Thursday, April 15, 2004

Robert Hughes is still one of the few critics that are worth reading. For an art critic he has the rare quality of expressing his opinion in plain words. His international status as a critic is long established and he has no time for dumb hyped-up nonsense posing as fine art.

He wrote in The Guardian recently a review of Lucien Freud’s exhibition of recent paintings and etchings at the Wallace Collection, Hertford House, London – it runs until 18th April. He used his review to contrast Freud’s achievement with the show at the Saatchi Gallery called ‘Fresh Blood.’ A show of ‘awful dumb-arsed posturing’ to paraphrase Hughes’ assessment promoted by Ad-men without any kind of connoisseurship. Nobody can really take the whe work of Hirst, Emin, Lucas and their chums seriously can they?

By contrast there is Freud at 82 producing strong engaging work – the product of a lifetime engaged in subjecting people and objects to obsessive scrutiny. This scrutiny leaves the viewer if not the sitter feeling uncomfortable. There is a residual element of the expressionist distortion which characterised German art of his Grandfather’s time – those reclining figures with exposed genitals distorted by exaggerated perspective.

For Hughes, Freud is England’s greatest living artist - other critics share his enthusiasm - ‘our Titan among minnows’ is Laura Cumming’s assessment of him in The Observer. It is good to find critics who are defending work done by a figurative oil painter. Freud has a sensitivity to the way the oil medium can reconstruct a perceived form and give an interpretation of reality which is far superior to the photographic image. In part this superiority is due to the fact that much effort and obsessive observation have gone into the creation of the paint surface – a result of long and exploratory reworking of the surface. Freud’s paintings show the ‘naked evidence of labour’ to quote Cummings. It is this display of effort which for me gives the work a value which demands respect. After all the uncompromising nakedness though it is refreshing to escape into the fresh air where the breeze ruffles the leaves on the trees and and sunlight creates vibrant colour. I need to gaze at a little David Cox watercolour I think.

Read the reviews at:
Sarah Cumming: 'A brush with Genius'
Robert Hughes: 'The Master at Work.'

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