Saturday, June 9, 2012
Frank Auerbach essay draft.
Frank Helmut Auerbach, born in Germany 1931, is a painter who has lived in Britian since 1947. He studied at St Martin’s School of art and The Royal College of art until 1955. He was also a private student of David Bomberg, who had a huge impact on Auerbach’s view of painting.
Auerbach is a figurative painter and works from direct observation, and uses sketches to develop paintings in his studio of cityscapes, or paints directly from a model who he has sitting in his studio( which he has inhabited since the 1950’s) , often for long painting sessions once a week that often continue many years.
Auerbach mainly used three models throughout his career; Juliet Yardley Mills (a professional model(J.Y.M.)), a close friend Estella West (E.O.W.) and his wife Julia.
During his career as an artist, Frank Auerbach has operated a lot of the time in a bubble separated from other artists, with the exception of old acquaintances from his time at art institutions, Leon Kossoff - a close friend and a few others from ‘The School of London’ painters group; Francis Bacon, R.B.Kitaj, Lucian Freud etc. .
He has not engaged in themes or stylistic changes that went on in the modern and frequently changing art world through the 50s, 60s and 70s. He has not embraced technological innovations such as the inclusion of photography in works such as David Hockney, or even as a painter’s aid to document a subject. Because of this, Auerbach did not directly influenced the traditions of painting during the 60s or 70s, he instead worked quietly and obsessively trying to create something ‘new’, discovering new perspectives on what painting is, often only on a personal level. Auerbach was stubborn in his style and process, which earned him the label of “the ultimate pig-headed Englishman” by critic Stuart Morgan.
Equally the painters of the 60’s and 70’s weren’t very interested in Auerbach’s approach to painting and thought of his technique as brutish and stagnant. Apart from subject matter Auerbach was almost unchanging in his painting process. Auerbach believed that adapting new illusionary technique for aesthetic gains was pointless and he disagreed with novelty painting that was being produced and viewed as equal’s to the old masters like Rembrandt. Auerbach believed that there was no such thing as advances in art, only new interpretations and changes in meaning, not better or worse, just different.
Auerbach was often referred to as a Jewish expressionistic painter and was never associated with the avant-garde, pop art, American post-painterly abstraction or photographic movements at the time. Ironic, bright or light hearted themes that were popular during the 60s - 70s were not of interest to Auerbach. His internalization and emotional themes in art were not viewed positively by the critics either.
English critics during the 50’s -Andrew Forge and David Sylvester wrote that Auerbach was detached from the time. During Auerbachs maturity as a painter in the 60’s/70’s his isolation was severe, only connecting to the outside world through close acquaintances and artist friends like Leon Kossoff, Francis Bacon. Auerbach was criticized during his first solo show at the Beaux-Arts Gallery because of his thick paint application. One critic David Sylvester supported him and talked about his show in a comparative manner regarding his intensity and progression to a show by Francis Bacon in 1949.
Auerbach’s work, being talked about in a sculptural manner by negative critics was stood up to by Sylvester insisting the works are painterly and can only be read as paintings. Although the physical attributes of Auerbach’s work were indeed sculptural, that didn’t change the fact that they were painterly.
Painting to Auerbach is the result of his relationship with a subject, the painting is not merely an attempt to find an emotional equivalent through representational means, but documenting the process of his experience and understanding of form, feeling, emotion and time through paint.
To Auerbach the painted surface is regarded as chaos, and he is there to mold the paint and create his own order within it. Because of this sometimes the subjects in his work are not immediately readable, but reveal themselves to the viewer over time, through a period of discovery, much in the way that he took his time to document his experience with them. T
Throughout Auerbach’s image making process, he believed that overexposure to a subject will eventually lead to discoveries and new ways of looking at the familiar. A new way of looking that had nothing to do with cultural or art historical influences.
Auerbach is not concerned with wider media representation of his work, engaging one viewer at a time, with intensity and rawness with no distractions is what he desires in a viewer’s experience with his work, this is a very post- modernist value. His personal experiences in Life are what he desires the audience to get from his work, not aesthetic illusionary techniques, instead his heavy textural impressions on a thick receptive paint layer.
Auerbach talks about his desire to start a painting, initially bringing some subject to a painted surface, and then for it to take on its own existence, to become something separate from the subject, its own self sufficient entity that mutates over time. The thick paint can be seen as a symbol of longevity and solidness, perhaps hinting that the painting has become the experience around a subject itself frozen in time, as opposed to a representation.
Drawing is also an important part of Auerbach’s practice, In a BBC interview he speaks about his daily interaction with urban subjects: “I tend to do drawings every day before I start, they're scribbles really but they're drawings of a different sort. At the beginning, I simply record and find how many windows there are in a building, and where exactly the chimneys are situated and all sorts of things of that sort because I don't know them, and it seems to me to be more interesting. You know, people used to talk about the aleatory and luck and so on and chance in painting, well it's all chance if you go out and draw, you don't know anything's going to be.”
This gives us a little insight into his relationship with the Urban environment around him, and an Idea of how he views observational drawing. Auerbach solely uses his drawings that he has done out of the street as a basis for his cityscape paintings.
Auerbach has always worked directly from life, whether its with a sketchbook drawing buildings around his studio, or directly from a model, he never uses photography or other visual supplements. He believes that using photographs we are only getting a fraction of a subject, particularly when it’s a portrait, Expression, eye contact, tension, boredom, exhaustion, gesture and movement all contribute to understanding a subject. Naturally changing lights help him to understand contour and how light moves around the subject. Auerbach’s personal interaction with a subject is also important, how the sitter feels around him and how they react to Auerbach’s behaviour is important in the image making process, making the image a record of a shared experience.
Auerbach spoke on his relationship with his models in person on a BBC interview:
“If they've sat long enough, they're not self-conscious, you know, not self-conscious as a sitter and as I become, and they become used to my behaviour, and as they become used to me, I can behave freely as though, you know without any constraints of you know, wondering whether I'm shocking them or anything of that sort.” “If things are going really well and I feel that it's almost as though something arose on the canvas of its own accord, you know the various attempts one's been making come together and an image seems to call to you from out of the paint”
The way he talks about Images coming out of the paint makes us think about the paints role in the image, its as though the paint was always there, in large piles waiting to be moulded by Auerbach and his sitter.
While having a direct relationship with a model, Auerbach often refers to other artists, their books scattered around the studio floor in plain sight for inspiration. Having work of other artists around helps him to think about why he believes that the paintings are successful, composition? Colour?, Subject? How can he create a work of equal quality, a painting that can stand alone, these thoughts are part of his image making process.
Paintings he is not working on are usually turned against the wall to allow for a fresh interpretation when taken out for the next painting session, faults and undesirable aspects of a painting are ignored if the work is constantly in his field of view.
Auerbach was a perfectionist, through building a strong relationship with his model, his desire to create an image he feels to be satisfactory, he is in turn unforgiving on himself, scraping off a painting to start again. This to the uninformed viewer could be seen as a stylistic feature of his work, but to Auerbach is purely a result of dissatisfaction. To his models it would come as a huge surprize to find that the image he had been working on for the past weeks had been scraped back to start again from the remnants of the previous paint. A lot of the time the destroyed images were quite successful in themselves. Sometimes Auerbach would buy back a painting from a collector that he felt was no longer successful and destroy it years after the sale.
Towards the end of the painting process Auerbach’s persona changes, he starts talking to himself a lot about the work, touching the painting, he gets very excited, in a kind of painting climax, and relief that he has finally reached a stage of satisfaction with a subject.
Since the mid-70s, the thick application has ceased and his goal has been to render the same intense effects with less paint. He is no longer able to cope with the paint as thick as it used to be, and uses blotting techniques (as opposed to scraping) primarily to keep the amount of paint down, producing a flat version of the painting. Sometimes Auerbach goes back into old paintings, hacking into the hardened oil paint to revive an experience from the past.
Because of Auerbach’s techniques, he has never been able to be a prolific painter, but by following his own practice without following the movements in the art world, he has created a style that can only be know as his own.
Frank Auerbach by Robert Hughes
The School of London – the resurgence of contemporary painting – Alistair Hicks
http://www.guardian.co.uk – Article on Frank Auerbach written by John O'Mahony
John Tusa BBC3 radio interview of Frank Auerbach - http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio3/johntusainterview/auerbach_transcript.shtml
The Listener -David Sylvester, 'Young English Painting' ,Frank Auerbach , 12 January 1956