Recently I visited the Frank Auerbach display of 15 paintings and 29 drawings at the Tate Britain, selected by his fellow painter and friend, Lucian Freud. The collection was offered by the Lucian Freud estate, and accepted by the British Government, in lieu of inheritance tax.
The group of paintings is of international artistic importance and a good ’teaser,’ anticipating a major Tate retrospective planned for 2015.
A fine group of works, including one of my favorites, Rebuilding the Empire Cinema, Leicester Square, 1962.
What a fantastic, bold show of both, imagination and brushwork, deep feeling and insightful depiction of psychologically layered scenes. The same subjects — Julia, his wife; Estella, his mistress; Jake, his son; Mornington Crescent — visited again and again, let the viewer get intimately acquainted with, as well as intrigued by them. Born in 1931 in Berlin, Auerbach came to England in 1939 and has lived and painted in London since. A London painter, and a painter of London, Auerbach has gone under the skin of the capital, making it the prime set of his work. If not Auerbach, then who else captures the energy and multifarious burdens carried by London’s inhabitants so realistically?
In an interview by Hannah Rothschild, Auerbach, from what has been his tiny home and studio since 1954, opens up about his work and life. Surprisingly, a sparse and spare studio and frugal life are juxtaposed to and contrasted with his many-layered, rich encrustations of paint in his work. The charcoal paintings are also ‘rich’ in depth and insight that feels both, inquiring and haunting. I left the room intrigued by his work, troubled, and at the same time, strangely satisfied by his profound achievement. Reading Rothschild’s interview later, I found this which rang true:
“So why does Auerbach paint the same face, the same view over and over again? Wouldn’t it be interesting to try a new landscape or a different nose? Auerbach shakes his head. ‘The closer one is to something, the more likely it is to be beautiful,’ he says. ‘The whole business of painting is very much to do with forgetting oneself and being able to act instinctively. I find myself simply more engaged when I know the people. They get older and change; there is something touching about that, about recording something that’s getting on.’ Amid the frenzy of paint and energy it can be hard to spot the person in an Auerbach portrait. ‘Likeness is a very complicated business indeed,’ he says. ‘If something looks like a painting it does not look like an experience; if something looks like a portrait it doesn’t really look like a person’.”
Well, here’s food for thought.
peas in a pod —
thick brushwork layers
The interview can be found here