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Rest In Peace, Lucian Freud

July 27, 2011 in Famous Artists, Famous Painters, Lucian Freud, Portraiture

Lucian Freud, Girl with Roses, 1947

Last week, Lucian Freud, one of the greatest painters of the 20th century, and grandson of Sigmund Freud, passed away in his London home. He was 88.

With a family history like his, it isn’t surprising that Lucien was brimming with talent. Though he started off his career a bit rocky (he was a gambler, womanizer, and a wild card), in the post-World War II years, he became one of the most significant artists working in Europe. His slightly abstracted, often grotesque paintings came to define a new wave of figurative art. Like the Secessionists before him, and the German Expressionists, his portraits were filled with a sense of vulnerability, intimacy, and occasionally, dread.

While you can compare some of Freud’s paintings to earlier artists like Egon Schiele and Otto Dix, he quickly created a style of portraiture that was all his own. I admit to finding his portraits incredibly disturbing—in a good way. Freud’s subjects stare out from the canvas, wide-eyed and distorted, with a fleshiness and weight that is at once exaggerated and oddly true to life. His portraits are neither beautiful nor smooth. They are not pretty to look at, but they convey something real, something human.

It’s always a tragedy when a great figure like Freud passes, but in many ways, Freud’s career had run its course. I can’t be alone in preferring his earlier work to his later portraits, though some of his most recent work is perhaps more recognizable, due to the status of his subjects. His depiction of Queen Elizabeth II, for example, is not really a traditional royal portrait, but it has gained widespread fame nonetheless. A painting he did in 2002 of a pregnant Kate Moss has the same odd combination of celebrity draw and high-brow artistic appeal.

Despite his later triumphs, when reading his obituaries I’m struck again and again by his first forays into figurative art. In paintings like “Girl With a Kitten” and “Girl With Roses,” Freud calls to mind the old masters and the traditional Flemish portraits. To me, these pieces look like a modernized version of Jan Van Eyck’s pieces, imbued with (unsurprisingly) a 20th century awareness of the complexity of the human psyche. There is something deeply psychological about Freud’s distortions, which both flatten the face and draw forth the eyes, which gaze distractedly. It feels at once both intimate and distant, smooth and slightly frayed. The subjects bare many of the markers of female beauty, yet under Freud’s brush they are thinned, flattened, and made far more ghostly.

Freud’s death is a terrible loss for the art world, but his artistic contributions will not be forgotten. As he once told his biographer, “For me the paint is the person,” and through his creations, Lucian lives on.

Midnight in Paris: A Philosophical Stroll through the City of Lights

July 6, 2011 in Famous Painters, Literary Movies 2011, Pop Culture

Midnight in Paris, Sony Pictures Classics

Amid the tempest of sequels and special effects that currently shrouds Hollywood, it seems difficult to find a good summer movie. Woody Allen’s latest production, Midnight in Paris, might cast off your concerns–it’s a thoughtful and strikingly elegant film.

Owen Wilson plays Gil Bender, a restless, romantic screenwriter, who travels to Paris with his fiancée, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and her parents. Inez isn’t as enamored by the bohemian lifestyle Paris represents for Gil, so he walks the city streets at night alone, finding himself actually transported into the roaring twenties, an era he considers to be a golden age.

Some of the film’s most delightful moments occur as Gil encounters beloved literary and artistic figures of the time. He comes across a brusque, rugged Hemingway (Corey Stoll), whose blunt remarks on the value of courage, truth and the importance of hunting and making love epitomize (even exaggerate) the persona that is clearly present in Hemingway’s prose.

Woody Allen also attempts to capture Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill) and of course, her husband F. Scott (Tom Hiddleston), as well as Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo), and my personal favorite, Salvador Dalí (Adrien Brody).

The plot thickens when Gil finds himself not only falling in love with 1920s Paris but with Picasso’s young mistress, Adriana (Marion Cotillard). Gil’s relationship with Adriana is no carefree fling though, forcing Gil to ask an uncomfortable question: Can he live happily in the past and forget the present? This philosophical quandary becomes more complicated as Adriana confesses that she would prefer to live in the 1890s, a time she considers a golden age.

This “grass is always greener” mentality is something that resonated with me. I’ve often thought I would love to have grown up in The Sixties, a time when important social movements took the world by storm and rock n’ roll was at its finest. Midnight in Paris reminded me that there are downsides to living in any time period. If I lived during my golden age I would miss the convenience and profound influence of the internet, and been frustrated by the enforced Vietnam draft. But I can certainly relate to Gil’s longing for a perfect, simpler time.

Midnight in Paris not only brings to the screen witty representations of important artists and gorgeous Parisian scenery, but it serves as a commentary on the nature of humans, our longings and awakenings.

Goya and Van Gogh, Masterpieces out of Madness

March 30, 2011 in Famous Painters, Great Artists, LIterary Traveler Birthdays

Francisco Goya, Saturn Devouring His Son, 1819-1823

Van Gogh, Self Potrait, 1889

by Katie Davis

Francisco Goya and Vincent Van Gogh had a lot in common; not only were they two of the greatest artistic innovators of 18th and 19th centuries, but they were both a bit bonkers. Though Van Gogh is known for lopping off a piece of his own ear lobe with a razor blade after an attempted attack on Paul Guaguin, this outburst is not entirely surprising when we take a look at Van Gogh’s history of mental illness and substance abuse.

Throughout his life Van Gogh suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy which probably wasn’t helped by his fondness for absinthe. Many believe he also suffered from bipolar disorder and mania, which would explain his spells of extreme enthusiasm and artistic creation followed by bouts of depression and his eventual suicide in 1890 at a young 37.

Though Goya lived a long life, he also had his fair share of personal struggles, especially as he grew older. After fighting an unknown illness, Goya become completely deaf at age 47 and in his later years he sunk into depression and isolated himself from Spanish society in a country house called Quinta del Sordo, the Deaf Man’s House.

Obviously these artists suffered significantly from their illnesses, yet it seems more than coincidence that some of their most famous and thought-provoking work emerged from periods of madness. Van Gogh produced his celebrated, Starry Night, while staying in Saint-Rémy-de Provence, an asylum for the mentally ill, and some say the painting was influenced by his use of digitalis, a drug used to quell epileptic seizures and mania.  The substance can cause patients to find their surroundings tinted yellow and green and to see halos around sources of light, visual traits clearly present in Starry Night and much of Van Gogh’s work.

Though perhaps they are not his most famous pieces, “The Black Paintings,” frescos which Goya completed privately on the walls of his country house during periods of isolation, are extremely intriguing and provocative. They depict scenes of witches, darkness, and gore that truly convey the raw emotion of a deeply troubled man, yet they also force us to confront the evil that resides within all humankind.

In the end, it is a pity that Van Gogh and Goya were forced to wrestle with the demons of mental illness throughout their lives; however, in appreciation we can value the work of these geniuses not only as artistic masterpieces, but also as windows into the human psyche.

Francisco Goya – b. March 30, 1746

Vincent Van Gogh – b. March 30, 1853

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