Auerbach’s process is documented throughout Frank Auerbach: Speaking and Painting. He draws and paints on board and canvas. His three-dimensional paintings are created by the thick layering and repeated scraping of oil and to a lesser extent, acrylic. Auerbach scrapes off and begins again after each session, regardless of the medium or time it takes. Up close his works seem almost abstract, perhaps influenced by his process of never visualising a picture before he starts and only finding form in a painting from an “impulse” he may have. Auerbach’s palette and application of paint have also changed over time. His early works embraced a limited pallet of earth colours, but this was not necessarily a stylistic choice but one of affordability. In some early works scraping is less evident, with paint largely left to build up. In later periods his mark making develops, using a range of tools from palette knives, brushes, paint applied straight from the tube and sometimes even his own hands.
Auerbach’s intense lifelong dedication to his work led to him to be reclusive in nature, but this monk-like existence co-existed with the deep, complex relationships that he had with his sitters. His sitters ranged from his contemporaries, women, lovers and his estranged teenage son, Jake. Frank Auerbach: Speaking and Painting brings to the foreground this contradiction of living a reclusive life but at the same time relishing human contact; “Frank loves company when he (increasingly rarely) encounters it”. Lampert writes that Auerbach is honourably seen by those who know him well as a “beacon of integrity, generosity, humility and a constant source of joy and fun”.
Auerbach’s work as well as his approach to life is truly unique. Through reading Catherine Lampert’s book you come to understand the courage and truth that have gone into his searingly honest works. Auerbach was prepared to destroy almost completed works and start again in order to get to his desired final result, and was willing to “starve to death” in order to keep on doing so. Despite this arduous process and almost always finishing the paintings in anger, Auerbach reveals that he views the painting process to be fun, and he sees it as a form of indulgence. Frank Auerbach: Speaking and Paintinglooks at the artist, his methods and his relationships in the same truthful and honest manner in which he paints.
Words by Joshua Cole.