Artist: Lucian Freud (British (born Germany), Berlin 1922–2011 London)
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 72 × 54 in. (182.9 × 137.2 cm)
Credit Line: Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1993
Accession Number: 1993.71
As one of Britain's leading realist painters, Freud's compositions focus on the human figure and face, often revealing the humanity of his subjects while depicting their physical ugliness. From the late 1980s through the mid-1990s, one of his favorite models was Leigh Bowery (Australian, 1961-1994), a fashion designer and popular avant-garde performance artist who began working the London club scene in the 1980s. Ironically, although Bowery was known for his outlandishly freakish costumes and makeup, Freud records him with stark truthfulness, naked of his theatrical regalia. Inspired by what he called Bowery's "wonderfully buoyant bulk … and those extraordinary dancer's legs," Freud painted many full-length portraits of him that emphasize his imposing, yet oddly graceful physique. Viewed here, however, seated from the back, his hulking body squats ungainfully on a low, wide stool in the artist's studio. The terrain of his fleshy mountainous back is almost sculpted by the artist's thick application of paint. In essence, this is not a traditional portrait, but a still life of skin. One is reminded of an observation by Willem de Kooning, another painter of grotesque figures: "Flesh is the reason why oil painting was developed."