Music choices give away a lot about a person. It is a shorthand for all sorts of information about a person being interviewed, and often reveal a side you weren’t expecting. Not surprisingly BBC Radio Four’s Dessert Island Discs, and BBC Radio Three’s Private Passions are both hugely popular.
I have started to ask people about their favourite paintings and treasures. Again, the answers are not necessarily what you would expect, and there are many reasons for the choices.
This series of interviews starts with me. Hopefully it gives you an idea of what I am aiming at. Each person gets to choose 5 things – pictures, curiosities or treasures, and one bit of information, materials advice, ‘how to’, or whatever to pass on to others.
Lucien Freud, And the Bridegroom
This is a oil painting of Leigh Bowery, a regular model for Freud and Nicola Bowery, his wife.
I First saw this painting at the Whitechapel Gallery in the 90s. It was placed at the bottom of some stairs. You were forced to move towards this intimate scene of a sated couple on their grubby uninviting sheets. And drawn to it.
These photos of the two models and the final piece, by Bruce Bernard, look grim and staged, whereas the painting has a luminosity and warmth. I can’t imagine shouting in front of this work – they are so deeply asleep.
Freud has accentuated the bride’s fragility and the macho spread of the husband. The folds of the cloth echo the limbs of the models. The golden light on the wall in the painting contrasts with the dark, architectural feel of the screen and seems to reflect the difference between the man and the woman. They are touching.
I have seen this work in various different galleries and I am always overwhelmed by it. I love it.
Nicolas Poussin, The Triumph of Pan
The Dulwich Picture Gallery had an exhibition of works by Cy Twombly and Nicolas Poussin in 2011. I spent a day at the gallery drawing the pictures and falling in love with the works of both artists. One of my regrets is not having bought the book of the exhibition, Arcadian Painters.
The Triumph of Pan is a masterclass in composition. I have drawn it and painted it a number of times. It is unbelievably complicated. Each new attempt seems doomed to failure, but that doesn’t seem to matter; I learn something new each time. The colour isn’t very exciting but EVERYTHING else is. Because of the trees in this picture I look at the screen in the Freud and see the importance of that structure in the background
The other day I made a trip to the National Gallery to see the picture, and find the second goat. I hadn’t seen it for while, and it wasn’t on display. The Poussin Room had one Poussin. Is he so very out of fashion?
Jackson Pollock, Autumn Rhythm, no 30
This is a great big drip picture. Lots has been written about it. I haven’t read it.
One of the things I love to see in a picture is the presence of the artist. Sometimes you can tell whether the artist was left, or right handed, you can feel their attitude to the sitter in a portrait, you can see a battle with composition and errors in a drawing. These things pass to the viewer through time and show the humanity of all involved.
In this work by Pollock you can feel his footsteps as he moves from one area to another, you feel the weight and direction of the paint. It is like a large scale doodle with instinctive marks and composition. And in addition there is the chaos of the paint.
I have seen this piece a few times and I find myself sitting in front of it for great lengths of time, and striding along beside it, trying to match Pollocks steps.
Ivon Hitchens, Pierre Bonnard, Paul Gauguin, Cezanne,
This is a bit of a cheat – there is no one picture from any of the above. I look to some of them for interest in colour or pattern, others for composition, line, and the looser sort of figurative work.
I think Ivon Hitchens would be surprised to represent this basket. This picture doesn’t have the overwhelming joy of pattern and colour of Bonnard. It seems to lack the narrative and colour of Gauguin, and the apparent lightness of touch of Cezanne. However, I feel the influence of all of them.
Who could not be happy to be greeted by this picture each morning?