a better view.

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Cy Twombly [1928-2011] in contrast, offered his viewers nothing but views, or at least the under-coat of views. There is in Twombly, unlike Freud, never a figurative or representational temptation. Great historical subjects like Lepanto, or mythological figures like Leda and Apollo, are rendered in scrawls or generous swirls of color. Other canvases are tightly woven and populated with markings in pencil or oil stick.

Twombly was a U.S.-born painter who spent most of his adult life in southern Europe, principally in Rome, with his spouse Tatiana Franchetti.