Compared to his peers at the School of London, such as Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach’s (Berlin, 1931) fame is relatively modest. However his paintings have been praised on numerous occasions in and out of England, where he has lived since 1939.
His painting proclaims a full interest in figurative representation despite its obvious expressionism and is based on direct observation, a factor that determines its theme, a focus on the human figure, an intimate portrait, landscapes and buildings near his study in Camden Town, where he has worked since 1954. His wife, professional model Juliet Yardley Mills, and his friend Estella West, are among the most frequently portrayed in his works. Auerbach says that he does not dare to make a single stroke in a portrait if he is not in the presence of the model. His systematic approach means he continually returns to his paintings which he sometimes re-paints several times in one day and works on them for long periods of time.
His early works, created up until the mid-sixties, are characterised by a generous application of earthy colours abundantly thickened. Over the years, his paintings begin to reveal, towards the end of the Eighties a looser fit, with a greater degree of improvisation.
Auerbach believes that small and medium size of his paintings and the techniques used are directly related to the purpose of the image, which is simply to capture a raw physical essence. To achieve this he uses a slow process and overlaps spots, additions and crosslinking in several drastic actions, which look spontaneous, as seen in alla prima and which do not seem to correspond with his short and difficult production. The British painter sacrifices the superfluous and detail for an organic expression of the whole painting resulting in exceptional pieces that are incomparable.
The visibility of his work has grown largely due to the retrospective exhibition on twenty years of his work at the Hayward Gallery in London in 1978 and because of his increased interest in figuration that started in the early eighties. For the exhibition at the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, a core collection of works corresponding to those presented at the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1986 has been chosen, where Frank Auerbach was the artist selected. To provide a more complete vision, also exhibited are oil paintings from 1954 onwards and charcoal drawings that make up thirty years' of the painter’s creations.
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