Tuesday, December 21, 2010

RIP Captain Beefheart; Man with a Blue Scarf and Lucian Freud

I was sad to hear of the passing last Friday of the reclusive avant-garde musician/visual artist, Don Van Vliet, a.k.a. Captain Beefheart. I was fortunate enough to have met Don several times in the late seventies when I was working at a Licorice Pizza record store in the valley. Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band were rehearsing in a warehouse nearby that had no bathroom, so naturally, being the star-struck youngsters that we were, we offered them full access to our employees-only bathroom.
One day I looked up to see Don coming through the front door wearing his signature fedora, on top of which was a traditional cone-shaped Chinese straw hat. He strode up to me at the counter, pointed to his head and announced "I'm wearing two hats." I dissolved into giggles and didn't ask why -- it seemed like such a Captain Beefheart thing to do -- and have cherished the memory ever since as my own personal surreal Captain Beefheart moment.
Here's a video of my favorite Captain Beefheart song, the uncharacteristically romantic ballad, Observatory Crest.

Don Van Vliet is represented by Michael Werner Gallery in New York. Click here to see a selection of his paintings. 
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Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud by art critic Martin Gayford  gives unprecedented access into the otherwise private realm of artist Lucian Freud's studio, and a look at the slow, deliberate process of painting his masterful portraits. Gayford sat for "Man with a Blue Scarf" from November 2003 through July  2004, for hundreds of hours in the same position, with his right leg crossed over his left, wearing the same clothes, bathed in the same pool of light in the darkened studio, sometimes in silence, sometimes in dialog with Freud. He kept a diary as they went along, recording bits of conversation, thoughts and observations. It is from this diary that he has crafted this charming and revelatory book.

As a former painter, what struck me most about this book was the insight into Freud's process -- specifically, how slowly and intentionally he paints and how that would seem to contradict his broad, spontaneous-looking brushstrokes. The portrait in this case starts with a quick charcoal sketch on canvas, over which Freud begins applying paint to the area between the sitter's eyes, working slowly out in all directions, leaving parts of the white canvas unpainted almost until the very end. Intense concentration and looking proceed each brush stroke, and often the stroke is "practiced" by tracing it in the air with his arm. Once on the canvas, if the stroke isn't exactly right, it is wiped off and the process begins again.
The progress is sometimes so slow it is difficult for Gayford to perceive: "I want the picture to move on, I want it to be finished. My hope is that he will begin a new area -- the chin, the scarf, the jacket. . . . LF [as Gayford refers to Freud throughout the book] doesn't seem remotely concerned about hurrying." The quality in Freud's work is "inextricably bound up with emotional honesty and truthfulness." It is this emotional honesty that Freud painstakingly strives for in his work, slowly building a relationship with his sitter, searching with each layer of paint for a deeper understanding and more real representation of his subject -- not just the fleshy corporal outer shell that he depicts so masterfully, but also the complex underlying substrata and depth.
Man with a Blue Scarf is illustrated with over 50 mostly color illustrations of paintings from all periods of Freud's career, photos of Freud at work in his studio, as well as reproductions of other artists' work that influenced him. The book is sprinkled with Freud's insights and opinions of artists, mostly the old masters, as well as anecdotes about those he has known personally over the course of his long career.
I recommend Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud for anyone who has ever painted, is thinking about painting, or simply admires Freud's work.

Upcoming Events at Offramp Gallery

January 9 - February 6, 2011
Opening Reception: Sunday, January 9, 2-5pm

Anita Bunn, untitled, 2010, halftone photolithograph,18" x 14" framed

Offramp Gallery is pleased to announce a solo exhibition, Anita Bunn: The Sun Tells Quite Another Story from January 9 - February 6, 2011. The opening reception will be on Sunday, January 9, from 2-5pm. For her second solo exhibition at Offramp Gallery, Los Angeles based artist, Anita Bunn, will be exhibiting a new series of works that continue her exploration of the act of noticing as well as the temporal nature of the still and moving image.


  1. Thanks for the Beefheart anecdote, Jane. (I had forgotten that we have a shared history of working in record stores!) I've been saddened by the news of his death, even though he'd been ill and inactive for many years. I saw him perform a few times, but never met him as you did. As a musician, he remains one of the figures I admire most. He was the rarest sort of artist, one whose work made everything around it (even in the late '60s) look wan and hidebound.

    Best wishes for the holidays and the year to come.

  2. Poets on Site is looking forward to viewing and being inspired by Anita's work! We hope to have some poets at the opening.

  3. Cool story about Captain Beefheart.
    You're too cool for school.

  4. I read a great review about that book too. :)