The large man depicted here with great intensity and keen observation is Leigh Bowery, a favorite model of the German-born British artist and grandson of Sigmund Freud. Bowery's brief career as a brilliant but abrasive performance artist was cut short by his early death in 1995. He performed mainly in London, where Freud first saw him, but he also appeared in New York and elsewhere. His distinctive physiognomy and massive physicality attracted Freud, who depicted Bowery in a series of paintings and prints over a period of four years. The calm repose of the figure seen here contrasts sharply with more provocative and disturbing representations of this brash eccentric artist, as shown in several large paintings.
Freud is not a traditional printmaker. Instead, he treats the etching plate like a canvas, standing the copper upright on an easel. He delineates his meticulously rendered composition across the plate, working day after day until the tightly woven representation is complete. The image is created with lines alone, which intersect, swell, and recede.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 326.
Lucian Freud is among the foremost figurative artists working today. In a career spanning more than six decades, he has redefined portraiture and the nude through his dispassionate and unblinking scrutiny of the human body. His paintings exhibit his fascination with awkwardness and his search for an anti-ideal. Breaks in perspective and seemingly unnatural distortions often render his compositions graceless. Yet these scrupulously observed depictions of Freud's family, friends, and fellow artists display an iconic power unique in contemporary art.
Freud made his first etchings in 1946 and then did not touch the medium again until 1982. His rediscovery of etching unleashed an intensive period of printmaking that has resulted in sixty-four prints to date, and, since 1988, all have been made with the same London printer, Marc Balakjian of the Studio Prints workshop. Freud works directly on the copperplates at an easel while his sitters pose. One of his favorite subjects, the Australian performance artist Leigh Bowery, who died in 1995, is depicted in Large Head. The medium has usurped the role of drawing and become integral to his overall work. In fact, printed images often precede painted renderings.
Freud's prints are distinguished by their penetrating psychological tension and radical compositional arrangements. Paring down to essentials of line, he achieves a degree of abstraction by eliminating any background or context for his figures. In Lord Goodman in His Yellow Pyjamas, Freud positions the viewer slightly below the face of Lord Goodman, a renowned British lawyer, to enhance the looming confrontational effect, and uses a variety of etched lines to suggest the aging figure's sagging cheeks and scruffy unshaven look. In Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, Freud creates one of his most frank and unnerving images of nakedness. The resulting tension between the physicality of the figure and the flat plane of the paper gives this subject its disturbing impact.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Wendy Weitman, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 226.