Lucian Freud: filming with the artist

Thursday 16 February 2012, 10:12

Randall Wright Randall Wright Director

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At a meeting just before Christmas 2010 Lucian Freud, a small ancient figure at 88, sitting surrounded by fresh piles of newspapers, with their lurid headlines, suddenly stared, with characteristic bulging eyes, out of the window of Clarke's restaurant in Notting Hill, London.

He had noticed a pair of mounted police, heads down, battling through a sudden heavy snow storm.

The street scene erased in the white-out left just the foreground of chestnut horses and fluorescent riders, like a children's book illustration. Lucian was thrilled with the sight.

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David Hockney on Lucian Freud's painting technique

Making a painting was the most important thing anyone could try to do, if they were to get close to the essence of things, to approach an absolute truth.

At another meeting, the sun was streaming in. By then Lucian knew I liked his regular food supplement: nougat. He cut me a slice without me asking.

At the end of the film, the art critic Sebastian Smee said that in the company of Lucian he did not feel the need to say anything clever, just to be with someone so intense and so alive was enough. I think that is so insightful.

I hardly said a thing - not that it would have been clever if I had.

Lucian started wiggling his fingers around to make interesting shadow patterns. The shadows were green by some accident of light reflecting from the leaves of flowers on the table.

He enjoyed the sight, and so did I.

We started production in the spring of 2011. Lucian said he would still be around for his exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery which started this month.

Reflection (self portrait) 1985

Reflection (self portrait) 1985

But of course he was wrong, in July he died. After his death the whole project changed.

Many of his friends and family now felt free to take a bigger part in the film, and, in their grief, to articulate the feelings and insights that are so much in the foreground of the mind when someone you love dies.

The aim of the film is to look more closely, with an open mind, at the work. The editor, Paul Binns, and I tried to deploy the amazingly candid interviews from old friends and family to reveal themes in the painting.

At the moment I write this the composer and musician John Harle is performing a saxophone part for his intensely moving score.

I am sitting in a square room with red curtains on all sides, and a mass of sound mixing technology.

Thinking about Freud makes me look more closely and with greater fascination at the most ordinary of things - to realise what a strange place the world is, and how barely we understand it.

Randall Wright is the director of Lucian Freud: Painted Life.

Lucian Freud: Painted Life is on BBC Two and BBC HD on Saturday, 18 Feburary at 9pm.

For further programme times, please see the upcoming broadcasts page.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Thank you for this brilliant film; and to all those who helped put it together, and contributed. I, and likely many others, have been deeply moved seeing this.

    The subtlety of the documentation and startling human insights into his genius and personality has left me mute.

    I am sure I was not the only viewer who had to turn off the TV after the film given the need to cut off from further visual perception and mentally process the preceding ninety minutes again and again. Stunning. Thank you!

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I agree it was a brilliant, albeit intense, film. I'm still not very fond of Freud's work, but now I understand it, and him, better. Paradoxically, his death allowed people to be more forthright and tender in talking about him which brought out both the light and the shade in his character - particularly revealing through the words of his daughters. Randall Wright's delicate touch in the design and production of this film were wonderful. Thank you BBC4 for bringing this to us and for allocating a sensible amount of time for a complex and demanding subject. It was a shining light in an otherwise dismal TV schedule and should become a classic documentary in the future.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    In a world of "fake" - celebtities with no talent, artists who prostitute their work for money & sharks profiting from it all - it is refreshing to see this honest & inspiring film.
    Hope it will be repeated as I can't get the i-player in Belgium.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Thank you Randall for a fantastic film; subtle, moving, and it felt a great privilege to watch him working in his studio, surely the most private space for a painter. Wonderful, and I need to see it again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Congratulations and thank you for this brilliant, interesting, moving, inspiring film.


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