Thursday, December 13, 2007

On Portraiture: Chuck Close and Lucian Freud

A still from "A Conversation about Lucian Freud"
Charlie Rose interviews (L) William Acquavella and (R) John Richardson
Charlie Rose

Two videos and different perspectives on portraiture and the approaches of two different artists - Chuck Close and Lucian Freud. Both the videos are riveting interviews. I suggest you consider doing what I did - play them in the background while doing something else and then play them again and look at the pictures.

Still from "A Converation with Chuck Close"
Charlie Rose

Painting is one of the most magical of transcends its physical reality and yet it's just coloured dirt on cloth wrapped around some wooden strips
Chuck Close - in conversation with Charlie Rose
First, is a nearly hour long video by Charlie Rose of his interview with Chuck Close (March 2007) who is one of the USA's foremost portrait painters.

I've been fascinated by the ever evolving work and practices of Chuck Close for years. I attended a seminar with him at the National Portrait Gallery in 2005 and found him to be a really interesting speaker - as this video clearly shows. I agree with one of the people who has commented - it's like an hour long mentoring session.

(For those not aware, Close suffered a spinal artery collapse in 1988 and became a quadraplegic. He has recovered some movement and continues to paint although now does so while sat in a wheelchair with brushes strapped to his hand. He is also a print-maker.)

For those interested, this is the transcript of a 1987 interview with Chuck Close recorded as an oral history record for the Smithsonian .

Second is another lengthy video, also by Charlie Rose, which includes his interview A Conversation about Lucian Freud (November 2006) with Lucian Freud's friend Art Historian and author John Richardson (biographer of Picasso) and his exclusive international agent William Acquavella. Both have known him for some years and both have sat for Freud. The conversation revolves around Freud's approach to painting a portrait and producing etchings.

Freud has been described as the greatest living painter and a "national treasure". On the Acquavella website, you can see Freud's portrait of Acquavella and etching of Acquavella
which are both discussed during the course of the interview. You can see more examples of Freud's etchings on the Acquavella website - links below.
He's passionate about his work, he's very truthful about his work - it's his whole life. of the reasons he's slow is because every time he puts his brush to canvas he mixes a new colour.
William Acquavella - talking about Lucian Freud - in conversation with Charlie Rose
William Acquavella
c.8" x 6", pencil

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Freud had been recently engaged in creating a work inspired by a Chardin at the National Gallery. This is the Chardin in question The Young School Mistress - and I can see immediately why this may have appealed to him. I'd love to be able to see the two works that he produced from this painting. I'm also now intrigued by the idea that when the National Gallery shuts, great artists visit it at night and paint works from those on the walls of the gallery.

You can also hear a radio interview with Lucian Freud on the BBC here.

If you are viewing the videos on screen I recommend switching to the Google Videos option. I also understand you can order the DVD from Amazon. The Wikipedia links below for both artists also provide a lot more information and links to other sites with relevant information.

John Richardson
c. 8" x6", pencil
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I did what I often do when listening and watching people in interviews - I drew them! I drew William Acquavella on an 'on the move' basis as it were but froze a frame and spent 10 minutes on John Richardson.

This is a link to a post I did earlier this year while watching a filmed interview with Lucian Freud - Lucian Freud - on film, in words and ink - and reveals my efforts at sketching Freud in intermittent snippets of film without the benefit of a stop or rewind button!

Drawing 'talking heads' on screen is great practice for being able to draw people you see who aren't modelling. One of the biggest shocks for people used to life class is the fact that in real life people move about or can only stay still for very short periods! It's a bit like moving outside to do plein air after having spent some time on the still life!!!



  1. I really respect Chuck Close too - I saw a recent biography of him on OvationTV so I was able to watch how he works. He has huge canvases, so they are set up so they can spin in front of him on the wall and he works in quadrants.

    He is so inspiring...makes me realize that things in life can happen, and all artists need to be ready and willing to reinvent their art.

  2. Thank you for these great references for two of my favorite artists. I had the pleasure of hearing a lecture by Chuck Close a few years ago and it was really interesting, especially when he spoke about his methodical work process.

    I also draw "talking heads" from the tv screen, it's great practice.


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