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Camden New Journal - One Week with JOHN GULLIVER
Published:5 July 2007
Lucian Freud
Lucian Freud
An artist I should have known – the story of my Freudian slip

I WAS leaving St Bride’s Church off Fleet Street at the end of a memorial service for the famous former editor of the Observer, David Astor, when my eyes fixed on a little man in front of me. He was wearing a worn mac and looked pretty old and tired.
So, I asked him what he did, wondering what connection he could possibly have had with the great Astor.
“I’m a painter,” he said. Foolish me, I thought he meant he was a house painter. Later, imagine my shock, when a guest at the reception pointed him out to me and said: “There’s the great Lucian Freud.’’ House painter! He was one of Britain’s great artists.
This happened sometime ago, but stories like this take on a life of their own, so on Tuesday evening, standing in front of a wonderful painting by Freud at the Ben Uri Gallery in St John’s Wood, I got into conversation with a tall, well-built man, with a very relaxed waistline.
He was from New York, a big-wig in the international commission handling reparations for Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
Naturally, I told him my story about Lucian Freud, and then he asked me what I thought of the legend on the wall that said Freud, like Frank Auerbach, another great painter on exhibition at the Ben Uri, had a “manner” which was very “personal and self-engineered”.
Those were the words that puzzled the man. “I’ve never seen that expression before,” he said, repeating “self-engineered” and shaking his head.
Words fascinate me, so I joined in. Could it mean Freud had crafted his own style? No, that was silly, because every painter does that. “No,” said the New Yorker, “I think he meant he had had to create his own identity, so, you see, he self-engineered himself.”
Why the new identity? “Because, both Freud and Auerbach,” explained the man, warming to his subject, “had been refugees from Nazi Germany in the 30s and therefore needed to create a new person in a new country,”.
Wow! What conversations I get into at art exhibitions!.
Later, the man, who came from Manhattan, introduced himself as Wesley Fisher, and with him was his wife, Regine, who had been allowed to leave Moscow in 1978 with other Jews for New York. She is now a pianist and composer.
And the exhibition? Go and see it because it should mesmerise you. I was particularly drawn to a haunting charcoal drawing of a woman by Leon Kossof, born in City Road, Islington, now also established as one of our great artists.
His head of his father is haunting, too. Both are carved out of space with large, angry and solid brushwork, so audacious that you can’t help being drawn to them.
Then there are the works by Lucian Freud. His portraits of a Woman With An Arm Tattoo and one showing the head of a woman on a pillow looking at a single flower, both of them aroused doubts and questions in my new-found friend from New York.
“What was she looking at, what was she thinking?” he asked aloud. I could have got involved in another attempt to solve a puzzle in his mind, but decided instead to shake his hand and say goodbye.

* The exhibition of London Senses and Experiences, with works by Andrews, Auerbach, Freud, Kitaj, Kossof and Uglow, runs until August 5 at the Ben Uri Gallery, 108A Boundary Road, NW8.

39 years on, Vietnam vet heads to new war protest

IF you met him for the first time you’d probably think he was just an ordinary middle-aged man. But Mark Shapiro is far from that.
On Monday he flew to Stockholm from his Holborn home to gate-crash the July 4th party held by US embassy staff, as a protest against both the Vietnam war and today’s Iraq conflict.
Mark was a deserter who fled from Vietnam in the late 60s and settled in Sweden for a short time along with 500 fellow US soldiers.
Then on July 4th, 1968 Mark, joined by six other deserters, held a sit-down protest on the US embassy lawn against the Vietnam war.
Mayhem followed when security heavies attacked the protesters and dumped them into a police van. A night in the local nick followed.
Now, 39 years later, Mark was determined to give the embassy another headache.
But over the phone from Stockholm last night (Wednesday), he told me he never made it past the front gate of the ambassador’s garden where the party was being held. Stopped for not having an invitation, he said he wanted to stage a “peaceful protest”. That set things humming. Two men held him, later joined by six others. It was goodbye to his protest.
But Mark isn’t down-hearted. Afterwards, he joined several hundred Swedes in an anti-war protest in the city.
What made him do it?
“Vietnam was a great tragedy and is one for a new generation of Americans involved in the Iraq war,” he said.
“My protest is in the memory of the three million Vietnamese killed and the 650,000 Iraqis and the 3,500 US soldiers killed in Iraq.”
As I said, Mark isn’t an ordinary fellow.

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