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Born in 1922, Lucian Freud is now the grand old man of British contemporary painting. He had his first solo exhibition in 1944, and he had his first retrospective exhibition in 1974. Yet he has been active in old age, and is still making very distinctive work (see his latest book, Lucian Freud, 1996-2005). Freud at Work has a long interview with Freud by Sebastian Smee, a small set of photographs by Bruce Bernard taken between 1983 and 2000, and a large set of photographs by his assistant and model David Dawson, taken between 1997 and 2006.
The interview with Smee is fascinating because Freud does not give many interviews, and he talks about his relationships and interactions other painters, including Francis Bacon and Pablo Picasso, his immersion in gambling and his friendship with the gangsters the Kray twins. He also talks about his relationships with his photographers Bernard and Dawson. It conveys a sense of Freud as Bohemian and unconventional, but also surprisingly without ego.
The photography by Bernard show some of Freud's best known paintings, including performance artist Leigh Bowery and Sue Tilley. We see the models posing and sometimes in front of the portraits of them. There are a few pictures of Freud in the act of painting.
The photography by Dawson is more diverse: it shows some paintings in the process of being painted, or two or more canvases together in Freud's sparse studio, Freud painting the Queen in a small room in Buckingham Palace, some other well known models of Freud including David Hockney and Brigadier Andrew Parker Bowles, some of his etchings, and several pictures of Freud with animals -- Dawson's dog Pluto, some horses, and a red fox.
Together, the interview and these photographs give some sense of Freud's working space and his devotion to his work. Freud at Work is a beautifully produced book and it is a pleasure to handle and read.
© 2009 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.
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