Exhibitions: From Life: Radical Figurative Art From Sickert to Bevan, James Hyman Gallery, London, 10 September - 18 October 2003, (cat. 29)
Literature: From Life: Radical Figurative Art From Sickert to Bevan, James Hyman Gallery, London, 2003, (cat..29), illustrated p.63.
Auerbach has explained that:
the whole point of drawing is this: You've got a painting up and you do a drawing so that when you go back to the painting you know exactly how it is wrong. Proportions can surprise one every time one does a drawing and in the same way colours change as the light changes.1
To appreciate this desire for precision, it is worth recalling that the gestural freedom of Auerbach's paintings is married to a sensibility that has echoes of Coldstream. Coldstream provided a lesson in rigour as well as encouragement to young artists to pursue their own paths. Auerbach, who was accepted twice by the Slade before deciding to take up a place at the Royal College of Art, and also subsequently taught there part time, has recalled that 'I was always aware of Coldstream, a figure of enormous moral powerHe was a marvellous Slade professor. I realise now that he was tolerant of everything except mean-mindedness.'2
However, despite a shared discipline and an absolute dependence on the model, Auerbach's approach is very much his own and not without its own peculiarities. One of the curiosities of Auerbach's working method is the coexistence of two modes of drawing: ambitious large-scale drawings in charcoal, which are almost always portraits and have an equivalent presence to the artist's paintings of the same subject, and small- scale drawings in pen, pencil or crayon, which are often in colour, that are a working tool, and are frequently of landscape motifs.
The former may take months to complete, the latter a matter of minutes, but what both share is the firmness of their grip on structure and the way that this scaffolding of lines thrusting in one direction and another finds a counterpart in paintings in which despite the gestural freedom, the same notations recur. As Auerbach has explained: 'I am totally dependent on drawings. I need them for it to feel true. I feel a great responsibility towards a subject'3
1. Frank Auerbach, unpublished interview with JH, July 1990 2. Frank Auerbach, unpublished letter to JH, 14 April 1993 3. Frank Auerbach, unpublished interview with JH, July 1990