I saw this exhibition in August 20212 when London was still relatively empty. It was at Tate Britain and I went with my family which was a wonderful treat after the confinement of the pandemic lockdown rules.
I was so blown away. She is such a massively powerful painter. I’d like to write the way she paints, larger than life, massive, strong, emotional and almost cruel. She does not flinch from anything: abortion, childbirth, abuse both emotional and physical. But her female figures generally tower over any scene she creates, huge, powerful creatures you most certainly wouldn't mess with. Standing in front of e.g. The Policeman's Daughter, or Angel is an actually frightening experience, in the way that fairy tales can be pleasurably terrifying. These figures are gleeful, passionate, stern and capable of anything. Even the beautiful and romantic The Dance brings discomfort in the shape of the woman standing on her own to one side of the dancers. What is she thinking and what is she about to do? Or has she just decided that you are better off dancing on your own? Or simply she has decided this is what we all do really, and this does not diminish us.
The whole experience - the scale of it, the beauty - was just what I needed. Art is so important! I have missed it, still miss it.
When a woman inhabits the costume of a monster, does she become a monster? As if her innards become a dress she wears, a complicated dress with many prosthetic limbs, the arms and legs of the children she had or didn’t have, the tails of all the serpents she has swallowed, all the fingers she needs to play all the instruments of herself. When all of this is on view, she no longer looks tidy. She can’t keep her knees neatly together on the chair, she can’t nip nimbly up the stairs in her tight skirt, her perfect ass alluring but under control. Untouchable in this magnificence, she rolls and flows, cries out for recognition, tumbles down the steps of all your official buildings.
She sees with her fingers, her toes, her arms, her legs, her nose, her intestines, her ovaries, her bowels, her fallopian tubes, her uterus, her vagina, her liver, her kidneys, her brain, her nerves. There is nothing about her that is blind. More powerful than the basilisk, all-seeing Azrael, she moves towards us bearing her multiple truths. Those wings, sprouting behind her, will carry her far beyond our reach.
I’m in awe of Freud. I have always been in awe of Freud’s theories. I was in anticipatory awe as I walked through Belsize Park and Hampstead to 20 Maresfield Gardens in London, his home for the final year of his life and, unsurprisingly, in the welcoming entrance vestibule of the 1920’s villa, this feeling persisted.
It didn’t just persist. It intensified. Warm, mellow November sun followed me in to the museum’s introduction, ‘Sigmund Freud was one of the most influential and controversial thinkers of the twentieth century. His legacy spans disciplines from Psychology to Literature and Art, and his ideas continue to affect the way we understand ourselves.’ The Director smiled reverently, and a spirituality seemed to exist as his work was described, together with his daughter, Anna Freud’s, pioneering practice.
So, then I explored. This house has a very alert, all sensory experience permeating it. Freud’s consulting room, eminent couch, his reading chair, treasured antiquities and belongings having accompanied him following the Nazi occupation of Austria. Although frail, he practised here, French doors opening outwardly into an ample, tranquil garden in this quiet suburb.
I settled finally on a chaise longue, the magnificent staircase has a large landing between flights. My awe had not subsided, the experience was reflected in the early afternoon rays of, ‘id’, ‘super-egos’ and ‘libidos.’ I glanced around from this fantastic vantage point, other visitors were filled with wonder too and I wondered about the man. Literary Critic Lionel Trilling had noted, ‘his personal life, he said, could not possibly be of the slightest concern to the world.’ Smiling, my eyes settled on Dali’s sketches of Freud, perfectly described by poet Penelope Shuttle:
Portrait of Sigmund Freud by Salvador Dali
(pen and ink on blotting paper)
Freud’s a spectrograph
caught on pale yellow paper,
his darkening brow
a swarm of bees curving neatly
into the hive of his head.
Dali sketches Freud
with a draughtsman’s precision,
as head of Orpheus cast in the river
or the dreamy noggin of a shaman.
Behind little specs,
you can’t see his eyes,
but one ear is cocked wide-open,
as is natural to the good doktor of listening.
Poem by kind permission of the Author, previously published in, ‘Under the Radar,’ Nine Arches Press.
Freud Museum London https://www.freud.org.uk/