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BACON, FREUD AND A CENTURY OF PAINTING LIFE, Tate Britain 28 February – 27 August 2018

This exhibition showcases around 100 works by some of the most celebrated modern British artists, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, Walter Sickert, Stanley Spencer, Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, R.B. Kitaj, Leon Kossoff, Paula Rego, Jenny Saville, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and many others. The focus is the human figure, portrayed in all its intensity, and intensely scrutinised; and the human environment, depicted with the same amount of presence and physicality. There is a “preamble” outside the entrance. Many artists in the exhibition worked in the same studio, and a long vitrine displays ephemera and photos of the artists in that, and other studios. There is also a projection of short documentaries and interviews. The second preamble is the first room, entitled “Raw Facts of Life”, where we see the roots of the new style of intimate and all-too-human portraits, by earlier generations, Walter Sickert and Chaïm Soutine in particular. But it is the second room that really sets the tone, with “Francis Bacon and Alberto Giacometti: Figures in Isolation”. The sense of loss and isolation after the Second World War is captured in all its acuteness. The thin, tall, figure by Giacometti, placed in the middle of the room, adds to this sense of loneliness. Named after the book Human All-Too-Human by Friedrich Nietzsche, the exhibition portrays a man with no God, naked and alone in its journey, yet strong and resilient, who allows and encourages the indiscreet eye of the observer. Even F. N. Souza’s religious figures, in room 3, portray more angst than spirituality. Yet, they are still infused with a sense of power and solidity. Then there follow two rooms of schools, William Coldstream and the Slade, and David Bomberg and the Borough polytechnic; Coldstream, and students, concentrating on analytical gaze, intense observation, but also empathy, born out of an intimate dialogue with the sitter; Bomberg’s tactile and structural approach, the study of mass, that greatly influenced Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossof. The condition of human life and its relationship to the environment can be examined and depicted also in capturing the physicality and dynamism of place, the cityscape of London being the main focus for Auerbach and Kossof. There is still more, much more to this all-too-human exploration, with more Freud in the studio, Bacon’s paintings based on the photographs by John Deakin, both working on intimate, close-up, unnatural poses, yet so very “real”. And a woman’s eye, as too-human as all the rest, Paula Rego: Life is the Wildest Story. What is the future of figurative painting? The engagement carries on, with a new generation of artists who continue to pursue a tangible representation of life in their work, Cecily Brown, Celia Paul, Jenny Saville and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye are the last stop of this journey, offering a peek into fresh directions of painting the human figure, new, yet steeped in history.

First published on the East Finchley Open Artists March 2018 Newsletter - Click HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

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