Monday, April 02, 2012

A moment of complete happiness.....

Last year saw the end of several significant artists, three of which have had a particular importance for me throughout my development.; Lucian Freud, Helen Frankenthaler and Cy Twombly.

Freud was the first of these three artists that I encountered, and as I've been reviewing old journals and sketchbooks, I found this quote by him which I jotted down in my sketchbook on this day, 20 years ago:

A moment of complete happiness never occurs in the creation of a work of art.  The promise of it is felt in the act of creation but disappears towards the completion of the work.  For it is then that the painter realizes that it is only a picture he is painting.  Until then he had almost dared to hope that the picture might spring to life.  Were it not for this, the perfect painting might be painted, on the completion of which the painter could retire.  It is this great insufficiency that drives him on.  Thus the process of creation becomes necessary to the painter perhaps more than it is in the picture.  The process in fact is habit forming. 

I have a distinct visual memory attached to this quote: the studio of my Painting 1 class with at CSU.  Perhaps I transferred the quote to the sketchbook in that room.  Nevertheless, I have a mind-image of my location and the location of my easel within that room that is specifically tied to these words of Freud. copying this quote into my sketchbook in that studio.   I remember the impact it had on me vividly.  It seemed to be a very true statement.  It's a nugget that had lodged itself deeply within my consciousness.  Even then, in my state of inexperience, this quote lent a glimpse of understanding to what it was that drove the impulse I felt to engage in this activity.  Inexperienced though I was, I felt something of the dissatisfaction and futility that are endemic to parts of that cycle of creative beginnings and completions.
When I finally started traveling and seeing Freud's work in person,  I remember being amazed at the level of "accuracy" he could attain with such thickly knotted knarls of paint.  I remember, in particular, a large portrait of, I believe, three men.  Perhaps a father and his sons.  The father sitting in a chair, his hands gripping the chair's armrests.  It was the knuckles of this man that drew me in completely.  Physical and real. Real in their presence and real in the obsession they inspired in the artist.  The dimensionality and physicality of a Freudian paint surface is not something I've carried in my own work (my cheap nature has long made me an inveterate miserly doler-outer of paint.)

Freud's death came two weeks after Twombly's.  I was so intently focused on Twombly (as I spent a week creating a Dead Hare Radio episode dedicated to him) that Freud's passing ... passed - with only a small amount of consideration, comparatively.  I think I had forgotten how much he was in my consciousness those many years back.  It's true that my sensibilities transferred from him to Frankenthaler to Twombly and I ceased thinking about him so much but finding the quote above once again has allowed me to do that.

I remember having a thought at the MoMA exhibit The Painter's Etchings held in 2007-2008 (I thought it was much more recent), I just don't remember what the thought was.  I wish I did remember.

One of: 12 Portraits of Lucien Freud Seated on Bed, London by Walker Evans, Walker Evans Archive, 1994 
© Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The photo above is a particularly great one of Freud - one of 12 - taken in the 1950's by Walker Evans.  The Met Museum's website has all 12 image for your viewing pleasure.   He looks like a handsome Lyle Lovett in these photos....not that Lyle isn't a handsome man himself.

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