E xhausting. Exhilarating. Exasperating. Inspiring. These were just some of the ways David Dawson described the experience of sitting for Lucian Freud to a rapt audience at Sotheby’s New York on 18 October. “It was everything. You had to totally give into a different sense of time,” continued Dawson, who currently serves as the director of the Lucian Freud Archive. Co-authored with Martin Gayford, Dawson’s new book Lucian Freud (Phaidon) is a lavishly illustrated publication, which offers the most comprehensive account of the artist’s process to date.
In September, Gayford and Dawson spoke about the two-volume book, edited by Mark Holborn, at the Sotheby’s-sponsored, Chatsworth House program Art Out Loud, but this October event allowed guests on the other side of the pond to hear Dawson’s incredible firsthand accounts of working with Freud. Between a cocktail reception and book signing, Dawson spoke with Sotheby’s Michael Macaulay, SVP, Senior International Specialist, Contemporary Art, and shared his singular perspective on the artist.
“Being stripped bare opens your mind. It allows you to daydream.”
Having been not only Freud’s assistant but also his model and friend for two decades, Dawson’s raw memories of his experiences were almost as transfixing as sitting for the artist himself. The two first met in the 1990s through Freud’s art dealer. Dawson recalled the first time he went to Freud’s studio, where portraits of Leigh Bowery were freshly hung; the artist’s 15 years painting his mother as she coped with the death of her husband; and setting up paints at St. James’s Palace when Queen Elizabeth II sat for Freud. “Lucian was very impressed with her,” said Dawson, who added that conversation came easily for the Queen and Freud. Sharing a passion for horses, the two could talk trainers and jockeys together, not to mention, “manners meant an awful lot to Freud,” said Dawson.
With his 450 or so works, a relatively small output for someone whose art spans half a century, Freud treated all his subjects with respect, tenderness and a rare intuition, that Dawson described as being “10 steps ahead of everyone else.” Despite being exposed for hours at a time, Freud’s subjects felt at ease because of the artist’s genuine disposition and attentiveness. For Dawson, the experience was meditative. “Being stripped bare opens your mind. It allows you to daydream.” Thus the fleshiness associated with Freud’s oeuvre is about nakedness in a literal and metaphysical sense, where every brush mark is laden with the artist’s emotion. “I think paint loved Lucian. Material was on his side, and he had the ability to create something quite magical and revolutionary in Western art.”
Through 31 December, Lucian Freud (Phaidon) can be purchased with a 20% off discount code: FREUD20