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:
Frank Auerbach, self portrait 1994-2002; https://www.artfund.org/supporting-museums/art-weve-helped-buy/artwork/8497/self-portrait
Frank Auerbach, portrait of David Landau; http://www.artnet.com/artists/frank-auerbach/?sort=12
Frank Auerbach., Head of Catherine Lampert; http://www.artnet.com/artists/frank-auerbach/3?sort=12
Frank Auerbach, Portrait of Julia; http://totallyhistory.com/frank-auerbach/
Frank auerbach, Head of Gerda Boehm; http://totallyhistory.com/frank-auerbach-paintings/