Thursday, 15 June 2017

30-day Sales

A new 30-day Sales page is now on my website at tamor.co.uk/sale

What is a 30-day Sale?

I have a lot of paintings that don't fit into current series I'm working on or won't appear in future exhibitions. Some of these are older paintings, some are new experiments working out new styles to use, or new ways of paintings for different subjects, but the result is the same: they will not go into any future shows.

So, what to do with these paintings? Paintings take a lot of room to store, so I usually remove them from their stretchers, roll them up, and put them in a cupboard somewhere. But that's not something I like to do. I would much rather sell them at a massive discount; after all, a painting is best on a wall where it can be seen and enjoyed. But of course, I can't have these paintings at low prices forever and still have to store them. So I have decided on instigating a 30-day Sales page where I can upload whatever paintings I want, to sell at a huge discount for a strictly limited time of only 30-days for each individual painting.

When does it start?

It's already started! The first four paintings are online and ready to buy. Just click the buy now button to send me an email and we'll go from there. And remember, there will be new paintings added from time-to-time so keep coming back to grab yourself a bargain.

When does it end?

Each painting has its own 30-day countdown. Once the 30-days are up that painting will no longer be for sale. It will be taken off its stretcher frame, and the cupboard will have gained one more victim. So don't delay. If there's a painting you like, get in touch and lets get it on your wall!

Click here to go to tamor.co.uk/sale


Here are the first four bargains to be had:


Top of the Downs, FRAMED, £150
Top of the Downs, FRAMED, £150

Sunset Diptych, FRAMED, £300

Three Cliffs, FRAMED, £300

2x Flower Paintings, both FRAMED, the pair for £150

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Frank Auerbach - a brief biography



Frank Auerbach, 1989
Frank Helmut Auerbach was born in Berlin in 1931 to Charlotte and Max Auerbach who was a patent Lawyer.

In 1939, with the rise of Hitler and impending war, his parents decided to send him to England on the Kindertransport which was organised to save mainly, but not exclusively, Jewish children from the NAZIs.

He left Hamburg on the SS George Washington just before his 8th birthday arriving in Southampton 3 days later and was subsequently taken to Bunce Court School in Kent, a boarding school, while his parents stayed behind in Germany. They were later killed in the Holocaust, probably in Auschwitz.

When the news reached him that his parents had been killed his reaction seemed to not have been that great - that is, as far as one can tell from watching interviews with him. But, of course, who knows the depths of anguish hidden beneath the calm and controlled waters of any of us? What he has said, however, is that he was happy at Bunce Court, and thought his family was a bit "stuffy". We must also remember he was only a little boy at the time and reading between the lines in his interviews, to me it seems that he was clearly not that close to either of his parents.

In 1948 he went to St Martins School of Art where made friends with Leon Kossoff, while at the same time, from 1947-53 he also attended night classes at Borough Polytechnic, also with Leon Kossoff, where they were taught by the great David Bomberg. He and Leon would go out together and paint scenes around London, particularly bomb sites and construction sites which were plentiful after the War. He was happy at Borough Poly where he felt he could paint more freely than he could at St. Martins, where the stifling atmosphere of a traditional "art school" clearly left him struggling with the constrictions of what art was supposed to be (according to whomever were the designated "master artists" of the time).

After studying he started teaching in secondary schools, and then travelling around the country teaching at various art schools, but mostly at Camberwell School of Art in London where he taught from 1958-65.

In 1958 he also married Julia Wolstenholme, and they had a son called Jake the same year.

Head of E.O.W. - profile, 1972
He is best known for his portraits and his steadfastness in painting the same painting over and over and over again until he gets it right, often taking a year or more. In that way we could consider him to have painted many thousands of paintings, but that he re-uses his canvases again and again before he considers what he has done has achieved what he set out to do. The point of this is that what he wants is an immediate description of his subject, as if painted in a few minutes or hours. But that is a very hard thing to do which is why he does it again and again. He doesn't so much build on previous work he has already laid down on the canvas, although some influence must obviously be there, instead he scrapes it all off, and "starts again". So what you end up seeing as a painting that is marked as, for example, 1985-86, is something that he actually painted in a couple of hours, although it took him over a year to get to the point where he knew the idea of the painting so well that he was able to produce it in such a short period of time.

Most of his sitters he has painted for decades, regularly seeing them at the same time, on the same day, week after week after week after year after year, and they include:

  • Stella West, also know as EOW (Estella Olive West)
  • Julia Briggs Mills, also known as JYM,
  • Catherine Lampert,
  • Jake Auerbach (his son),
  • Julia Auerbach (his wife),
  • Ruth Bromberg,
  • David Landau.

There are others of course, but those mentioned above have provided some of his most constant material.


Albert Street III, 2010
Frank Auerbach doesn't only paint people, he also paints landscapes he knows well in London such as Primrose Hill and the streets around his studio, and the inside of his studio itself.

His series of paintings "To the Studio", painted over many years, has always intrigued me simply because I live nearby to where his studio is known to be. So I took an hour out of my busy schedule to go check out the precise area where I hoped to find him strolling down the street to his studio. But of course, no such encounter occurred, and in fact, I couldn't even see where the studio was. I have a good idea, but there was nothing obvious, no sign, no smudges of paint on the pavement outside, no lingering taint of turpentine on the air.

It is now 2017, and he is still alive, and still travels to his studio everyday to work - a man after my own heart! This is man who knows he is an artist, and therefore has always had that imperative to work, and I, for one, am just glad that he is still able to do what any artist must - create!

Frank Auerbach is, for my money, the best painter in the world. Why? Because he does what so many "painters" actually do not do (see my review of the Hockney exhibition). Everything he expresses, as an artist, as a man, as a human being communicating directly to another human being (as any artist must), is done primarily through the power of his brush strokes. It is not the composition, it is not the colours, it is not the subject matter or the intellectual game, it is not fashion, it is not pretence, and it most certainly is not pretty pictures to please the eye. No. What you get with Frank Auerbach is real art - the brush strokes, those brush strokes that take him so long to get right. He is a pure painter, and better than anyone else.

If you want to learn more about Frank Auerbach, I recommend this book by Robert Hughes for pictures (which only goes up to 1989 but has great images):
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Frank-Auerbach-Robert-Hughes/dp/0500276757/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1495707193&sr=8-6&keywords=frank+auerbach

There is also a good film about him, that has interviews with him and a number of his sitters, produced by his son Jake who has made films of a number of other artists too:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/ft7/Frank-Auerbach-Studio-DVD/B000A52AD0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1495707301&sr=8-1&keywords=frank+auerbach+to+the+studio

And finally, if you don't want to read this blog, then you can just watch/listen to my youtube version "Frank Auerbach ...in 2 minutes" here:




Summer Building Site, 1953

Leaon Kossoff, 1954

E.O.W., 1955

E.O.W., 1957 charcoal

E.O.W., 1961

E.O.W. VI, 1963

EOW, SAW, and JJW in the Garden I, 1963

Head of Miss Steinberg, 1967

Mornington Crescent, 1967

The Origin of the Great Bear, 1967-1968

Primrose Hill Autumn Morning, 1968

Primrose Hill - Summer, 1968

E.O.W., 1970

Bacchus and Ariadne, 1971

Julia, 1981 charcoal
 
JYM, 1984 charcoal

Vincent Terrace II, 1984

Jacob, 1984-85 charcoal

JYM, 1984-85

Catherine Lampert, 1985-86 charcoal

Catherine Lampert, 1986

Mornington Crescent Early Morning, 1991

Park Village East, 2006

In the Studio IV, 2013-14

Frank Auerbach's studio in 1985

Monday, 15 May 2017

David Hockney at Tate Britain

David Hockney has a big show on at Tate Britain in London until May 29th 2017. I say big, but to be honest, it didn't actually seem that big. Part of the reason for this is that I found it a little insubstantial, and certainly the first two or three rooms you needn't do more than walk straight through since they are full of art school crap, semi-abstract designs masquerading as painting, and just straightforward bad work.

So I have split up my review into three sections: The Good; The Bad; and The Ugly - or you can just watch/listen to my review on youtube here:






The Good


So, lets start with the good stuff.


Billy and Audrey Wilder, 1982
Billy and Audrey Wilder, 1982
In the 1980's Hockney started experimenting with using photographs as photo-montages that are reminiscent of cubism, and there are a number of portraits in the show which are very effective. The ones I liked the most were the earliest which used Polaroids, something that you will only remember (or even know about) if you are of a certain age, but which, because of the white border surrounding the developed image, lend a prism like effect to the finished works which helps give the impression of looking through the artist's eyes. They also worked particularly well I thought, when compared to the other photographic works because of the colours. The colours of analogue photographs are greatly effected by the processes involved in the images chemical development. That is something that we all had to wrestle with back in the past when analogue photography was all that was available, whereby different film stocks would produce slightly different colours and contrasts, the kinds of differences that you can now synthesize with a tap of your finger on your smart phone, but which, back in the day, you had to decide about well ahead of time. I have to say though that I didn't like as much the later montages that used full frame 35mm photos. Something about them gave the impression more of a scrap book than something deliberately worked on to best effect. The best known of these was of a desert road, which I had seen before and still felt it just looked a little washed out, a little lacking in intensity which the Polaroids do not. There was one rather touching image though, created with the 35mm photos, of his mother looking cold, wet, and dejected at the ruins of some cathedral or church. A nice image, but none of these left me feeling I had seen a great work of art. But the Polaroids definitely left more of an impression.

Moving on, and perhaps the highlight of the show for many people was his video/digital series "The Four Seasons".


The Four Seasons - Winter, 2010
The Four Seasons - Winter, 2010
Imagine going into a square room. On each wall are ranged nine large flat screens in a grid, 3 x 3, each displaying a slightly different view of a country road as you drive slowly down it. You can imagine how this is done by attaching 9 separate cameras to a car, each pointing in a slightly different direction, and recording as you drive. It gives a great impression of the 3-dimensionality of the road, and added to this, the same drive has been made in winter, spring, summer, and autumn, each season on its own wall. And it looks really good and is a great idea. Most peoples favourite is winter, and I have to concur, finding it peaceful, restful, imagining the deadening of the air by the blanket of snow. Good stuff.

Then we move on a little further, and find his i-pad "paintings" which I thought were much better than his "real" paintings. Frankly speaking, he doesn't know how to use paint. Some may find that an extraordinary statement but honestly, paint is there to be used as a medium for expression whereas David Hockney seems to only use it as a means to get colour on a canvas - this is a complaint I have about many an artist who are called painters but who actually cannot paint, they can only colour! But more of that later. His i-pad work doesn't seem to suffer from quite the same problems as his real paintings. My conclusion was that this is mainly to do with the fact that he has far more control over the opacity of the colours used, and there is no argument about texture since digital images have none.

Many of these images you can see him drawing, watching the screen capture as they are created. These seemed quite fascinating to many at the show, whereas for me, not so much, but I am no stranger to this kind of thing since some 15-20 years ago I wrote my own computer program to do just that, and trust me, the novelty soon wares off. Interestingly though, they printed some of these digital images and displayed them above the screens. The prints were not good, far duller and less interesting. The vibrancy of the colours in the digital realm, which of course is how they were originally created, were far more appealing. It is as if something was lost in translation. It is not so easy to create digitally using light, while at the same time creating a work which is just as effective once printed out - I know, having done this myself many times.


The Bad


I have already stated that David Hockney cannot paint. Sure he uses paint, but it is not used to express anything, it is solely a means to an end. The first two or three rooms were full of rubbish. Semi-abstract nonsense purporting to contain some mysticality of art, naive art-school rubbish which, done by any none-famous artist would soon be found only in a skip or the back of a dust-cart. His paintings at this time started veering into abstract geometric designs, where again, paint is used only as a means to get colour on the canvas. Uninteresting, badly executed, and lacking in any philosophical or artistic depth. Loved by those who value graphics above expression, but without expression there is no art. I was not impressed.


Going Up Garrowby Hill, 2000
Going Up Garrowby Hill, 2000
You finally get some works that are a little better when he paints portraits of the wealthy in California. Presumably he was being paid a tidy sum and so put a little more effort into these. He clearly has an ability at portraiture, creating great likenesses and the "appearance" of character. But as I have said, the paint itself is badly applied with little or no thought. Edges are left badly defined where he clearly couldn't be bothered to do otherwise, drips of paint left where the rest of the canvas is made pristine, none of this aiding the work in artistic terms just simply leaving the impression of a man who paid no attention to his craft or expression, but only the image.

These failings are a constant throughout his career, as can been seen in his later landscapes where from 50-60 feet away the overly large canvases look great (what artist doesn't love the easy effect of size?), the imagery shining through. But as soon as you get close enough to see the quality of the paint work, his lack of care for what the paint is actually doing and for what it is capable of, appals me.

The irrefutable conclusion I am left with is that David Hockney is a graphic artist, not a painter, and it is no surprise therefore that his digital work works best.


The Ugly

But there is a very big and expensive elephant in the room, which is not directly connected to the work on display: the price of entry!

I have ranted about this to friends, I have ranted about it on my video review, and I will rant about it again here. To gain entry to this show costs and adult £19.50. This is an extraordinary price, a massive price, which puts shows such as this way out of reach of most people who simply haven't got that amount of cash to spend to see an exhibition. There is a concession rate - which doesn't deserve the name, of £17.50! So if you are unemployed or a student, are you really going to see this show? And it's not just this show, or this gallery. All the big galleries do this - massive prices that ensure that art becomes more and more an entertainment for the wealthy middle-classes, pricing everyone else out of the market.

I could only go to this show because I went with a friend who had a members pass that let us both in. Without it, as a non-world-famous artist, this is not a show I could afford to go to. It really disgusts me that art, something which at its best is direct communication from human being to human being regardless of age, rank, worth or any other way you may wish to divide people, is being made more and more elitist. And not elitist in artistic terms - that would be OK: only wanting the best art is fine. No this is money elitist: only those with substantial spare income can go, lets keep the poor, the unsuccessful, the lowly and downtrodden out. Ever wondered why you see all the posters for big new exhibitions on the underground in London, on the busses and bus stops, in the papers, but they never ever mention the price of a ticket? Well now you know.

The prices are disgusting, non-inclusive, and monetarily elitist. Shame on them.

So, should you go see this show? If you are a fan of David Hockney, sure, go fill yer'boots. Otherwise, you could probably do something better with your twenty quid.







Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Horizons - paintings showing in Kalendar


This show is now over.

Paintings in Kalendar now on show until early January 2017.

Kalendar is a cafe at the bottom of Parliament Hill (Hampstead Heath), in Highgate, North London. It's a great cafe, good coffee, good food, with a plethora of artists, art critics, and actors visiting regularly, as you would expect from that very arty part of North London.

The paintings I am showing, all of which are for sale, are from my Horizons series, which you can see on my website: tamor.co.uk

Kalendar's address: 15 Swain's Lane, London N6 6QX

Below are the paintings currently on display. They may change over the time of the show so keep checking to see what's new.

I hope you get to see and enjoy the show!



The Moors £900
30" x 42"



Sunset V SOLD



The Last Sunset SOLD



Sunset II £700
24" x 22"


Storm on the Water £800
29" x 34"


Sky Lights £400
12" x 16"


Welsh Hillside £700
22" x 36"


Sunset IV SOLD


Cornwall SOLD


On the Other Side £600
18" x 24"


Sinking Sun SOLD


Sunset III £250
11" x 8"

Wet Road £250
11" x 11"


Monday, 2 May 2016

Maria Eichhorn at the Chisenhale Gallery vs Silvia Ikkesett in Cork Street

A friend recently pointed me to an exhibition by Maria Eichhorn which put me in mind of an event I wrote about back in 2011 masterminded by Silvia Ikkesett. Maria Eichhorn's show, called 5 weeks, 25 days, 175 hours and which is currently on at the time of writing, features the Chisenhale Gallery being closed - an exhibition you can't enter. There are many conceptual questions around this which require some understanding of current conceptual thought vis-à-vis art and its purpose etc. etc., questions which I have little time for in all honesty. Silvia Ikkesett's Never Seen exhibition however, was an event which most people could understand right off the bat. I wrote it up as part of my research into the collection of art recipes Arnold Tuppley collected before his his death, and is an edifying account as to how an artist can be pushed to such limits that perception becomes more important than reality.


Never Seen

Silvia Ikkesett

Silvia Ikkesett, started her career as a portrait painter. She revelled in great detail, producing works on canvas whose heightened realism was the result of her tendency toward the extreme, and her insistence on concentrating with almost microscopic detail on the features of her clients. As a young woman she toured the great cities of art in Europe, painting her way through actors and politicians, whose vanity insisted on her presenting them with a level of detail they often later came to regret.

Success followed her wherever she went despite the small controversies that her candour elicited, including, on one occasion, a brief attempt at suing her for defamation by a client. But it was quickly dropped due to the incontrovertible evidence that the portrait she had painted, which was the subject of the lawsuit, was an unquestionably and extremely accurate representation of their likeness. None of this gave her any pause for thought however, as she continued her travels, eventually settling in London.

Her favourite subjects were actors. She enjoyed the notion of their character being assumed by everybody who had seen their work, but who in fact were usually very different. Some were shy, almost embarrassed at the idea that anyone knew who they were, having been more or less forced into the position of having their portrait painted as some kind of spurious reward for their talent by one organisation or another. But some were rather more ego-centric, and she did not get on with all of them: about one famous film actor she commented, “the banality of the characters he plays are only outweighed by the tedium of his personality.”

But her success was starting to bore her, as were the innumerable commissions for portraits. She started reducing the areas she concentrated on within the face, homing in on particular characteristics and features which she reserved for her special attention. The rest of the painting she started to block in with a more abstract style, which gave the sitter the appearance of coming through some kind of multicoloured fog into the foreground, but in the end she simply left those areas blank. Eventually she stopped painting portraits altogether.

After giving up the role that had made her name, she briefly concentrated her talents on very traditional still lives, using fruit and crockery as the main subjects, and then moved on to using found objects, or things that just happened to be around. These included a series of crunched up cigarette packets in ashtrays, discarded fast-food containers, often with the food still in them half eaten, and tiny wild flowers which she would harvest from between paving stones, or under trees on the street.  She would put them on the table in her studio without any real application of composition, creating beautifully executed but rather uninspiring works. Then she stopped painting completely.

For two years nothing was heard from her. No paintings, no exhibitions, no art of any kind, until she came back with a brand new idea which didn't involve painting pictures of anything at all. In interview, she said she had grown tired of painting, tired of being regarded as a great talent that could do almost no wrong, and lamented the fact that whenever she had an exhibition, thousands would flock to see the show, because it was Sylvia Ikkesett, the renowned artist and burner of actors. She continued, “they don’t care about what I do, they come for my name, for me”; she became disillusioned. As far as she was concerned the public doted on her every brush stroke because of her proximity to the rich and famous, and the fame that it conferred on her. She found the whole experience superficial and pointless, and so decided to give the public and the art-world what they really wanted: Sylvia Ikkesett, not art.

Her new show featured absolutely nothing at all. She claimed that it was an inevitable conclusion to her way of working, which was either to paint everything she saw in extreme detail, or to paint nothing with equal detail, still regarding herself as a painter although she produced no paintings. She described these shows as artworks that reproduced, in detail, all the people that came to them, since, as they were there explicitly for her show, they were in fact her creations. And as reproductions of people that went to art exhibitions, they were as detailed as it was possible to get.

Her first show in this series was called Unseen-Black. She rented out a gallery space in the west end of London, painted the walls, the furniture, the ceiling, everything apart from the glass in the windows, black. The private view was full of those that had eagerly awaited her return, but they hadn't read the invite properly, which told them to bring their own wine, as none, and nothing would be provided. Soon, someone had bought from a local pub as many bottles of cabernet sauvignon as they had, and the evening went extremely well. She didn't turn up herself, but it was nevertheless a great success with only a few naysayers amongst the arterarty that congregated on that Thursday evening.

Five more exhibitions followed, with different colour themes in each: pink, orange, blue, yellow, and dark grey, each entitled Unseen- and then the colour, though the colour stated only related to the colour on show in the first exhibition. Thereafter, the colour on show and the name for the show seemed to become abstract notions which were not in any way related to each other, as lost in their meaning as she was distrustful of the power she had gained through her art.

They were held over a little more than a year, one every two months or so, and gained quite a large following, becoming known for their party atmosphere where arty types would meet and discuss, mingle and network, all the while increasing Ikkesett’s renown. But again, she became tired of the format, and another period of silence ensued.

A year after the last Unseen there was more excitement when a new show by Silvia Ikkesett was advertised in the art press, all the listings magazines, on websites, and in national papers. The date and time for the exhibition was given, but no details as to where the show was to take place, other than it would be somewhere in London. The show was called Never Seen, and even had one editorial written about it before it took place which speculated on the direction Ikkesett was now taking. A week before the show, a new advert appeared listing a number of websites where, two hours before the private view and opening of the exhibition was to take place, details of the venue would be given.

Excitement grew with this prospect, the imagination of those who couldn't wait to go running riot with rumour and counter rumour as to where and what the show would be. Finally, later than advertised, only seventy-two minutes before its starting time of 5:30pm, the address of the venue was uploaded to the websites, causing one of them to crash with the huge surge in requests for data from their servers.

As expected, it was to be in the west end of London, in the heart of the old and moneyed contemporary art scene, Cork Street. But the number on the address was 39. There was, and is, no 39 Cork Street. By this time, excitement was at fever pitch, and hundreds of people descended on Cork Street looking for number 39. Outrage was restricted to a few tired individuals who had travelled hundreds of miles for the new show, but on the whole, the notion of an exhibition that didn't exist was greeted with pleasure, and the local pubs saw a massive jump in their takings as they filled with the art seekers who had nowhere else to go.

One can only imagine Ikkesett’s disappointment at not being able to put a foot wrong. The show was hailed a success, a revolution in art thinking and examination of the very concept of the famous artist, but Ikkesett herself was nowhere to be seen. Two more shows followed, one in New York, and one in Newcastle, for reasons Ikkesett kept to herself – as far as anyone knew, she had no connections with Newcastle, and had never even been there. But maybe that was the point.

That was the last show she ever put on. She hasn't been heard of since, even by her friends and family; she simply disappeared, vanishing as if her existence was as empty as the exhibitions she had masterminded. But there are those with a passion for the Unseen and Never Seen works that still keep an eye out for a new Ikkesett event, possibly advertised in a local paper, or on an obscure website, waiting for a time when she will come back once again.

I am ashamed to say that I had not heard of Sylvia Ikkesett until the first Never Seen exhibition took place. I went down to Cork Street along with all the others, and the atmosphere was fantastic, like a carnival or street party. I went with two friends, frequenting all the pubs in the area, talking to strangers all of whom seemed to be there for the show. It was quite a remarkable feat of advertising and marketing. But we must remember that had she not been Sylvia Ikkesett, no one would have turned up. And that was perhaps the point of these shows.

Her interest in the extreme led to her success, and necessitated her development. She was clearly unhappy with the recognition she had gained and thought it a vacuous entity that she tried to extinguish by pointing out to all that gravitated towards her and her shows that fame is nothing. But far from lancing the boil, her Unseen shows simply accentuated her notoriety, making her even better known that she had been before.

Similarly, and perhaps with her foreknowledge, the Never Seen shows did exactly the same thing. But where does one go after that? The person to ask is nowhere to be seen, and cannot be found. Perhaps, one day, she will turn up again. But until then, it is worth remembering that her shows were indeed a microscopically accurate rendition of the types of people that caused her to flee the success she had made of herself.

We were all, on that night in Cork Street, her belongings, her artworks, which she displayed in the pubs and on the streets of the wealthy art dealers. It is a testament to her understanding of her situation that it was such a success, whether or not she wanted it to be. And in that case, we can see her as the great artist she always promised to be from her earliest days of painting portraits.


More stories from the Notebooks of Arnold Tuppley are available on amazon.co.uk


Friday, 15 January 2016

Frank Auerbach at Tate Britain

It's fair to say that I've been waiting for this show for over 20 years. If you want to cut to the chase however, go to this show. It's a great show of one of the greatest painters we have ever had. But if you want to know the reasons for the special place he holds in my heart, I'll briefly tell you why.

Head of J.Y.M II 1984-5
When I was fourteen I was taken to the then Tate Gallery (no Tate modern or Tate Britain, only the one Tate Gallery at that time in the building now known as Tate Britain). I had done a few drawings that showed I had some facility with a pencil, and my parents, naturally, thought taking me to a gallery might further spur my interest. There I saw a painting by Piet Mondrian, one of his compositions with red and blue. I was rather incredulous at the idea of that as a "painting" since to me it seemed nothing more than colouring in. So, I went home, took my brothers oil painting set (which he had only used once), and set about doing my own Mondrian. My version was perhaps not quite as sophisticated as Mondrian's, but my view hasn't really changed in all these years, the title to his work being as factual as the work itself was not what I would call painting - it was, and still is, nothing more than a study in composition, only one of the elements that go to create a good painting. But I better not digress too far down that path since this blog is about Frank Auerbach.

That was in the summer. I carried on painting my own versions of other painters I liked from the Tate's collection, most especially Salvador Dali, until one week in November my father showed me a review in the newspaper of a show Auerbach had on at Marlborough Fine Art on Albermarle Street in the heart of the moneyed contemporary art scene around Cork Street in Piccadilly. He showed me the review partly because it was interesting painting, and partly because one of my parents friends, Philip Kossoff, was the brother of the painter Leon Kossoff (still alive and working as I write), who is an old friend of Frank Auerbach, having both gone to the same art college together many decades before.

Serendipity would have it that later that same week I was going to one of the Royal Institution's Christmas science lectures with my school. As I walked up the road towards the Royal Institution with my friends, I passed a number of small commercial galleries, having a good look through the windows as my nascent interest in painting demanded, and there, on the same street as the Royal Institution, unknown to me at the time, was Marlborough Fine Art, and the very exhibition whose review my father had shown me. It was a revelation.

Here were paintings the like of which I had never seen before, and which, more than any other paintings before or since, spoke to me as a friend. Their thick paint and expressive nature was everything I was, inside; that was how I wanted to paint - no, not wanted to, had to paint. They were quite simply me in every way other than their actual authorship.

I went home, and that weekend started painting my own Auerbachs, as I had done with Dali and Mondrian and countless others. I even painted a portrait of him from the photograph in the newspaper that accompanied the review, took a photo of it and sent it to him, care of Marlborough Fine Art, and was extremely gratified to receive a reply from the man himself, and not just a thankyou note, but a proper letter (no email of course at that time), and there followed a brief correspondence between us about painting which I treasure.

So now you can see why a retrospective of this painter, this true painter, was something I had been waiting for ever since.

Leon Kossoff 1950's
Now to get to the exhibition itself which spans some 60 years, from the 1950's to the 2010's, but to say I love everything he has ever done would not be true - he is not perfect, but he is a true painter.

The paintings from the 1950's I always found a bit overdone. Their extremely heavy use of paint I always thought a bit of a, well, gimmick is too strong a word, but the 3 inch thick impasto laid down over months or years always made me wonder if he shouldn't just start again and try to get it right. But I think this very weakness, as I saw it, spoke to me since it was clearly his love of the medium that spurred him to keep going, keep going, and still keep going until he produced something that worked. They are dark, brooding, and a little stagnant I feel. But he was on his way somewhere, somewhere good. A typical example is the portrait of Leon Kossoff, a painting I still don't like much. Sometimes, you just have to know when to stop.

As he goes into the 1960's, the late 1960's in particular, his true ability, and artistry, starts to come out. For a long time I concentrated my own efforts on painting people, portraits. Here Frank Auerbach creates paintings exactly as I always intended to. They are concentrated examinations of a person, of their face, their character, their being. The heavy layered paint is still there, but with some brighter colours and a little more understanding of the medium itself, they have become objects that live in a way that "pictures" of people never do. Go to the National Gallery's portrait award show and you will see many many pictures of people, painted with pure artifice, nothing more than pretence of a painting, an illustration of a person's appearance fooling you into believing their is character when in fact all you get is an act. Not so with Frank Auerbach. His portraits are more extant than most people let alone paintings of them. The existence of the person behind the painting is so evident you could have a conversation with them, as long as you don't require it to be two-way. The paint itself, still heavy, becomes a little lighter in application, while at the same time becoming more expressive as he sheds some of the over-burdensome neediness of previous works.

David Landau 1990
In the 1970's he really hits his stride. Both portraits, figures, and landscapes start to use the pure joy of the brush stroke. The brush stroke is the most underrated and yet most obvious tool of the painter. He now has this supreme tool at his disposal, and through the 1980's, 90's, and on, the paint, thick or thin, has become his accomplice do express his perception of the world. The true power of this idea cannot be underestimated since the subjects themselves are not what is important. What you get is pure human experience expressed through paint - that is what makes a work of art. There is no artifice, there is no pretence, there is no sense of imagery trumping art. The true remit of art, to communicate the nature of existence from one human being to another without that human being being there to persuade you of the fact, is there in front of you eyes. You can be left in no doubt that the painter, and the subject, whether a person or a place, did exist and that you are there with them, back in time to when the object itself was created.

Needles to say not every painting is a masterpiece, but when he makes one that works, there is really nothing better in the realm of painting. If you are a painter because the medium speaks to you more than any other, you have to see this show.

Park Village East 2006
There are few painters that I admire or respect as much as Frank Auerbach. Lucian Freud, while alive, was often touted as Britain's greatest living painter. I never agreed with that. I went to his retrospective in the same gallery sometime around 2001, 7 rooms of his paintings, and by the 3rd room I was getting bored. It was the same thing over and over again. Sure, some of the paintings were brilliant, but in every one what you got was Lucian Freud, not the object of his attentions. I recently read somewhere that Auerbach, also a friend of Freud's and of Francis Bacon too, didn't consider himself to have the talent of either of them. But I disagree. Francis Bacon I also admire - he used paint, he used the brush stroke to express himself to bring true power to a painting, I don't see the same in Freud. But then, the media will have their way and attach labels to people especially when imagery, art's poorer more flatulent cousin, heaves itself into view. Bacon created better images than Auerbach, but Auerbach's paintings trump them all. He is a true artist, a true painter, the greatest brush-smith of our time.