Love Lucian || David Dawson & Martin Gayford

I am generally underwhelmed by collections of artists’ letters. Although they promise a doorway into the innermost thoughts of a creative genius, they are often just as filled with mundanity as those of anyone else. They can also be repetitive and, once you’ve grasped the chief of the bon mots, you really don’t have the appetite to read them again and again. Yes, I’m aware that, for the serious researcher, they can often add useful information to the chronology – the artist was working on this major painting at least two weeks before anyone thought, which changes everything.

This, however, is a different kettle of the proverbial fish. You’ll spot it immediately – the book is packed with illustrations, which are, indeed, its mainstay and the point at which you’ll probably start. Not for this the occasional image that simply gives a sense of the handwriting and (mark this) the paper used. Lucian Freud was clearly a visual thinker, perhaps even more than one could deduce from the fact that he was an artist of formidable ability. Quite simply, everything here is a work of art in its own right and intended to be so. The handwriting is quite childish and the spelling more than a little random. Although there is a waspish mind at work that is perfectly capable of expressing itself sharply and concisely, Lucian is not a wordsmith, at least certainly not at length. Amen, one might add, to that.

Because these are not reflections on the creative process, and far less an artist’s manifesto, the content is entirely personal. Back, you would think, to my original thesis, they’ll add nothing to our understanding of the artist’s work. All that is true, but artists are also people and we want to know at least something of their mundane life and relationships and you have it here in spades. Brevity comes once again to the rescue and the lack of prolixity (some visual thinkers don’t half go on once they get a pen in their hand) makes for a lively and entertaining read.

So, this is an account, partly in his own words and partly with a sound biographical framework, of Lucian Freud’s life below the artistic surface and of his relationships. It fills him out as a person perhaps more than anything else could and also more than we get for almost any other figure. Well done all round.

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