INTERVIEW: David Dawson on Lucian Freud's Famous Friends

Frank Auerbach and Francis Bacon were regular guests - the Director of the Freud Archive recalls their influence
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David Hockney in Lucian Freud's studio 2002 - A spread from Lucian Freud: A Life
David Hockney in Lucian Freud's studio 2002 - A spread from Lucian Freud: A Life

Lucian Freud: A Life is a breathtaking visual biography of the British painter, told through his own words, unpublished private photographs, and painted portraits. This unique dive into the private life of Lucian Freud begins with childhood snapshots and ends with rarely seen photographs made in his studio in the last weeks of his life. In between, the life of one of the most important artists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries is vividly documented - through family photos, in images of the painter in his studio with some of his most celebrated sitters, and in portraits by his peers, first among them Francis Bacon.

In the book, Freud refers to the influence of Francis Bacon on his own development as an artist by saying, "Francis's way of painting helped me feel more daring."

We caught up with David Dawson, assistant to Freud for the last twenty years of his life, sitter and now Director of the Lucian Freud Archive, to talk about life with Lucian. Our first story focuses on Freud's famous friends and how they helped form and inform his art.

 

A spread from Lucian Freud: A Life
A spread from Lucian Freud: A Life

Who do you think was the biggest artistic influence on Freud? "I think Francis Bacon was the biggest influence on Lucian turning into a contemporary painter - in terms of how to be an artist, how to be a man and how to be a painter. I think he learnt the most from Francis. Francis was ten or fifteen years older than Lucian and they saw each other every single day for a good decade.

"By the time I met him they’d fallen out a bit and it had gone. But I do remember Lucian saying how Bacon always went on about the loaded paintbrush and how everything was in one mark. It really affected Lucian, that. And he worked out how he could do it in his language."

How did you see his style change over the years? "When he was young it was linear, very thinly painted, and then meeting Francis Bacon who could make this amazing one gesture that was loaded in its meaning and its multi meanings really. That’s what really captivated Lucian because he could see that was where contemporary art was really in that one particular idea - and it loosened up Lucian’s paintbrushes!"

 

Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud in Soho, London 1974 - A spread from Lucian Freud: A Life
Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud in Soho, London 1974 - A spread from Lucian Freud: A Life

Did Bacon influence Freud's process? "He stopped sitting and painting a portrait with very fine brushes and began standing up and using hog hair brushes that were thicker and loaded up with more paint. It’s a slow process but in the late fifties and early sixties you can really see the brush marks changing."

In what way? "The feel of the skin over the bone was put into the gesture of the brush and I think that evolved from his interpretation of what Bacon was talking about. When I came to see him he was 70 so he was in his final mature years as a painter. The biggest thing was that the scale of his paintings had just jumped. And just having physically bigger canvases means you use a brush in a different way too."

Did he ever explain to you what he liked about large scale? "I think he could just make more ambitious works. It’s just a physically different impact when there are 8 feet tall paintings in the room. But the remarkable thing about Lucian’s painting is that the same intensity is there in his small canvases and his small portraits. When you walk into a room and there’s a small canvas they really hold the room well. There are not many artists who can do that. And that’s the remarkable thing about his small paintings - from afar they really stand out."

 

A spread from Lucian Freud: A Life
A spread from Lucian Freud: A Life

As well as Bacon, he was very close to Frank Auerbach too wasn't he? "Yes, Frank Auerbach was a close, close friend too, and as each painting neared completion, Lucian would ask Frank to come round and have a look at it. They were amazing together, Lucian and Frank - the great intellects of art history with all that great knowledge inside them. The level they pitched on was very high and always very witty. There was always so much depth behind what they were actually talking about. They were brilliant."

Can you remember any conversations in particular? "Lucian had an amazing memory so he would recite all these funny limericks and great swathes of poetry. Frank Auerbach could do it as well. They would just recite poems aloud. Quite often when you were sitting for Lucian he would just recite a massive amount of the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. And Shakespeare sonnets – he had a fantastic memory for poetry."

Lucian Freud: A Life is a beautiful visual biography of the British painter, told through his own words, unpublished private photographs, and painted portraits. This unprecedented look at the private life of Lucian Freud begins with childhood snapshots and ends with rarely seen photographs made in his studio in the last weeks of his life. In between, the life of one of the most important artists of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries is vividly documented - through family photos, in images of the painter in his studio with some of his most celebrated sitters, and in portraits by his peers, first among them Francis Bacon.

 

Lucian Freud: A Life

 


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