Monday, August 10, 2015

The oldest woman in the world at 127

As a Brit, I have tried to follow some of my compatriot artists down the years. Turner, rather than Gainsborough or Reynolds - Whistler called him "the greatest creator of mystery in art", and a visit to the Tate Gallery, where there is an entire section dedicated to his work, is one of the great art experiences in the world. I was fortunate to know Tom Merrifield, briefly and vaguely, but it included visits to his Hampstead studio and the purchase of a wonderful painting at a time when his name was still better known as a ballet dancer; I only wish I had bought one of his extraordinary sculptures too. Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth and Jacob Epstein even more so, but they were already completely unaffordable before I saw her garden in St Ives, or Moore's miniature grand canyons everywhere, or spent hours wondering whether Epstein learned from Rodin or Rodin from Epstein in the Whitechapel Gallery. Mark Gertler was a genius of impersonation, and he impersonated every style and genre anybody else ever thought up, but never managed to invent one of his own. And then there was Lucien Freud, who started as a genius and simply went on getting better.

The painting on this page is not a Lucien Freud, though the influence is surely obvious, and it recurs in many of my paintings. There is verisimilitude, which is what most artists seek when they offer to sketch you outside the bistro in Montmartre or at the art flea-market by Whitestone Pond on a Sunday morning; simple lines, light shading, and most importantly a strong resemblance to the sitter. This is a sketch of me, you can tell your friends, and they can look at it, and say, yes, it certainly looks enough like you to pass, but it isn't really very good, as Art, is it? Verisimilitude is what one gets much more effectively when one points a camera.

What Freud is after, it seems to me, is exactly what his grandfather was after, only the latter used the psychiatric couch to get into the hinterland of the human self and psyche, where the grandson was more interested in fibre and tissue, muscle and gland, not the moving parts of ego but those of tendon and cartilage; though both in their own ways got down to the bone, and revealed levels of the human that nobody had ever touched before.

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