Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lucian Freud - Passing of a Master

Lucian Freud – passing of a master

Lucian Freud, who died last week at the age of 88, was one of the most famous artists in the world in the second half of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century. He was hugely successful, which in terms of the contemporary art world means hugely successful with the bourgeoisie. In 2008 one of his paintings, Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, a nude portrait, was bought by Russian billionaire, Roman Abramovich, for £17 million ($33.6 million), the largest sum ever paid for a work by a living artist.

Freud was not in any serious way left wing so why should he be of interest to socialists? Because rich or not, bourgeois or not, he was undoubtedly a major artist. Art critic, Robert Hughes, called him the world’s greatest ‘realist’ artist. The term ‘realist’ when used in relation to visual art, especially painting , is very problematic but in Freud’s case it meant three things.

First, that he painted recognisable pictures of people and things. You could immediately see that it was a painting of a woman with a dog, a man with a large pot plant, of Kate Moss etc.

Second he possessed, from quite an early age, a brilliant technique i.e. an absolute mastery of the application of paint to canvass to achieve certain desired effects, superior to that of his associate and main rival , Francis Bacon (in my opinion an even greater artist overall).

Third, and most importantly, his art was characterised by a relentless visual honesty. His technical mastery was the precondition of his achievement but the honesty of his vision was what made him a great artist. As he got older he was able to take his technique more and more for granted and as happens with many artists e.g. Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Jack Yeats, his style became freer and more ‘painterly’, but the honesty remained.

It is not easy to explain what I mean by ‘honesty’ here. I don’t just mean that he painted his subjects accurately ‘warts and all’ in the visual sense – though he certainly did that. I mean that his paintings are a visually and psychologically honest record of an encounter (perhaps over months of sittings) with another person.

Attaining this degree of honesty in art is not just a moral quality, not just a matter of not lying, it is a huge artistic achievement. Moreover, Freud maintains it whether he is painting a man or woman, naked or clothed, himself or his lover, a bohemian like Harry Diamond or Leigh Bowery, a fat person or a skinny person, an ‘ordinary’ person like Sue Tilley (the benefits supervisor) or a celebrity like Kate Moss. His portrait of the Queen, hated by the Royal Family, was, for precisely this reason, devastating.

In his opinions and lifestyle Freud was not particularly egalitarian but in his painting he was. That is why socialists should note his parting and value his art.

John Molyneux

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

On Anti-Semitism and Anti- Zionism

On Anti- Semitism and Anti –Zionism

Letter published in the Irish Independent, 5 July 2011, written in response to a column by Ruth Dudley Edwards claiming that the people supporting the Irish Ship to Gaza (subsequently sabotaged by the Israelis) were motivated, whether they knew it or not, by anti-semitism.

I found it very interesting to read Ruth Dudley Edwards's observations (Sunday Independent, June 26) on anti-Semitism and her grandmother's dismissal of the Holocaust as British propaganda.

My own experience of learning about anti-Semitism was rather different. My mother, who was British, joined the Women's Air Force to fight Hitler and I was brought up knowing of the evils of Nazi Germany. In my teens two major cultural influences were Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg, both Jews.

In 1966, aged 18, I became involved with, and then married, a Jewish woman from Chicago. Then in 1968 I came under the influence of two other major Jewish thinkers, Karl Marx and Leon Trotsky, and went on to write books about both of them.
From the mid-Seventies until my move to Ireland in 2010 I was actively involved in the anti-fascist struggle in Britain, against the National Front, the BNP, and the Holocaust revisionist David Irving.

However, according to Ruth Dudley Edwards, I must be an unconscious anti-Semite because I support the Irish Ship to Gaza.

As for other oppression in the Middle East, of which there is a great deal, there have been many recent protests in Dublin by members of the Egyptian, Libyan, Syrian and Bahraini communities, as part of the Arab Spring. I have been on most of these, but didn't notice Ruth Dudley Edwards -- perhaps I missed her.

Finally, she says the supermarkets are full in Gaza. I will quote from an unfriendly source, The CIA World Factbook (very easily checked online).Gaza, it says, has "extremely high unemployment, and high poverty rates. Shortages of goods are met through large-scale humanitarian assistance." Unemployment is at 40 per cent, and 70 per cent of the population live below the poverty line. But, of course, that may just be anti-Semitic propaganda.

Dr John Molyneux,
Dublin 12