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this pair is two of a kind
This summer while the AbEx abstract expressionism exhibit was in town on tour from New York’s MOMA two of my favourite painters passed away.
In the years before their deaths, and following my education in art, I would cite these men as two of the greatest living artists painting exactly the works I’d wish to buy, view in galleries, commission, or even paint myself if I’d been born with their talent and ideas. Cy Twombly (my tumblr thumbnail, my Facebook thumbnail, my next tattoo - all this before his death I have to add) and Lucian Freud (my portrait artist of choice influencing my own brush strokes whenever I attempt to paint) died a few weeks apart on July 5th and July 20th respectively before another financial crisis took hold of the global agenda.
Twombly and Freud stood apart from the crowd when a new subversive style, a wonderful movement named Abstract Expressionism by The New Yorker, garnered global attention and gave credence to a group of outsiders that rose to the mainstream at the new centre of the art world, apt New York. Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Ad Reinhardt, Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko. What can I say, I fucking love these guys.
Contrary to the group, Freud was still painting figures at this time as figures went passé. And Twombly was painting graffiti-like canvases of scribbles, drips, and mess before graffiti messes were welcomed on the hallowed walls of those in the money or the know.
This piece is not a retrospective or an obit. There have been plenty of them.
Two things I think about since they died:
One. In this highly commercial digital era authenticity is either dead or duplicated exponentially producing what, I don’t know. Let’s call it supra-authenticity. In my mind supra-authenticity does not suggest a dichotomy with inauthenticity as authenticity once did. Hipster photography apps simulate an era we now paint golden in our collective memory. Not to mention how great the photos look when you mess with the filters. And another one bites the dust. In this next era who will be our one-eyed king? Who will emerge as Artist leaving the rest of us plebes mere smartphone hobbyists?
Self Portrait, Reflection (2002) © Lucian Freud
NB: Ironically, photography elbowed portrait painting off the main stage not last century but the century before. My preference and prediction is for a resurgence of portrait painting which capture nuances, immortalizing the subject, ideas, emotions, and unique perspectives, forever in cotton, acrylic, or oil.
Two: Controlling for the fact that Twombly and Freud were celebrated while they were still alive, I try to imagine the time when their craft, their individual visions, were out of step with the rest of the world. How did the delicate balance between the artist’s ego and artist’s insecurities play out on any given day, year, or decade, and how was the work affected? Looking into this Cy Twombly does not disappoint. Nicholas Serota, Director of the Tate, interviewed Twombly in 2008 and Twombly had this to say:
‘I don’t follow too much what people say…I had years and years when no one could care less, so I was very well-protected. I had my freedom and that was nice…You know, my parents were from New England. It’s very funny, but when I grew up you always had to say, “Yes, ma’am” and “Yes, sir”. And you were never to talk about yourself. Once I said to my mother: “You would be happy if I just kept well-dressed and [had] good manners,” and she said: “What else is there?”’
Coronation of Sesostris (2000) Photo credit to Gagosian Gallery