Arrived in London on Sunday February 12th for another week of art. My first stop was the National Portrait Gallery to see the Lucien Freud: Portraits exhibition. Freud’s long life came to an end in July 2011 (b. Berlin 1922) during the preparation of this exhibition. It’s timely to experience one of the 20th century’s most important artists, a master of figuration. The exhibition spans seven decades and occupies 42 galleries, shown chronologically. It is an intense show and a glimpse into an artist who reveled in rendering his sitters as pounds of flesh waiting to expire. It appears that Freud lived his life in a detached cold way…capturing his subjects for months on end in his stale studio. The platform never changed over 70 years. They mostly posed on the same bed with same pile of rags nearby. The monotony of the same format, the absence of warmth, light or compassion for this subjects demonstrates Freud’s inability to connect with them. The work is highly charged, but lacks passion. The awkwardness of the family portraits and his various children is highly disturbing. He is always the spectator, and never connected emotionally. Perhaps it was Freud’s need to connect to the sitters and know them better that motivated him to paint naked bodies and their intimate anatomy?
My next step was David Hockney: A Bigger Picture” (b. in Bradford 1937) at the Royal Academy of Arts which has received rave reviews and record attendance. “Hockney is one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century and this important exhibition of landscape work showcases his evolution and renewed creativity”. It is his first major exhibition in the UK inspired by Yorkshire landscapes. Many are extremely large in scale and created especially for this show. The works span fifty years and fill 13 galleries. Hockney returned to live and work in Bridlington in 2005. He reconnects with his youth and it is obvious that coming home agrees with him. The work resonates his joy and appreciation of nature. Nature nourishes his soul and the canvases sing with dazzling colors and are indeed ravishing. The oversized canvases bring a smile to the viewer’s face. A majestic and optimistic feeling permeates the museum. At the end of the show, there is a film directed by Hockney using 9 cameras attached to the bonnet of his jeep. It’s “drawing” with the camera. The nine-screen films are shown together, across 18 screens. The Yorkshire Wolds are his inspiration. The last gallery contains many paintings and iPad drawings created for this exhibition. Another way to pay tribute the landscape of East Yorkshire.
On Monday the February 13th it was the David Shrigley “Brain Activity” exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, (b. Macclesfield 1968) that caught my fancy. He lives and works in Glasgow and is best known for his humorous drawings that make witty observations on everyday life. Originally a cartoonist, “Brain Activity” is his first major retrospective in the UK and “covers the full range of his work, extending beyond his drawings to include photography, taxidermy, sculpture, animation, painting and music.” I first met the artist at the Frieze Art Fair in 2010 and was smitten with his installation at the Stephen Friedman Gallery. He was tattooing visitors in the booth. This performance was part of a solo presentation of the artist’s work. He was surrounded by his insightful drawings commenting on the absurdities of human relationships and other situations. The exhibition is curated by Dr. Cliff Lauson, Curator, Hayward Gallery who did Tracey Emin’s exhibition last June. “I WROTE THESE WORDS TO FILL THIS SPACE” by David Shrigley.