Author : Jacqueline Knox
Frank Auerbach’s paintings are of people and urban landscapes near his studio at Camden town, North London. Each work is to be considered individually and there is a chronological order to the paintings but highlights how his work has evolved from the 1950’s to today and as such emphasises the paintings not the artist. . The subject matter is either his sitters or the local urban landscape thus allowing for a comparison of his evolving technique within the same subject.
This self portrait of 1958 is in the first room of this exhibition. It is full of expression and texture, with scratches on the face in chalk and charcoal and has an intensity and depth to the black penetrating eyes. It is mesmerising, as was the rest of this exhibition. It is easy to see in these large charcoal drawings Auerbach’s repeated rubbing out and reworking. They are full of expression.
This reworking and rubbing out and repainting results in huge expanses of thickly massed paint, in places a few centimetres thick and giving such depth to the work. This is not possible to appreciate by looking at images in a book and for me seeing this paint so thickly applied with such restless energy was a real highlight. This is less so in his works from the 1960’s onwards where Auerbach would scrape back the whole surface before the next attempt.
Auerbach’s urban landscapes are from around where his studio is and living in London it is very meaningful to have an artist portray scenes and landscapes that are so familiar. His ‘Building Site, Earls Court’ , Winter 1953 could have been painted yesterday as Earls Court in London is a permanent building site and will be for the foreseeable future so, for me anyway, there was humour in them.
The qualities in this painting were extraordinary. It had a restless energy to it but at the same time tremendous depth.
This recent painting does evoke memories of Hampstead. It is full of colour and movement and yet somehow reminds us of urban London with its runner chasing through the streets with his yellow backpack. It brought a wry smile to my face.
This exhibition needs to be seen. I went late on a Friday night and Tate Britain was quiet. I almost had the gallery to myself. It demands a second viewing, these paintings are fabulous up close.
It is also worth visiting Primrose Hill. The nearest tubes are Regents Park and Camden Town. It is a 20 minute walk through Regents Park, beyond the zoo and up the hill but so worth the walk and the views at the top of ‘the hill’. If you go down the other side there is a street full of pubs, for a lunch or cafes for coffee and browsing……it is off the track of central London but all the more charming for it.
All images are kindly reproduced with permission from the ©Tate .
9th October 2015-13th March 2016