BACON, FREUD AND THE
An exhibition at the MUSEO PICASSO, MÁLAGA, 25th APRIL, 2017 to 17th SEPTEMBER, 2017
Reviewed by Jim Burns
Was there a “
Still, It is, perhaps, a useful term that allows a gallery to bring together paintings by artists who, when Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art were attracting attention, doggedly retained an adherence to the figurative, albeit in varying forms. Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff, Paula Rego, Michael Andrews, Euan Uglow, and R.B. Kitaj, are all included in the Málaga exhibition, along with David Bomberg and William Coldstream, who are seen as influences on some of them.
Putting artists into groups supposedly representing a style or
movement is, of course, something that critics and academics like to
do. The artists themselves, as noted earlier, tended to fight shy of
being linked to a group. They preferred to be seen as individuals.
And I have to admit that, walking around the rooms in the
It is true that, from a social point of view, several of the artists
did associate with each other: “Over periods of their lives and
careers – particularly in the 1950s-1960s – they were linked by
mutual admiration and friendship, socialising in the then bohemian
Michael Andrews' painting of the Colony Room isn’t in the Málaga exhibition, but there are several other of his canvases, including The Deer Park, which takes Norman Mailer’s novel of the same name for its inspiration. And there is his delightful, A Man Who Suddenly Fell Over, a painting from 1952 that immediately attracts the attention and is intriguing in terms of what it suggests beyond its initial impact. Andrews later moved more towards painting landscapes in which people are seen only minimally.
As the title of the exhibition indicates, Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud are what might be called the key figures in the group, and the work on display does point to their importance. Bacon was “concerned with the portrayal of the human condition not at the literal level of observation, but imaginatively crystallising human conflicts into mythical figures”. As for Freud, his work can be unsettling in its directness. Painting portraits, he never went out of his way to make his sitters look good. His head of Leigh Bowery is striking in the way it doesn’t simply represent the outer appearance of the man, but also probes something of his psychological depths.
But it would be unfair if Bacon and Freud were the only reasons for
visiting the exhibition. R.B. Kitaj’s work may not be too
well-known, but is worth viewing, despite some limitations. He was a
very literary artist, in the sense of the range of references one
can see in his paintings. And there are also political references.
Not everyone found his paintings of value, and in 1994, when Kitaj
had an exhibition at the Tate Gallery, the crItic, Andrew
Graham-Dixon, gave it an absolutely scathing review in
The Independent. Other
reviews were also negative, and Kitaj left
I have to admit that I find Kitaj of interest primarily for his
references, and not for his actual painting techniques, which do
seem fairly basic. There may be some truth, in his case, in the
suggestion that groups and movements are often established to allow
minor artists to be remembered for one reason or another. Would
Kitaj be known if he had not come up with the idea of a
Euan Uglow’s somewhat cold and clinical human figures, or so they seemed to me, didn’t create a lasting impression in my mind, certainly not in the way that Paula Rego’s almost-fairy tale figures do with their slightly disturbing implications. Rego seems a completely original artist, and it’s impossible to mistake her work for anyone else’s. This is possibly a glib thing to say, bearing in mind that it could also be said of Bacon and Freud.
Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach are the two artists in the
exhibition who some people might see as
veering close to abstraction at times, though without ever
losing sight of the real: they “produced similarly immersive
In going back to the question of whether or not there was a