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Volunteer Gallery Steward, Liz Stevenson, takes a closer look at Giants of Modernism (Carrot Head), 2009 in this week's blog.

When Ansel Krut came to talk to staff and volunteers about the exhibition of his works at the gallery, someone suggested that Giants of Modernism 2 (Carrot Head) was reminiscent of Dali. Ansel questioned “What makes you think that?” To which the volunteer responded that the moustache of the Carrot Head was very like Dali’s. Ansel went on to add that the glasses are suggestive of another ‘giant of modernism’, Freud. Looking at the painting again, I realised that the moustache is very like Dali’s with its extraordinary curled ends, while the glasses are just like Freud’s in the pictures of him on the paperback editions of his books.

As a psychoanalytic psychotherapist I was hooked. To me the picture recalls the meeting between Freud and Dali. This meeting took place when Freud had fled Nazi occupied Vienna in 1938 and was living in London, the year before he died. Dali was a longtime admirer of Freud and asked a patron to introduce him.

Krut’s work suggests respect for the great painters. Nigel Coake in his essay about Krut, points to references in the work of Manet, Matisse and Picasso, but they are treated with what Coake calls ‘slapstick comeuppance’. Krut likes playing jokes on the establishment and who better to play a joke on than Freud, who thought that jokes are how the unconscious expresses thoughts in a way that would otherwise be offensive.

In the painting two carrots make up the sides of the face; they glow a vibrant orange, they are phallic shaped and somehow they make us smile. A head made out of carrots - ridiculous. In the picture the carrots meet where they round off at the top and there is a space between them, an inverted V between the mouth and the top of the forehead. Freud had a calm and thoughtful attitude towards his patients, he needed that space in which to develop his thoughts. Greenery comes out of the top of the carrots like green clouds; they make me think of neurons in the brain firing as connections are made between them. A further carrot comes from the mouth area, below the Daliesque moustache. Freud smoked cigars and this carrot could represent a cigar with green smoke. The face has a long curled beard that matches the moustache. In real life Dali did not have a beard, but Freud did - a much smaller and less flamboyant one.

Carrot Head is surrounded by sections of several colours, they are somewhat muted and separated from each other by lines of black and cream. Round the top and side of the head are lighter colours that bring to my mind the possibility of an aura round the head, a sign of a great man with a huge intellect (but then I am prejudiced).

Well what did Freud make of Dali? Peter Gay in his biography of Freud writes that he was much taken with ‘that young Spaniard, with his candid fanatical eyes and his undeniable technical mastery’. To Dali he said, ‘In classic paintings, I look for the sub-conscious, in a surrealist painting for the conscious’, a remark that for Dali spelled the death sentence for surrealism. Dali sketched Freud during the meeting.

Carrot Head provokes much thought and is full of joyful fun. Thank you Ansel.

Coake Nigel(2011) in Stuart and Shave/Modern Art in association with Koenig Books
The Freud Museum,(1992)The Diary of Sigmund Freud 1929-1939 The Hogarth Press, London
Gay Peter(1988) Freud A life for our time Papermac, London

13 June, 2014
Written by Liz Stevenson