Frank Auerbach at Tate Britain

Frank Auerbach

This exhibition completely took me by surprise, and in a good way.  I had it vaguely on my radar but I’m not sure I would have made it if it hadn’t been for the  excellent combination of an early finish at a work event near to Tate Britain and free entry provided by an arts club scheme my employer provides.   I visited on a Tuesday afternoon in January, probably  not peak exhibition viewing time, but just perfect for me because it was so uncrowded.  There was no jostling to see the paintings; craning of necks to get a better view or dodging other exhibition goers.  There was just me and a small number of other solitary souls politely avoiding each other as we gazed undisturbed at this wonderful body of work.

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Frank Auerbach Mornington Crescent 1965 Private collection courtesy of Eykyn Maclean, LP © Frank Auerbach, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art Photo: Douglas M. Parker Studio

I knew little of Auerbach’s work other than ‘The Mornington Crescent’ paintings which I had seen before and knew that I liked.  However as always seeing these paintings in the flesh was so much more exciting than seeing them on line.  I had not expected them to be quite so striking in both in terms of the colours and the energy.  I was drawn in to these paintings and wanted to step into them and become part of the scene.

The exhibition opens with an almost ghostly portrait which dominates the first room.  It found this unsettling in its intensity but couldn’t stop myself from looking at it.

Many of the paintings were astonishing in the impact they had.  Paintings thick with paint, layers upon layers of oil and colour making them almost 3D.  Paintings that were almost sculptures so thick where they with paint.  There was a power and rawness to these paintings which I don’t think I’ve witnessed before.

I imagined what it must be like to watch Auerbach work.  There is vibrancy and determination in the paintings.  The works from the 1950’s and 60’s were particularly energetic and physical and must have required real strength to create.  I understand that Auerbach paints 365 days a year working on a painting continuously, scraping back the canvas time and time again to create and recreate the desired image.

Frank Auerbach E.O.W. half-length nude 1958 Private collection courtesy of Eykyn Maclean LP © Frank Auerbach, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art Photo: Douglas M. Parker Studio

Frank Auerbach E.O.W. half-length nude 1958 Private collection courtesy of Eykyn Maclean LP
© Frank Auerbach, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art Photo: Douglas M. Parker Studio

Usually after and exhibition I buy a couple of postcards.  This time I didn’t.  I did look at the them but they could in no way come anywhere close to the textures, layers and colors present in Auerbach’s work and on this occasion I decided not accept second best.

There is a feeling that comes from seeing great art in the flesh.  A feeling of wonderment and privilege and joy.  I enjoyed these feelings in abundance as I immersed myself in the energy and vibrancy of Auerbach’s collection on that cold January afternoon.

You can find out more about Frank Auerbach’s work by going to the Tate Britain website.

images all via Tate Britain

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