Jane McAdam Freud is a celebrated British sculptor whose works are represented in both national and international public collections: the British Museum, the National Gallery in London, the Brooklyn Museum, the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, the Greek National Gallery, the Berlin State Museums, and many others. Her art exhibition career began at the age of eighteen, with a solo show while she was a student at the Wimbledon College of Art, the Central School of Art and Design, and the Royal College of Art. She has lectured worldwide at institutes of psychoanalysis and museums alike, and has written extensively on the connections between art and psychoanalysis. One of Jane’s most well known works is a short film she made called “Dead or Alive,” which includes imagery from Sigmund Freud’s sculpture collection that she discovered while a resident at the Freud Museum in London. In the film, which is a courageous investigation into her family legacy, she juxtaposes photographs of Sigmund’s collected sculptures with images of her own work side by side, allowing the two sets of imagery to communicate with each other and morph into one another.
Jane is certainly no stranger to the influence of both strong masculine and feminine figures. As the great grand daughter of the founding father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, and daughter of British painter Lucian Freud, the legacy of her family inheritance also includes the powerful female analyst Anna Freud. She has referred to her great grandfather Sigmund as a “sacred monster:” a symbolic character who is alternatively vilified or idolized by popular culture and the media.
In her own life, Jane became very attached to her paternal grandmother Lucille when she was ordered not to see her father Lucian at a young age. Lucille and her husband Ernst (Sigmund’s son), who were both loving figures in her life, were editing Sigmund Freud’s diaries at the time: and it was through this environment that Jane began to absorb the psychological and emotional language of the mind. Jane’s mother actually did not encourage her to use the family name “Freud,” worrying that the burden of carrying this legacy might be too much. For many years, Jane kept the family name a secret and only in later adulthood, as she recognized how embedded this legacy of Sigmund Freud was in Western culture, did she use her legacy as a “secret ingredient” and inspiration for her imagination and artwork.
In fact, Jane did not see her father Lucian for most of her childhood and for many years after. During the final years of his life, however, they were reunited and it was then that she started to make the first sculptural head of him for which she is also well known. He watched her make this sculpture with his own eyes, and he knew what it was that she was making. They worked together, father and daughter. At first, it felt strange for Jane to make art with Lucian and to teach him how to use wax – as she says, “it was as though god had asked one of his mortals to come and play god.”
At the time of this interview, Jane had just finished installing six sculptures for a show at the Mall Galleries in London called “The Discerning Eye.” The show includes both four self-portrait sculptures and one sculpture of her father Lucian’s head.
RF: You mentioned in your interview, “Memories and Reflections,” that the period after Lucian’s death has been one of the most productive of your life, as his loss gave you the permission to keep his image alive in the form of sculpture and work with it in a less restricted way. I can understand what you mean; my own mother passed away a year ago and there is a kind of relief in this for me as well, though I also feel terrible saying that. This reminds of a quote from Leonardo Da Vinci, in which he says “our life is made by the death of others.”
You mention that your father was your greatest motivator, and your greatest oppressor as well. That is fascinating. With these thoughts in mind, could you describe the theme of your current show, “The Discerning Eye,” and how you got involved with it?
JMF: The exhibition is a show of small works independently selected by six prominent figures from different areas of the art world: two artists, two collectors and two critics. Work is selected both from open submission and from artists invited by the individual selectors. Each selector’s section is hung separately giving the impression of six small exhibitions within the whole.
The purpose of having invited artists with selected artists is to provide the unusual opportunity for works by lesser-known artists to be hung alongside contributions from internationally recognized names who have been invited to exhibit six works. The selectors are solely responsible for their own selection; selection is not by committee. The only restriction for the artists is the limitation of size.
RF: I completely identify with what you said in the “Art Studio Visit Interview” from Crane TV about how having “sat on so much” material for so long has led you to feel like you are “exploding to say so much.” I also share with you the love of investigating art and art making from a psychological perspective. It is also amazing to me when you realize something about an art work that you have made many years later, maybe a small detail that seemed insignificant at the time but one whose meaning revealed itself to be powerful. This is something that is so incredible about making art to me, the way in which it can speak back to you in time if you are receptive to it. It will tell you things you might not have known about yourself! Could you describe the impetus for the current show you are in, “The Discerning Eye?”
JMF: I wanted to make new work for the show focusing on the process of building the self in earth type materials. I used grogged terracotta and made three new works that I ultimately decided to place within context with three related older works. This placement showed how the theme of “self state” has been important to me over the years and still is. I instinctively went for an element of duality with the implied pairing of myself and my father.
RF: When you make a sculpture, such as your “Self Portrait 2013,” are you adding more materials on top of each other until it is finished? I am reminded here of the quote from Michelangelo, the one in which he says “every block of stone has a statue in it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” This might be a subtractive process of making sculpture, of taking away material until the sculpture is finished. In the way you work, do you have an idea what the finished sculpture will look like in advance, or is it discovered along the way as you add more?
JMF: I have a vague idea of the content or subject matter but not what it will look like. It is built up slowly pellet-by-pellet and turns into itself: almost the reverse of carving, where the image is there to be found in the stone. In modeling like this, the image is here (in the head) to be lost in the process. These two processes meet, of course, in terms of the results, which are the result of dealing with materials and processes.
With the “Self Portrait 2013,” I looked in the mirror and continued to add material until I felt the form and material reflected something of what I was “seeing feelingly: in other words, until I had lost the image of me and seen the image of the sculpture in its own right.
RF: When you have been “sitting on” emotional material for so long, what does it feel like as it begins to emerge and reveal itself to you? Do you trust your hands to guide the release? And how do the sculptural materials feel as this is happening?
JMF: Since the beginning I have felt my way along in a tactile sense, “seeing feelingly.” as it were. I respond to the feel of the way a material works. The materials have in some sense reflected my personality and its development. I used metal; both constructed and cast for many years at the start of my career when I was less confident and more anxious about decision-making. Working with metal is a slower, more controlled process. Metal is slow to change form and resilient in its results, which I like sometimes and suited me initially. Using clay is a less anal process. Clay is more malleable, quicker to change. In its raw, unfired state it feels more akin to the “body” in a poetic sense.
I didn’t decide to use earth, sand and those clay type materials in that conscious sense. I allowed myself to be driven towards the material through a sense of knowing beyond the rationalizing processes. I know bodily where my inspirations lie and they are not something I can deny or manipulate. It is a question of the aesthetic complex I suppose.
As I became more “sure” and as a result, more flexible in terms of my personality, my work took on the same character in terms of “material” choices and finishes; and I was able to express myself through a greater quantity of experimental approaches.
RF: How did you decide to focus on making heads, as opposed to other body parts? The head seems significant with its role in thinking, the mind, our psychology, etc….
JMF: I don’t focus on the “head” as I see it. The works for “The Discerning Eye” show are a series of self-states working with my initial premise to follow and test something that Leonardo da Vinci said: that all the answers are in the mirror.
RF: It seems like that by putting the heads of you and your dad in the show, you might be suggesting some type of connection between them for the viewer to consider. Are the heads of you and the head of dad in communication with each other in this show? And if so, what are they saying to each other? Or, are they meant to be considered separately?
JMF: I like your poetic interpretation of the arrangement! Can’t say though that I have a theory on it, as the arrangement was decided by the curator, whose job it was to make all the pieces in the space work together.
For me, the connection between the work is time, material and process based. The pieces span at least a decade and belong to the same series.
With my father’s head, I worked with a sense of urgency and it felt like I was still with him: i.e. keeping him alive in terms of the presence of his image, while it was so fresh in my mind. I continued in terms of family matter, earth, flesh, etc., so it seems natural to then look at myself, and natural that the works should sit together as part of a theme.
RF: I recently saw a show in Barcelona at the Institute for Contemporary Photography about a fictionalized and idealized mother and daughter relationship. It was about the artifice of the relationship, and expectations of what an ideal mother and daughter relationship should look like. It got me thinking about how to represent parental relationships in art making.
When I look at your sculpture of Lucian’s head, I get the sense that it is about something entirely different. This is not about an idealized relationship, but about the cracks and fissures and vicissitudes of a father and daughter relationship. By appropriating the rough and gritty style of the brushstrokes that were the hallmark of his painting into a sculptural form for the making of his head, it suggests that the piece is not sugarcoated. And yet despite its courageous honesty, I really get a sense after looking at this sculpture of Lucian’s head that there is a lot of love in it. You may be taking his style of painting and using it to create a three-dimensional version of him, but it doesn’t feel vindictive or aggressive. It seems to be that there is a genuine and warm connection to him. In other words, it seems like you made it lovingly and that there must have been some real love for him?
JMF: Well, another way of looking at it though could be in terms of Duchampian appropriation: i.e., of making my father’s image and then appropriating him (through it) as my own. All mine.
Another aspect of the head is my predilection for pairing opposites: male/female, half and whole, 2D and 3D, painter and sculptor.
RF: What kind of art historical references do you draw upon in your sculptural practice?
JMF: All clay sculptures make use of sand or grit, from the Xian Chinese Warriors to contemporary outdoor sculpture. For the terracotta warriors a certain amount of white grit, which contained quartz sand, mica and feldspar was added. Adding grit to the earth strengthened its mechanical properties which allowed the large terracotta warriors and horses to be easily shaped. Grogged Clay means clay with sand and Grog Clay is used for sculpture, as it stands up better in its moldable state. It also fires better due to the inclusion of sand, which makes it more porous, so allowing the air to escape through the pores.
European sculptors from Donatello to Canova made sculpture in terracotta and for four centuries, from the Renaissance to Neo-Classicism sculptors frequently used terracotta to model their maquettes, from which the marble sculptures were informed and carved. I studied in Italy and have an affinity with the tradition of Italian sculpture from the renaissance to “arte povera”. This three-year period while on my scholarship in Rome left its inevitable influence.
RF: What does it feel like to use each material? Does adding sand to the terracotta make it more fragile to work with? Do you think you chose these materials to connect with the themes of mourning and loss? I believe it was Leonardo Da Vinci who also said that, “Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is not art.”
JMF: Each material has its sensorial and physical ups and downs. Working on metal for hours carving, filing and polishing, or moulding wire is exciting, as you see the results slowly emerging. And the changes are so dramatic. However, although it is very rewarding, the process takes a toll on my hands. I see flesh and bone as fragile as the external materials.
I love working with both metal and clay (including grits), but also am often working with both materials (different sculptures) at the same time. Adding sand to the terracotta doesn’t make it more fragile, quite the reverse. It makes it tougher: both to work with when it is raw, and after firing because you can make the walls thicker due to clay’s porosity.
RF: Because I have worked in a psychoanalytic research lab (Dr. Beatrice Beebe) where we film mothers and infants interacting, I tend to spend a large part of my days looking at facial expressions! I noticed a few things with your sculptures: the first obvious thing, of course, is that I don’t think there are any smiles here. There is a level of solemnity and seriousness to the expressions. And secondly, there is a specific direction of gaze for each – a discerning eye. For example, in the 2nd image, the eyes are facing downward; in the third image, the eyes are looking upwards and to the right. Is there a common theme that unites the self-portrait sculptures and their gazes, or a common emotion shared by them that you would like the viewer to take in?
JMF: Sculptures rarely smile. Figurative sculpture is something that is still, something that takes time and for me about what is not what is sugar coated. It is close to life in terms of its physicality and so is its presence. For that reason, I wouldn’t put a smile on a sculpture. It would appear after a short time ridiculous.
I like your discerning eye analogy with the pieces looking in different directions, but all that was an unconscious replicating of what I saw, of what was happening in order to make the work.
RF: What is your studio practice like? Is it a place you go to everyday? Do you know in advance what you are making?
JMF: I seem to be on the computer thinking and writing almost as much as I am in the studio! Although, I make sure that I put some time in every day on my studio works. My sculpture practice involves doing all the aspects that any self-employed person does. Answering enquires, organizing shows, writing statements, accounting and the list is endless…
RF: As a magazine about the many possible intersections between art and psychology, I am wondering if you could you talk about how the field of psychology or psychoanalysis might influence your art making practice. How do you infuse your art making with the insights of psychology?
JMF: Good question, but perhaps the wrong way around. My art is not infused with my psychology but rather my psychology is infused with my art. The definition of “infused” for this purpose equates to “expressed.” My psychology is expressed through my art, not in the manner of art therapy however, where there is a cathartic release. These works are works of intense looking and concentration over many months. My art is inevitably imbued with my psychology. I am staring into the mirror at a reflection, beyond what I might wish to see. Objectivity occurs. It is not I but an image, an object observed for the purposes of the sculpture.
Having said that, I am very interested in psychological concepts and the analytic process, which I compare to the art process. However, this interest is not evident initially in my work as might appear in a design, but it gets included by the by and in hindsight. After a work is complete, the psychological aspects appear obvious. I am driven by unknown instincts that prove to be exacting in the development of my themes through process and materials. I trust my psychology.
RF: You mentioned that one of the greatest legacies that Lucian has left us is the faith to stay true to doing what you are best at doing; in his case, it was making figurative painting at a time when it would have been easy to abandon it for something more fashionable or in vogue. What do you hope the viewer will take away from spending time with these self-portrait sculptures and the head of your father Lucian?
JMF: The viewer will see what is inside her or him. In many respects, I feel that this is none of my business. Although I would hope that the viewer may see different ways of applying pairing to a head: i.e. halving, condensing, etc. Also, that she or he would glimpse the process involved in building the work; in this case, a head-like egg shape to which the features are modeled.
RF: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about that I didn’t address?
JMF: No, just to say I very much like your questions and thinking about the parallels between art process and life process.
Life is an extraordinary journey of amazement and awe and I hope in the seriousness that you see in my work, you also get that sense of the concentration and caring that I felt when I modeled what was reflected back to me in the mirror.