Alex Vardaxoglou presents an exhibition highlighting the friendship of painter Lucian Freud (1922 - 2011) and photographer Bruce Bernard (1928 – 2000). The show, archival in format, focuses on a group of photographs Bernard shot in Freud’s Holland Park studio, featuring subjects such as Leigh Bowery, Sue Tilley, and Freud himself.
“If Lucian has sometimes, or for all I know, often behaved like a shit, as many of the best, and perhaps even more of the worst artists do, then he has left a lot of life and intelligence-enhancing images behind him. And I’m sure that during the years that remain he will continue to increase and enrich that legacy.”
- Bruce Bernard, 1995
Bruce Bernard began as a painter in the 1940s and became friends with a number of important twentieth century artists, including Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews and Lucian Freud. Bernard frequented Soho’s bars and clubs in the decades after the Second World War; for some time, arguably the centre of the British art world. But his friendship with these artists came through a deep knowledge and respect for the pursuit of painting.
In Bernard’s obituary, critic Adrian Searle wrote in the Guardian: ‘His eye for photographs, and his belief that the photographic image was at least the equal of the paintings he admired, led him to have the best, and most analytic, response to photography I have encountered… He had a shrewd, passionate eye, and was possessed of one of the most acute bullshit detectors I have ever encountered.’
Bernard first met Freud in 1942 when he was only fourteen and the artist twenty. Over the next decades they established an intense and lasting friendship. In 1985 Freud made a powerful etching of Bernard followed by two large portraits in the nineties. One of very few friends allowed entry into Freud’s studio, in the 1980s Bernard photographed Freud there, leading to this set of intimate photographs. Bernard’s photographs are fascinating works that display a great intimacy with Freud, his environment, and his subjects. Bernard always arrived with very minimal equipment – no lights, nothing ‘professional’ – and brought his camera and tripod in a crumpled plastic bag.
The set of photographs which emerge offer a great insight into Bernard’s practice as much as Freud’s. Aware that Freud was not a fan of posed photographs, Bernard captured some rare relaxed and fun moments with Freud. Included is the image Lucian Freud being a Henry Moore, 1985. Of this photograph, Freud said, ‘when I see photographs of painters staring into the distance I always think, ‘What complete cunts. I don’t want to be one of those… So I think the best thing is to decide on a definite pose, such as – why not? – a Henry Moore!’. Another portrait, Lucian Freud with Portrait of Leigh Bowery, 1990, shows Freud standing anxiously next to the first portrait to emerge from his collaboration with performer Leigh Bowery.
Bernard also shot a set of three photographs of Leigh Bowery posing with Nicola Bateman for the painting And the Bridegroom, 1993. In these, Bowery and Bateman lie sleeping, partly tangled. In the three photographs shot at various angles, Bernard is able to create a painterly depiction of light hitting the subjects in different places. As close to Freud’s work and subjects as Freud himself, Bernard said of the related painting, ‘the couple, united by contract, are separated by an abyss and yet with their skin in coolly companionable contact’. A number of photographs of Sue Tilley, the benefits supervisor, are also included in the exhibition, which relate directly to important paintings of Freud’s.
Bernard wrote of his friendship with Freud: ‘I have, and I do not use the word out of only formal deference, had the honour of knowing Lucian Freud’.
We are grateful for the guidance of Caroline Conran and Virginia Verran (The Estate of Bruce Bernard), in the putting together of this exhibition.
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