Exhibition: Frank Auerbach at the Royal Academy of Arts 2001 - 2002
Frank Auerbach (b. 1931,) internationally acclaimed, but largely unseen in this country since 1978, is the subject of an extensive retrospective exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London opening September 14 2001.
These are complex, dark and ugly paintings: hard to look at, hard to like. They are, however, incredibly original and moving. Auerbach's work is miles away from the traditional sensibility that pictures should look 'nice.'
Head of Gerda Boehm, 1965, oil on board, private collection.
"He was taught by Bomberg who in turn was taught by Sickert, and so on in an unbroken lineage that leads via Degas, Ingres, David and others right back to Giulio Romano and Raphael..." says artist Tom Phillips.
"The message handed down is always the same: that, in the words of Ingres, drawing is the probity of art. Frank Auerbach is today the passionate exemplar of this hard and glorious truth."
Born in Berlin in 1931, he was sent to England in 1937 and never saw his parents again. He studied at the Borough Polytechnic in London, and then St Martin's, then the Royal College of Art.
Reclining Head Of Julia, 1995, acrylic on board, private collection.
At evening classes at Borough Polytechnic led by David Bomberg he met other artists like Leon Kossoff, dedicated as he was, to the discipline of drawing and painting from the figure.
In 1976 R.B.Kitaj curated a key exhibition at the Hayward Gallery called 'The Human Clay.' In his notes for the show he referred to the 'School of London.'
The artists included Andrews, Auerbach, Bacon, Freud, Kossof and others. It was never an accurate description of this disparate group, but some still use the term.
Julia Sleeping, 1978, oil on canvas, collection of Robert Hiscox
A bigger splash was made in the 1981 Royal Academy show 'A New Spirit in Painting.' This helped to make Auerbach's name internationally.
Much of his work is about rubbing out old images, scraping off old paint, redrawing, repainting, looking again at the composition - even covering up completely the earlier work.
A younger generation of gallery visitors might find parallels between Auerbach and say, the music of Radiohead or early Joy Division. These pictures show tortured faces, sometimes caught in a glimpse, seemingly crushed by the weight of paint.
The pictures on show at the Royal Academy are not all about the struggle of representing the figure, however. There are also images of London after the war, building sites and bombsites and townscapes.