Sunday, 24 May 2009

On Lucian Freud

He has painted non-caucasian subjects, from time to time, of course; and other things apart from nudes. But it's the nudes that leap out at the viewer, when looking through a selection of Freud's canvases. Even his portraits (for instance, his HM the Q) have the nude feel about them. It is the unvarnished-ness, the intimacy and shamelessness of his style, I suppose. But the thing to note about his nudes, so obvious a thing that it perhaps doesn't get stated enough (or gets lost in amongst the admiring noises about texture, painterliness and formal solidity) is how repulsive they are. Repulsive in a compelling way I hasten to add: and that mixture of the repellent and the compelling is precisely the dynamic of sexual desire (of course). But nonetheless; I wonder if the key to Freud's corpus as a whole isn't race. An intervention into artistic and cultural-political discourses that valorised white skins as the acme of perfection, his art turns those assumptions on their head. He works and reworks, obsessively, a logic of representation of caucasian skin that renders it perfectly horrid. Revolutionary, in its way.

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