The True Self in Portraits: David Hockney on Lucien Freud



Two of my favorite artists in one video. I was so saddened to hear that Freud had passed away. I mean, he was old; it's bound to happen. But I guess I always hoped I could meet him.  There is something wonderful about the figurative artists that have come out of Britain. I love their impressionistic approach. I love their unapologetic rendering of the not-so-pretty side of people and how portraits can make the ordinary seem beautiful; extraordinary. 

Unflinching: Juncture by Jenny Saville. © Jenny Saville, courtesy Gagosian Gallery

Self Portrait with Badges by Peter Blake, 1961

Mum by David Hockney, 1988-89

Freud could capture his sitter's essence so that even if the actual image wasn't exact, the proportions were off or the hair style wasn't quite right, the portrait was always true. Truer than life almost. Hockney learnt this from him, I am sure. I think this is why Freud's portrait of the Queen was such a scandal.  She is presented as her true self: old, a little frustrated, stoic, patient. In both Freud and Hockney's portraits you see more of who the sitter actually is than meeting them in person might ever show. It is a wonderful thing how an artist can expose the truth of a subject.

Queen Elizabeth 11 by Lucian Freud, 2001

  Hockney and Freud with Freud's portrait of Hockney  


We hide ourselves from people. All the parts we perceive to be negative; the parts we don't want to admit to ourselves. We don't want to acknowledge our negative aspects, never mind admit them to others!  I think it must be impossible to hide this secret self when we sit for hours in front of an artist. The truth has got to come out on the canvas somehow. I have never sat for a painted portrait. Have you? How did you feel? Did you forget about the artist's gaze after a while? Did you see your true self in the portrait; the parts you had hoped to conceal?  Having painted a few self-portraits, I can see how this exposure of self could happen. Although, in the self-portraits I have done of myself, I feel that the end results shows perhaps, not the self  I portray to others, but the way I view myself instead. 

Self Portrait with Bicycle by Kate Schutz, 2010



"Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken." ~ Oscar Wilde

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