Category Archives: Project 4 Time and the viewer

Contextual focus point : Frank Auerbach’s portraiture


Frank Auerbach’s approach to portraiture is legendary and through it he makes some very interesting points about the nature of portraiture and of drawing. Research what makes Frank Auerbach’s portraits unique, and how he used the passage of time in them. Think about why he might have done that and make notes about how working from life differs from working from a photograph in terms of the way we experience the time spent.


Frank Auerbach was born in Berlin but at the age of just 7 was relocated to London during the WW2 as part of the kinder transport, he never saw his parents again. At a very young age he experienced a great loss and reality of bombed out London – the ruins, fire, devastation, rubble. All this has a profound effect on him as a person as well as an artist. Broken lines, thick paint. textured surface and unfinished lines. On first impression i felt that his work is a continuous replica of visual reality and inner experiences through the manner of paint application and the use of line – he is trying to capture the changing world as it goes by in a series of overlapped marks and textures.

Auerbach is a prolific painter – he paints every day and produces a great number of works but his subjects are mainly the same – part of North London near his studio and a small number of close friend and family , for example he has been painting his wife for over 60 years. Each work is a continued process of revision and reworking – corrections, more paint, scraping off the previous attempts , changes of an angle and so on. Due to this way of working  most of his work takes a very long time to complete. While in earlier works he over-painted previous attempts his practice changed later, now he scrapes everything off and works anew.

His drawings are a collection  of dancing marks that create a visual vibration – the way he created volume and shape on his portraits reminded me of “blind drawings”  where the mark on support is created while the other hand explores the surface of the face, working together to express touch through line. In his case the marks created in direct coordination with what he sees during the time spent with the sitter.

So why did he choose to paint this way?   It seems to me that through continuous takes of the same features he is trying to “find” the real persona. His choice of poses – not usual but rather observed from a distance – tell me that it is not the likeness of features to be captured but the movement and changes that occurs to the sitter. His work is not planned or visualised in advance but is build during the time spent – his marks and immediacy of application, even reworked, is like a process of capturing time and a fleeting moment.

The complexity of his painting demand a closer look and lead to many questions – the more you look at the painting the more you can see. Time he spends on one work, sometimes hundreds of hours, accumulates in very strong images that to some extend can be compared to a movie or many photographs that overlaid in one one still shot.

I feel that working in this way allows him to become one with the subject and inserts a piece of himself in the work. Spending a lot of time with his sitters helps him to dig deeper and reveal the real person – not just a flesh but feel below the surface, reveal and capture experience they share and bring the portrait to life.

Comparing this method to working with a photograph demonstrates the difference in total experience during the process and the connection that can arouse between the sitter and the artist. It is not possible to capture all the conversations and experiences that happened during the process but allows the artist to become one with the sitter and explore the changes that occur between the takes. The result is not just a picture you saw but the accumulation of time, connection, experiences and emotions between two individuals.

On a personal note, I have come across his work before, a few years back, and can see how my perception changed. I feel that now i understand a lot more of what artist wants to say through his work and found a closer connection with the process as well as the final portraits. While personally i prefer his drawings because i am drawn to the line and marks he makes I can not stop looking at his painting. They feel alive and even though some stir  uneasy feelings in me upon viewing, i appreciate the time that went into the making of each as well as undeniable feeling of movement and presence of captured time in each.

Below are a few of his works:


Self Portrait Frank Auerbach, self portrait 1994-2002;


Frank Auerbach, portrait of David Landau;

Head of Catherine Lampert, 2003–2004

Frank Auerbach., Head of Catherine Lampert;

Frank Auerbach, Portrait of Julia;

Frank auerbach, Head of Gerda Boehm;







Frank Auerbach




Project 4: Time and the viewer

Aim: Make a drawing which forces the viewer to use time differently. This may mean a drawing which takes time to make sense of or a drawing that creates a feeling of a certain pace. The drawing may need an investment of time by the viewer in some way.

“Village of dreams”

For this project i was working along the lines of the previous exercise, and to an extend as a part of the parallel project, together with the previous drawing. I am still working on it as it is time consuming piece and elements are being added daily.

I wanted to combine imaginative aspect with my dreams here. Using Ink pens and an A2 sheet i started by drawing small elements that i saw in my dreams – not exactly but close enough. To make it difficult to read i’m using quite a small scale – to have more info in the whole image and make it appear as a tangle where things have to be found through looking closer and longer.

Some of the elements: cat crossing the road, car with flashing lights, meditation room( cube with a chair), bicycle ( my charity run), distorted buildings as if viewed when flying above or next to, an astronaut relaxing at home, space ships, play ground, washing line in the wind, water well, tree alley, garages as living spaces with plants and tv, melting  square with a fountain, plain landing with a person waving a flag, air balloon dropping bags with treasure, mountains and lake with boats, dog walker, delivery truck next to pipelines, clock and tangled pipes as a metaphor to changing time that loops, train going out of a tunnel, bug with eggs on a plant, caged rabbit dreaming of a house and a carrot, plates, jugs, figures, bird, fish, words and so on.

Most of the objects connect with the streets or houses and it is possible to follow the roads from places to “events”. It is not a map but rather distorted space where dreams float out of the buildings and realise themselves as spaces or subjects.


So far I’ve used 5,5 pens and around 20 hours – surprisingly how long it takes to work on small area at a time. I have drawn a grid as a frame with numbers and letters , as on a map for example, so i can make an index for things to be found.  I’m adding areas as i get some ideas so it takes longer than i anticipated in the beginning. But i do not want to just fill the space as it very easily turns into just “doodling”.

Reflection: I’ve asked my family to look and mostly the response is positive – some comments: “interesting concept”. ” so many thing to find once i started looking” “oh it can be viewed from both sides!”; and so on, also they keep finding things that are not there – making shapes and forms out themselves, which i found quite interesting because it made experience slightly more individual.

I’ve noticed there is an overall shape appeared – a cat? or a griffin perhaps, and this makes me think maybe i should not aim at filling the whole space but rather see what will happen as it progresses.

As a personal experience – i found process quite meditative, sometimes starting with one image it leads to another quite easy without thinking. This process of finding images and letting the process to direct the outcome works well with the line of the parallel project and i want this project to be a part of it, finished or not it is a developing space that changes with time.


I decided to add here one work for the parallel project. One reason is because it is finished ( for now) and i believe it fits with the brief of this exercise.

This is a painting 75 x 75 cm , acrylic on canvass. Title at the moment is ” Day and night”. Part of the parallel project theme intuitive painting/drawing and found image through the process.

short description of the process: Initial layer of colour was inspired by my garden and Californian poppies ( orange).

Paint was applied quite thick, using large brushes and other implements, textures were created while still wet. One’s dried a layer of binder was applied. I drew some flower shapes using charcoal , then using a layer of darker  colour and white spirit textured patterns were created following that a plastic film was placed over the top, then left to dry completely.

I came back to this in a few days trying to work out where to start, turning the canvass etc. I decided to carry on with the “garden”theme and continued adding to the initial drawing using white chalk.

Some time later, after a long stare, i used white paint and started to work out shapes as i went along.  As i was painting, standing back, continuing etc. i decided to paint only over the half of the suface – i did not want to loose the pattern completely and also did not want the work to become a mosaic. Diagonal felt right at that point so i worked until i was happy with the areas.


It is hard to explain the process if it is not planned exactly but rather generates during the making, so i recorded myself during breaks , some of the notes are in this post ( they are half in English and half in Russian, as these notes were made for myself rather than for public).


The end result – personally i really like it as well as it had a good reviews from my family; It is a work for a parallel project , but i think it works as an extension for this exercise as it fits the overall description – work that involved time spent by the artist as well as engagement with the viewer(looking for the elements).

“Day and Night”, acrylics, charcoal, chalk. 75 x 75 cm.