Frank Auerbach at the Offer Waterman Gallery
Frank Auerbach was just eight years old when his parents sent him to England to escape Nazi Germany. He never saw them again.
With their tortured strokes, gashes of colour and alien yet familiar faces which strain from beneath the thick paint, the correlation between the death of his parents in a concentration camp and Auerbach’s collection is all too clear to see. Yet, astonishingly, it is not the case. Auerbach insists that his youth, which he can barely remember, hasn’t played a role or had any influence over his art.
Auerbach says that his works – which span over 50 years – are entirely about finding something real – a quest for truth. He is a perfectionist and will work from 7am to 9pm for months on a single piece; painting, scratching the paint off, painting over, scratching it off, painting again, in a destructive and passionate process. This year, Auerbach has completed just five paintings.
With this in mind, Offer Waterman & Co’s loan exhibition Frank Auerbach: Early Works 1954-1978, which features over a quarter of Auerbach’s works, is all the more impressive. A deceptively spacious gallery, situated just off the King’s Road, Offer Waterman & Co have managed to collaborate with private collectors to display 18 of Auerbach’s oils, charcoals and chalks, many of which haven’t been seen for years.
Though his charcoal drawings are brilliant, it is the oils that are exceptional. The depth to some of these – with their layer upon layer of paint, their creases and folds and their intricate textures – steal your gaze and consume your eyes.
E.O.W. On Her Blue Eiderhower VI and J.Y.M. in the Studio particularly stood out, which leak out from their frames and are almost a hybrid between painting and sculpture. The element of touch presides over these sculptural works – you want to lean in and feel the creases, you want to understand further the journey of the paint – how it went from a flat board to this fascinating, chaotic creation; how it went from nothing to something real, to something true.
It is this quest for truth, combined with the physical nature of each painting, that keeps the works so constantly fresh. There is so much detail within each painting, so much being that you can never tire of them, with each glance they provide something new – the cuts and rivets through the dense paint, the scratches and the slices remain so raw, almost bleeding, that the collection seems days rather than decades old.
The Head of E.O.W is one of the smaller of the paintings (10 by 6 inches), but also one of the most powerful. Hanging lonesome on the far wall of the ground floor, this oil on board is unnervingly real – not so much in physicality, but in character. More so than any other, this piece has captured the essence of a human being, you can feel the character preserved beneath the folds of blue and white – E.O.W is alive in this painting.
The exhibition is an investigation into people, into truth; but also – with its overriding sense of touch – it is an investigation into paint and the power of art. A phenomenal opportunity to see a rare collection of Auerbachs, make sure to get down to the King’s Road!