Frank Auerbach, one of Britain’s most accomplished living artists, will have his first solo exhibition in Asia at Ben Brown Fine Arts in Hong Kong from 22 May 2013. By concentrating solely on a select group of portrait paintings and drawings, from the 1970s to the present day, this exhibition demonstrates the remarkable insight of a famously hermetic artist. Running concurrently at the gallery with the exhibition Not Vital: Landscapes, both shows will open during Art Basel Hong Kong.
At the age of 82, Auerbach is one of the few remaining British painters of his generation, which included his close friend and colleague Lucian Freud. For more than fifty years Auerbach has worked in the same modest studio in north London with diligence and an almost monastic absorption. Most of Auerbach’s models have been sitting for him for decades, and so his oeuvre serves as an extended meditation on a select coterie of subjects. Included in this exhibition are portraits of his son Jake, his wife Julia, art critic William Feaver, curator Catherine Lampert and businessman David Landau, all of whom faithfully sit for him on a regular basis.
With time Auerbach finds that the sitter sheds his or her self-consciousness. ‘When people first come and sit and think, they do things with their faces,’ he observed. ‘It’s when they have become tired and stoical the essential head becomes clearer’. In this state of passivity, we might expect the features of the subject to soften and relax, but when depicted by Auerbach’s heavily-impastoed brushstrokes and expressive use of colour, they harden into startling images of raw emotion and the mind’s preoccupations.
Auerbach’s working method involves an elaborate layering process, in which he builds up the oil or acrylic, and then scrapes it away, only to paint upon the remnants of the previous layer, resulting in a heavily textured and dramatic surface. This arduous process means that a painting usually takes him at least several months—and sometimes years—to complete. Auerbach finds this laborious process of painting revelatory, stating, ‘To paint the same head over and over leads to unfamiliarity; eventually you get near the raw truth about it, just as people only blurt out the raw truth in the middle of a family quarrel.’
Unlike many artists who experiment with style, subject matter and medium throughout their careers, Auerbach has remained resolutely focused on painting, and drawing as an aide to his paintings. This exhibition is testament to the unwavering approach that has earned Auerbach the respect and esteem of art critics and collectors internationally.