From the outside, David Freud would appear to have the perfect life. A house by the sea in Sussex where he lives with his wife and children, walking his dog on the beach every day, a successful career as a painter, a growing international reputation, a new solo exhibition opening today at Dantzig Gallery in Woodstock…..
That David took up painting later in life however has done nothing to hinder his career. A portrait exhibition at Oxford University’s Brasenose College in 2012, for example, saw him selling his first narrative painting (losing Violet) for £15,000.
And yet, while his new #WoodstockWindow exhibition at Dantzig Gallery started today, it is unavoidably introspective.
David’s father was the infamous British painter Lucian Freud, one of the foremost 20th-century portraitists, and the two had a difficult relationship at best.
“I was with my father very rarely when he was alive. Now he’s dead, we’ve got a lot more time and understanding for each other”
Estranged from his father, David grew up in a council flat in London with his mother and siblings, far from the bohemian existence you might imagine, and it’s a relationship he’s struggled with ever since.
“I don’t mind talking about him. I was with my father very rarely when he was alive. Now he’s dead, we’ve got a lot more time and understanding for each other. I don’t crave his attention any more. Loving and honouring him and his work is easier now I’ve let go of expecting anything of him,” David says.
Violet, his first child is another sticking point, as he is in turn estranged from her and her mother; ‘Border terrier for Violet’,” being the subject of another of his pieces in the exhibition.
“I don’t think good art is made by worrying what someone else might think of it”
“Becoming an artist was a way of not making money, partly so that I wouldn’t attract someone else like Violet’s mother. I gave her everything I inherited from my father’s estate. Our relationship mirrors the one between my mother and father,” he says.
There are also three never before seen works made specifically for the exhibition, and eight pieces David has worked on for a long time, which you can see for yourself. “This provided the perfect opportunity to complete them,” David says.
David was friends with Dantzig Gallery owner Dave Davies who recently passed away, and is hugely supportive of Dave’s partner Beth who is now running the gallery.
“I think of the unforgettable Dave Davies with affection and gratitude. His partner Beth Lumb is bravely keeping the place running as this part of Dave’s legacy has become a hub of culture and community in Woodstock. It’s important to support this kind of independent enterprise, especially now,” he says.
The exhibition shows ‘Time to go home’, featuring a dog rolling around in a recently painted landscape while it’s owner worries about the foreboding clouds, and ‘Stanley’ – David Hockney’s dog, which was painted in 2013 during a 24 hour paintathon to raise money for A Band of Brothers.
So why dogs specifically? “I chose dogs because the first thing I started drawing when I turned back to art was my closest, most loving companion, Bones. (Bones is a lurcher who lived to the ripe old age of 17.)
“I was going to exhibit my portrait of him but I wouldn’t be able to part with it,” David adds.
And yet while David uses his art in part to process his past, he has also learned to move forwards and enjoy the moment.
“What each viewer sees and interprets in, or about, art is exactly right. If it elicits important thoughts, feelings or change, the work itself is important.”
“I’m in a really good place right now. My partner and I are happily in love. I have a great relationship, and am very proud of my daughter, the famous forager Fern Freud, my son Kipp who is taking a PHD in artificial intelligence and my youngest daughter, Emily who’s mother is my best friend,” he says.
His great-grandfather being Sigmund Freud, initially David studied Psychology and Counselling, and volunteers with the Samaritans and mentoring charity A Band of Brothers. Does that help his art? “Psychotherapy provides love in a disciplined way. I hope that kind of love is reflected in me as a person. My art can only reflect it if it is in the viewer’s gaze,” he says, of their symbiosis.
As for his art, which is self-taught, David says: “Some work shares more when viewers choose to be less insular. Some becomes yours alone when your centre of gravity lies outside yourself.
So has he inherited that? “Lucian being my father helps my confidence as an artist, makes it easier for me to make up my own techniques and styles, not feel I need to learn from others. I don’t think good art is made by worrying what someone else might think of it,” he says.
As for lockdown as an artist, David has relished the tranquility: “I’ve enjoyed the peace. I find it difficult to say no, so I used to find myself socialising when I really wanted to be alone with my dog. Socialising less means I have more time to be in my studio. It’s been good for for my productivity. My fitness has suffered though and I’ve gained weight,” he smiles.
West Sussex must have been a joy being so close to the beach in Worthing. Has that helped his creative spirit? “My art is driven by a heartfelt connection with nature, so I exercise by walking on the ever changing beach, rushing out to catch a particularly beautiful moon or sunset. One of the dogs in the show is ‘Running on the beach’. I’ve made a ground of thick rippled oil paint reflecting patterns I see in the sand,” he replies.
How similar does he think his artistic style is to his father then? “Using paint sculpturally is something I enjoy sharing with Lucian. I can see a similarity in our intensity of gaze. The level of concentration required to look really carefully gets easier the more you do it.
Either way, art is certainly therapeutic for David. In 2011 he created a series of art to help him work through his feelings by physically expressing his anger at his father’s death by hitting the ground, smashing stones into card etc. Again you can bear witness as ”Stone impression with smashed glass’ is included in the Dantzig exhibition.
All in all rather a personal exhibition then? “What each viewer sees and interprets in, or about, art is exactly right. If it elicits important thoughts, feelings or change, the work itself is important. I don’t think my work is about something, but rather that it is the thing. My job is to encourage the fates to conspire by being open to impulses, to the perspectival nature of knowledge and not to edit out what I judge to be unacceptable.”