Christina’s Research Project: Joan Semmel and Lucian Freud

Semmel turned to the figure in order to gain a personal viewpoint expressing personal and social concerns through her plastic interpretations of self-definition within her environment.[1] In her early career as an artist, Semmel confronts the viewer with a women’s gaze as she documents a sexually engaged couple in multiple coital positions, rendered in a smooth photorealist style.[2] Semmel progresses onto m self-reflective context as she discovers the power of a self-image, engaging in the exploration of psychic states and gender identity.[3] Semmel uses her body not only as an objected but as a self-inquiring and social interface concerned with; “painting as a medium, the nature of representation and the mode of translating the photographic into the painted Image”.[4] Semmel argues that her paintings are not her, as the composition separates the self from its reflection, or imitation of a painted representation, and therefore removes the female body from any notion of a personal essence.[5] However, she represents her own body as she would experience it herself from observation confronting her own body, as a woman spectator, rejecting traditional modes of female representation and complicates the relationship between the viewer and the viewed.[6] This is seem in her work’ Intimacy- Autonomy, depicting Semmel and a lover, “the two bodies charged with visual excitement and… the artist’s quest for empowerment, while enjoying the pleasure of an interment relationship”.[7] Semmel moved from personal images to documenting herself in more public places, at the beach and in the locker room where Semmel deconstructs the “masquerade” as a notion where women prepare to re-enter the male gaze of a public space.[8] After decades of painting the erotic self her works has transitioned into the context of a spectator with her aging body remains current to the discourse of the female body.[9]

Lucian Freud argued his works were an attempt to record him self-within his surroundings documenting people he was interested in within a familiar space.[10] He argues that the difference between what is painted and photographed is the degree to which feelings can interject into the transaction of documentation.[11] Freud invites individual for long sittings where he studies and initiates a relationship with them through his painting process. Freud States that he “wants to paint work as flesh…. I would wish for my portraiture to be of the people, not like them. Having the look of the sitter but being them. As far as I am concerned Paint is the person.”[12] This is evident in Freud’s portraits of his mother some of his most tender works and equally couscous to the study of old age.[13] These works have a fierce honestl[PH1] y which is evident in his charcoal drawing The Painters mother dead, illustrating a clarity of her non-living state rather than depicting her in a sleeping manner.[14] This sensation of illustrating honesty remains evident in his self- portraits as he describes them as a moment to be naked and alone and became progressively self-reflective.[15] Frueds use of mirrors demonstrates this reflection as he appears naked in Interior with plant, reflection listening, behind a large plant as if an extension of it cupping his ear.[16] Freud remained interested in the flesh through his portraiture of friends and family, nude paintings and self- portraits. He comments “I am really interested in people as animals. Part of my liking to work from them naked is for that reason… I like people to look as natural and as physically at ease as animals”.[17] Throughout his artist career he remained concerned with how people looked and felt defined within his own setting.[18]


[1] Joan Marter, “Joan Semmel’s Nudes: The Erotic Self and the Masquerade” Woman’s Art Journal, 16. no.2 (1996): 24.

[2] Ibid, 24-25.

[3] Ibid, 25.

[4] Johanna Burton, “Joan Semmel” Artforum international, 49, no.10 (2011): 402.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Palmer Museum of Art, Through the Looking Glass, (Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004), 32-33.

[7] Marter, 25.

[8] Ibid, 26-27.

[9] Ibid, 27.

[10] Sarah Howgate, Lucian Freud Portraits, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012), 14.

[11] Robert Hughes, Lucian Freud paintings, (London: Thames and Hudson, 1987), 18.

[12] Catherine Lampert, Lucain Freud: recent work, (London: the Whitechapel Art Gallery, 1993), 12.

[13] Howegate, 27.

[14] Ibid, 29.

[15] Ibid, 32.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid, 19.


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