Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Lucian Freud
Tate Britain
4 July 2002

Two Japanese Wrestlers by a Sink 1983-7
Oil on Canvas 51 x 79 cm

I enjoyed the large retrospective of Freud’s work especially as it showed his development as a painter who did more than just fleshy nudes. Although many of his nudes do have a melancholic air, probably associated with the poor sitter spending many uncomfortable hours under very unforgiving light, I have chosen a small painting of the sink in his studio. The playful title leads the eye to the fragment of a small painting behind the taps, but the real subject is the water running into the sink which is depicted with astonishing realism.

The painting shared a room with a number of much larger pieces including one painting that shows the sink in the Holland Park studio setting, Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau) 1981-3. Yet for all the planning and careful references of the larger work I find it contrived and lacking the emotion of the small study of the sink.

I find it amazing that it is painted from life over 5 years, two years longer than Large Interior, especially as I struggle to develop a painting over 5 weeks and would prefer to finish it in 5 hours if possible. I trust the taps didn’t run the whole time!

Two Japanese Wrestlers by a Sink is of modest size and painted predominantly in whites and browns. Typically Freud avoids the emotional significance of saturated colour and this is no exception. The crop eliminating the front of the sink and the top of the second tap is very photographic yet given the painterly surface gives the image a surrealist feel. This sense of unease is further emphasised by the sink, taps, water and “wrestlers” all being left of centre. The running water guides the eye into the sink and we watch as it mixes with the residue of earlier paintings and runs down the drain. Freud is quoted as saying in the catalogue "Everything is autobiographical and everything is a portrait, even if it's a chair,"[1] and I cannot help but read this painting as a metaphor for his own life.

This reading seems totally plausible given the time spent he painting it, imagining the slow cycle of looking, mark making, looking again and making additions and corrections all accruing to give the finished piece its strong melancholic aura. It speaks volumes on the isolation and dedication associated with a lifetime working in his studio. Hopefully it isn’t just a pun on the genre of Kitchen Sink[2] paintings!

[1] Feaver, William “Lucian Freud” Tate 2002
[2] Paintings focusing on unglamorous and commonplace scenes of post-war austerity, and the drab existence of the 1950’s.

©blackdog 2009

Blackdog Black & White Photography

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