19 September 2009


Frank Auerbach was born in Berlin in 1931. His parents were Jewish, and in 1939 they sent him to England to avoid the advent of WWII. He went to St. Martin's School of Art where he met fellow artists David Bomberg and Leon Kossoff and developed longstanding friendships with them. Both Bomberg and Kossoff would contribute quite an impact on Auerbach in the years to come. After St. Martin's Auerbach studied at the Royal College of Art from 1952 to 1955. He had his first solo show in 1956, and continued to gain critical acclaim from then on.

Auerbach works in an impasto painting technique, in which paint is built up heavily on the canvas to render the image. Characterized by thick brush strokes, impasto is a very expressionistic and emotional style. In Auerbach's work, the paint is at times so thick and layered that the painting itself is comparable to a sculptural relief. Art critic David Sylvester, who praised Auerbach's work early on, comments that "in spite of the heaped-up paint, these are painterly images, not sculptural ones... their physical structure is virtually that of sculpture but their psychological impact is that of painting." Auerbach typically did many sketches and paintings before arriving at a finished product. In his drawings he would erase, rework, and draw over his subjects, using layers of paper that had a similar sculptural effect (seen in Head of EOW below).

Though it is difficult to do Auerbach's work justice on a flat computer screen, I've compiled the following images below to give a better sense of the impression these paintings leave upon their viewer. Close up, Auerbach’s paintings appear almost entirely abstract, with thick deposits of paint protruding from the surface. However, as one steps back, a rendered image appears, with a certain sense of accuracy and vitality unmatched in others’ work.

He has maintained the same three subjects in the majority of his work:

Julia, his wife

Juliet Yardley Mills, a professional model:

"J.Y.M. Seated No. 1," 1981

"Seven Portraits, JYM" 1989

and Estella West, a woman he developed a romantic relationship with when he was 17 (and she 32). This relationship was sustained even after his marriage.

"E.O.W. Nude" 1953

"Small Head of E.O.W.," 1957
"Head of E.O.W.," 1959

An interesting fact I found is that the reason Auerbach’s earlier work is mostly done in earth tones is not for aesthetic purposes, but instead due to his lack of funds. He broadened his palette once acquiring the financial resources. Below are examples of this shift in color application. It's amazing how well he achieves his goals in rendering despite the very limited color palette.


"Oxford Street Building Site," 1959

"To the Studios," 1991

Auerbach is still living, working, and exhibiting in London. He had his first retrospective in the 1990s in England, and his work continues to appear in major traveling exhibits throughout the world, like "Paint Made Flesh," an exhibit that just passed through the Phillips Collection in DC.

1 comment:

  1. Two painters that I really get excited about are E.O.W. Nude and Seven Portraits, and both of them are showing a block apart! thanks for sharing this post...
    Offer Waterman & Co.