Sunday, 24 July 2011

Body Fascism vs. Lucian Freud

The images that surround us of the human body are largely manufactured, photo-shopped assemblages. They cannot be trusted. They are counterfeit representations of what it means to be an enfleshed being.

The body fascists - those who wish to alter the body's meaning - have made it their mission to uncover every dissident blemish, stretch mark or fleshy ridge and airbrush them out of existence. Women’s bodies have become pornographic constructions. Part Lara Croft and part Barbie Doll. They bear no resemblance to anything that could be described as natural. And that’s the point, the natural is a thing repellent to modern sensibilities where the artificial has captured the imagination of a Nip/Tuck generation. Men’s bodies are also under the same reconstruction. It is the homoerotic body of the gym bunny on the cover of Men's Health magazine that men are to aspire to. A pumped, ripped, shredded physique that has little to do with masculinity and everything to do with a pathological narcissism, a flexing and posing in the mirror of our physical insecurities. In contemporary culture, the idea that we are flesh has become unacceptable. The human body has become a taboo.

Lucian Freud loved the human body. Not the fictions created by advertising agencies and pornographic websites, but the human body in all its fleshiness and rawness. Like all great artists, he wanted to destroy the taboos surrounding the human body. He wanted to represent our fleshy reality with all its fierce imperfections, astonishing proportions and weight, seductive originality. His paintings are works that reverence every natural expression of the flesh and that is why so many people (blinded by the cataracts of body fascism) find his work so disturbing and subversive. Freud’s paintings challenge every manufactured image around us. They bypass false images of the human body and show, in the most candid manner, the glory of human nakedness.

In Freud’s work, every brushstoke, colour combination and assertive line defines the contours and crevices of the human body. There is nothing tight and toned about Freud’s nudes. He is not afraid to show us the way human skin stretches and slips, in fact, he relishes the fact. He loves the sagging midriff, the flabby breast or moob, the slack backside. Training his clinical eye on the human body, he finds its infinite variations a source of aesthetic fascination.

The art critic, Michael Kimmelman has observed that Freud’s paintings and etchings are more than highly-achieved figurative representations but that they remind us of a profound truth, that we are “all vulnerable and sublime in our ordinariness”. The Aryan body physique represents a power and control that aims to rival nature and reinvent creation. It despises the human body in all its weakness and fragile beauty. Freud’s oeuvre places nature in all its ambiguity and strangeness at the very heart of his artistic enterprise. Nature is to be respected. The human form, nature’s most complete and original expression, is a thing which can only make us pause in silent wonder. Freud’s masterpieces remind us of this fact and will continue to do so for many generations to come.

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