Literature: William Feaver, Frank Auerbach, New York 2009 (illustrated)
Head of Julia is one of a small number of enlarged head drawings made by combining two already large sheets of paper to produce a work of epic scale.
One of the greatest painters and draughtsmen of the twentieth century, Frank Auerbach has always concentrated on the people and places that he knows best and with whom he is able to develop a relationship over time. With each model the experience is different, as he explained to Catherine Lampert:
`When I work from a model there is a person in the room. The person creates her own energy by being present, that is, she has come to be painted. Each sitter in a sense creates, to some extent, a unique atmosphere, so that one finds oneself behaving differently because the sitter's a different person.' (Frank Auerbach in `A Conversation with Frank Auerbach', interview with Catherine Lampert, in Frank Auerbach, Arts Council, 1978).
Auerbach's portraits recall Giacometti's intimacy and Bacon's immediacy. As with them, the subject is not simply the figure, but rather the figure in space, and crucially the subject must be intimately known by the artist. Each painting or drawing is the result of a profligate approach consisting of countless failed attempts, each of which is scraped or rubbed down, before finally the subject takes on its own life: a resilient, defiant, survivor.
As Leon Kossoff has observed in an essay that focused on Auerbach's drawing:
'Drawing is not a mysterious activity. Drawing is making an image that expresses commitment and involvement. This only comes about after seemingly endless activity before the model or subject rejecting time and time again ideas which are possible to preconceive. And, whether by scraping off or rubbing down, it is always beginning again, making new images, destroying images that lie, discarding images which are dead. The only true guide... is the special relationship the artist has with the person or landscape with which he is working. Finally, in spite of all this activity of absorption and internalisation the images emerge in an atmosphere of freedom. This is the true nature of draughtsmanship'. (Leon Kossoff, 'The Paintings of Frank Auerbach', in Frank Auerbach, Arts Council, 1978).
Auerbach is one of the most exhilarating painters at work today but it may well be that it is his brilliance as a draughtsman that is his greatest legacy. Lucian Freud even declared that 'Auerbach has invented an entirely new way of drawing'. Auerbach may have been inspired by the greatest draughtsmen of the past from Rembrandt to Picasso and encouraged by his long-ago classes with David Bomberg, but his way of drawing is wholly his own.