Friday night Jane McAdam Freud opened her exhibition Flesh and Stone at the New School House Gallery in Peasholme Green. Jane, who is the daughter of Lucien Freud, showed works completed since her previous biographical exhibition, A Farewell to my Father. Jane’s mother is artist Katherine McAdam, did not see her father from the age of eight until she was 31. For any child, the impending death of a parent is always poignant and often leads to a re-evaluation of the relationship; and a reassessment of who that parent really is: Jane missed so much of her father’s life that, as he aged, she spent considerable time with him as they worked together modelling for each other. The works presented in this exhibition were largely created in the latter months of 2011 and in 2012 and are essentially pieces mourning her late father. “Until I met Freud I felt half a person” and she has spent quite some time “trying to connect with the heritage I never knew.”
Jane resembles her father, and this fact is utilised by Jane to create collages and sculptures that morph between the two, leaving the viewer with a feeling of uncertainty. In the sense that all humans are unfinished, Jane has a disinclination to finish her sculptures; for example in the terracotta pieces, the temper, sand, is left clearly visible on the surface and no attempt is made to glaze or finish the work. The choice of clay for these sculptures is an important symbol of humanity, as “clay unfired goes to earth as we do; clay when fired becomes immortal: ‘dust to dust.’” The unfinished surfaces of these pieces are therefore doubly symbolic, because in order to demonstrate mortality she has to make the pieces immortal.
What is noticeable about the exhibition is that it is not at all a mawkish reflection on her father but rather a celebration. In her own words, she occupied “a river of creativity” and she describes how channeling a strong emotion is so creative. Alongside the larger terracotta busts of herself cum her father and the fascinating collage that clearly demonstrates their likeness and differences, there are a range of found objects as grotesques, drawings, work in plaster and a fascinating set of smaller bronzes described as huminal and animan. The huminals are more animal as the animans are more human in form, but essentially both are neither. Jane herself is not sure what they really are. “If you can explain the sculpture it is not worth doing”.
This uncertainty pervades the exhibition. Most viewers know the iconic Lucien Freud and it is difficult not to interpret the material without a filter of those preconceptions. The exhibition highlights our mortality, but not in the sense that we die, but in the sense that we are human and not immortal; we are unfinished, incomplete, not fully formed. In the playful morphing portraits Jane also senses that we are immortal but in our immortality we change and it is in that change that we are eternally unfinished.
This phase of her life, though, is now finished. A recent trip to the Middle East has forced her out of mourning. Standing in antiquity amongst creations that are two or more thousand years old has changed her sense of the world; and Jane says that she is now doing very different work. One piece in the exhibition does harbinger this change, suggesting she has been ready to move on: this is the piece Earthstone Triptych. There is an implication that it is a part of a different Jane McAdam Freud, with feeling more of Picasso with the two faces and exaggerated lips; it is not as unfinished as many of the pieces she was doing at the same time though she has still imbued it with that essence of Lucien and Jane.
We look forward to seeing what is to come, but we still can anticipate that there will be that essence of the unfinished; that sand, there’s a lot of that in the Middle East, will play a part; that perhaps she will experiment more with patinas to create incompleteness, but above all, how will she play off that same antiquity that the Pre-Raphaelites rebelled against in classical art. I am sure Jane’s new work will be a revelation.
Flesh and Stone by Jane McAdam Freud, the New School House Gallery, from 2 June to 21 July 2012. The Gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm.