The Easel

5th May 2020

Essay: Lucian Freud: The Self-Portraits, at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Over his long career, Lucien Freud’s favourite subject was perhaps himself. All self-portraits are “exercises in ego” but what gets expressed varies from artist to artist. For example, Frida Kahlo’s many self-portraits conveyed vulnerability. Vulnerability? – that’s the last thing on Freud’s agenda. Of his 1965 “Reflection with Two Children (Self-portrait)” – “Freud, in excellent Don Draper drapery glances down at us from the height of his masculinity, self-satisfied, virile, intimidating and supremely uninterested in us.

At various points in our lives, as a friend of mine observes, we all look in the mirror and say to ourselves, “You again?” which, in a nutshell, is the reaction Lucian Freud inspires in his self-portraits.”

Agnes Pelton: Desert Transcendentalist” at The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Hilma Af Klint’s spiritualist paintings have enjoyed a huge revival. Will the same happen for the “spiritualist reveries” of Agnes Pelton? Pelton is linked not only to Af Klint but also Georgia O’Keeffe, given their shared love of desert imagery. Is she in the same league as these famous names? “Philosophical loopiness shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand when it comes to art”. Pelton’s best work “confirms Georgia O’Keeffe to be a drab hand”.

Shiva the Inscrutable

Appreciation of an 11th century devotional statue of the great Hindu god Shiva. Here, he takes the form of Nataraja, the cosmic dancer. “His right foot crushes a demon. In his right hand he holds a drum — its boom represents the resonance of creation itself — and in his left, fire, which ravishes the world. His dance feels like an act of gymnastic brilliance … with nothing but his own miraculous powers of balance to stop him falling away into nothingness.”