Saturday, March 17, 2012

Lucian Freud exhibition, London

Leigh Bowery & Lucian FreudHyperreality, in postmodern philosophy, is reality by proxy; the hyperreal, in art, depicts an exaggerated reality.  And, to my mind, nobody exemplifies the hyper-realist style of painting better than Lucian Freud.  A retrospective collection tracing his evolution as an artist and highlighting his major works is currently on display at the National Portrait Gallery in London, open through the end of May.

Unfortunately, you have to make a reservation to get in (which has also happened with the Hockney and da Vinci exhibitions) and it’s hard to get tickets: only off-hours seem available (I fit in a Thursday at 4:30).  Still, it’s a wonderful set of works and well worth seeing if you plan ahead.

I really like figurative art generally, but Freud’s works in particular have always made me uncomfortable.  His lush nudes, with exaggerated folds of flush and bluish skin feel provocative and unhealthy.  The idea of confronting wall after wall of these paintings wasn’t really appealing.  But the reality is much more nuanced and interesting.

Freud stayed within a theme of nudes and portraiture, but when you see the chronology of his works, I feel like he saw these subjects as both a calling and a challenge.  He deliberately chose hard subjects: I can see him working out problems of perspective, shadow, of how to capture a person’s qualities and personality.  Sometimes he succeeds, but often he solves one problem only to hit another.  As a tutorial series, it’s fascinating.

Interior with Plant, Reflection Listening Self Portrait Detail by Lucian Freud, he’s very skilled.  This shows up in the flawless way he paints plants and objects: naturally colored, finely detailed, sense of depth, all well handled (as with Interior with Plant, Reflection, Listening) .  But when he moves into life drawing and portraiture,  he seems to have to work harder.

Take Interior at Paddington, below.  Again, a  lovely, sunlit plant (the actual painting is about 5 feet tall).  But the child has a curiously concave face that almost looks over-worked, like he tried to get the brow, the nose, the hair but, like Michael Jackson, ended up mutilating the result.

Freud - Large interior paddington   Freud - Large interior paddington - Face

It happens, again, with shadows: consider Woman in a White Shirt.  The flesh tones are true, but broken into highly contrasting patches of color patches that accentuate rather than depict the underlying bone and muscle.  My art teachers always reminded me that shadows aren’t blacks and greys, they are actually complementary colors, but Freud takes the complement of pink to blue extremes.  It make his subjects look hypoxic, blotchy, and clownish.

Freud - Woman in a white shirt  Freud - Woman in a white shirt - detail

Finally, there is perspective.  He loves a reclining pose, but when a limb projects towards him, as with Naked Girl Sitting on a Chair, the closer parts can get bulbous and lumpy, not a natural tilt or proportion.  Here, the shadows beneath the ankle are flat and misplaced, the heel too large compared to the toes, the back foot misproportioned compared to the front.

 Freud - Naked girl perched on a chair Freud - Naked girl perched on a chair - feet

Maybe these three qualities are all purposeful exaggerations, but as his works progress through time, they seem to disappear.  I think that he works out the issues of faces, shadow, and perspective, allowing his later paintings become much more evocative and finished.  The blues, viewed from a distance, bring out the details of the face, the firm vs. soft muscles, the places time has worn rough.

Man with a Blue Scarf and Naked Portrait, both painted more recently, have perfectly overcome the earlier issues to capture the reality and the vibrancy of his subjects.  I also think that we tend to see these paintings from much too close, where the details become exaggerated.  When I back across the gallery, the paintings simply look lifelike.

Freud - Man with a blue scarf Freud - Naked portrait

I really enjoyed the show, gaining a much better understanding of Freud’s works and a much more human perspective on the artist.  If you can’t get to the Gallery show, WikiPaintings has a wonderful catalog of his works.  The paintings that I’ve shown, above, are all drawn from that collection, and all are paintings that can (and should) be seen in the exhibition.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Sharing updates and links

I’ve had a bunch of things accumulating to do and share, so I’ll slip through it in one go, then back to something more thoughtful.

The photos are from a brief pitch-trip to Guernsey this week, unfortunately foggy and wet, although we did get some good investment interest.

If you are expatriate, the annual HSBC Expat Survey is worth a reading, if only to tally how your experiences align with those of other expats.  They’ve redone the data access so that it’s easier to assess and compare expat life in different locations.

I follow a variety of blogs written by fellow expats, collected into a single public feed summary on NetVibes. The list is not prioritized or ranked, Expats are down the right and center, more general business and news blogs are down the left and center.  If I missed you, I don’t know about you: please let me know?

Similarly, I listen to a lot of podcasts (some more faithfully than others), and have collected them onto another NetVibe.  If you want to load your .mp3 player with some ideas and essays, something here is good to start with.

And I will get my personal feeds organized into a third NetVibe, but it’s a work in progress (why can’t anything be simple with Facebook?).

Several weeks ago, I commented that I never wanted to end up as the old expat sitting alone at the end of the bar, the one who has been around for ages but nobody seems to know who he is or why he’s here.  This archetype showed up in The 6 Characters You’ll Meet at Every Expat Bar: enjoyable, and I know I’ve run into most of them.

A related article, Things I wish I Knew as a New Expat, also rings true.  I would only disagree with number 6: Dual Citizenship is filled with personal and professional hazards, and permenant residency may be much more practical.  And there is a serious move afoot in the Dutch government to restrict dual passport holders as well which bears watching.

Last month, Netherlands television aired 24 Hours: Between Life and Death, a reality show filmed in an A&E department.  It was justifiably criticized and cancelled.   An op-ed in the Volkskrant  suggested three reasons that this might have seemed acceptable:

  1. A general decline in what constitutes acceptable public standards, driven downwards by the pulp press and tolerance for GeenStijl (broadly, public acts that lack style or manners).
  2. The rapid trend towards commercialization of civil society, where public institutions become brands that can be promoted and monetized, and
  3. The widening  gap between professionals and management, the doctors and the directors of the hospital, that  agreement on where the boundaries actually are or should be.

One of the really nice offshoots of learning Dutch is being able to read and understand these local debates.  They do add color to perceptions and conversations.

And, finally, a perceptive comment by Brown University biologist Kenneth Miller about America’s Darwin Problem.  I’ve been debating this with friends on Facebook, as science, health, and economics increasingly get dragged into the culture wars that were previously fought over news and art.  These are quantitative fields, driven by hypothesis, data collection, and peer review, the best was that we have to determine objective truth in a critical debate.  The more that we deny demonstrable facts, the greater the likelihood that we will make wrong choices and fall increasingly behind those that do heed the data.

Yet people increasingly see authority as conspiracy, where doctors, teachers, and scientists deliberately hide the truth.  I don’t know how you counter this in a framework of open debate and experimental demonstration; there’s neither the expertise or the willingness to engage in discussion that creates constructive progress.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I don’t like Mondays…

I was discouraged before I arrived at the empty tracks at King’s Cross station.  I’d been going flat out for a week since returning from the US: two teaching days to finish, investor meetings in London, calls on several projects backed up, the end-of-month bookkeeping waiting for attention.

I put my lists together and pounded through the tasks one by one, the momentum of crossing things off building an illusion of getting things done. By yesterday I thought I was well on top of things.

In reality, I was minimally prepared and pretty well worn though when I reached London for the day’s meetings.  The Monday morning messages were the first sign: email is always always sticky, in that answers tend to generate comments rather than closure, but this time there were more questions and issues than usual.  A routine trip to St. John’s to pick up the mail got tangled in cross-town traffic that held me to less than a block’s progress in half an hour.  The trains ran slow; the news paper had more bad news about Afghanistan where my son is deployed.  I know he’s okay, but it’s a worry.

The Board meeting probably lasted twice as long as it needed to, and we missed talking about several key issues.  In hindsight, I didn’t have my proposals framed up or my arguments rehearsed, so we wandered around some key issues instead of deciding them.  On the Tube, thinking back, there’s really a pattern forming: I haven’t been focused, crisp, prepared, on top of the best game that I know how to play.  I was just sliding by: getting things done, but not done well.

There’s a ripple to this.  Tasks have to be redone, supplemental questions need answering.  The interpersonal dynamics shift, confidence ebbs.  I was reading an article last week by Megan Fitzgerald about how lack of confidence shows through to others:

  • Being hesitant to speak up, share your thoughts, or advocate a position.
  • Lowering the tone or volume of your voice.
  • Qualifying or downplaying the importance of what you are saying.
  • Using less powerful and clear words.
  • Failing to convey all of the value created or possible.
  • Burying  distinctive qualities behind generic or neutral qualifications.
  • Using less thoughtful and service-oriented language.

It was a menu of my Monday.

There’s not much to do except to dust off and get back into the scrum.  A bit of sleep, a time-out to review, a quick affirmation of the many things that are still going right. 

I can (still) do this.