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Power & Pain, Love & Madness: Brett Anderson Curates The Collections of Art UK
The Quietus , May 16th, 2020 09:06

The Suede frontman curates a selection of ten paintings from the UK's public collections, in a virtual exhibition prepared exclusively for the Quietus


Edvard Munch – The Sick Child
This is a beautifully understated study by the master of Expressionism, seemingly inconsistent with the anthems to angst for which he is famous. But the apparent calm of the touching scene belies a tortured narrative when you dig a little deeper and find out that it depicts the death from tuberculosis of the artist’s own sister. It was a theme to which Munch would obsessively return time and again in his career, executing numerous versions possibly as a way to deal with the despair he felt over his loss. The pathos and pain that this seemingly benign scene captures will resonate powerfully with every fretful parent who has kept vigil at the bedside of their poorly child, struggling within their own quiet hell. Munch’s genius was his ability to be able to use his pain and turn it into beauty, an act of alchemy that is the essence of all great art.

Francis Bacon – Head VI

Bacon has always felt to me to be the heir to Munch’s paeans to pain, taking his Expressionist language into raw and nightmarish places. His series of ‘Screaming Popes’ come from his studies of a painting by Diego Velazquez of Pope Innocent X, an image with which he became somewhat obsessed. The way he interprets the expression of power however is completely his own, turning the inherent sense of brooding control within Velazquez’s original into one of tortured anguish steeped in it’s own torment and misery. Bacon’s quote of defining the artist’s job as being one that must “deepen the mystery” is an aphorism which I find myself often reflecting on and quoting.

Lucian Freud – Girl with a Kitten

I bookend this with another painting to which I often find myself inexorably drawn. I love Freud’s work, it manages to be itchy and uncomfortable but somehow still elegant. People always talk about his bleak depictions of nakedness but it’s his more decorous work like this piece which I find myself coming back to. There’s something perverse and fascinating about this image, the blithe insouciance with which the girl holds the cat cruelly by its neck, the implicit threat contained within the act, the cat’s relative calm, the girl’s almond eyes. All these elements suggests a question which the artist never quite answers and like all unresolved narratives it deepens the sense of fascination. Towards the end of his life I would often meet my dad at the Tate and after a dutiful hour of wandering its halls we would find ourselves in the bustling cafe downstairs hunched over our little metal pots of stewing tea. Without fail my father would always probe me with his inevitable ‘If you could take just one painting home’ question and I would always chose the Girl With a Kitten as my answer.

[nb. Unfortunately due to copyright restrictions, we are unable to host images of these last two works on the Quietus site, but you can view a gallery of all ten of Brett's selections put together using Art UK's Curations tool by following this link]