Thinking about portraits and self-portraits
I have been reading a long essay that takes as its subject an overview of 50 years of Lucian Freud’s paintings. It’s written by someone who knew him well: The author is William Feaver and his essay ‘Freud at the Correr: Fifty years’ was published in 2007.
Ages ago (nearly 70 years in fact) Lucian Freud published ‘Some notes on painting’ in the journal ‘Encounter’. William Feaver intersperses his commentary with selections from Freud’s text. Amongst these assertive, aphoristic and sometimes metaphysical ‘notes’ he, Freud, wrote something that has been puzzling me for some time. It is this:
“The picture in order to move us must never merely remind us of life but must acquire a life of its own.”
I have sometimes tried to quote this remark. Often, though, I find myself trying to remember the exact wording. I make a start – and then misquote the words. Why is that?
Perhaps more importantly I have wondered if any of my ‘pictures’ do more than merely remind one of life. Have any acquired a life of their own?
Everything is, in some sense or other, autobiographical. The still-life in the photo above is, in part, about someone’s life. (A portrait even). I’d like to paint like that because it’s something that endures and something that is a little bit ‘out’ of time. It is as if it tries to escape time. And, although it places me in a tradition of art history (goodness, I’m hopelessly lost in the past), Cezanne said something that appeals to me:
‘The goal of all art is the human face.’
So, I paint the faces of people – people like the age-ing honey-seller in the Atlas mountains, or the old ferry-man in Upper Egypt – or my daughters and my wife – because I find, in their faces, an awareness, as well as the mystery of being.
The photo below shows my wife Jo – perhaps unfinished … perhaps something more than merely reminding us of life … perhaps not!