Arts preview: Frank Auerbach

Vanessa Yung

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 May, 2013, 2:17pm

Frank Auerbach: Portraits

Ben Brown Fine Arts

The reason Ben Brown Fine Arts is holding an exhibition of the portrait paintings and drawings of Frank Auerbach is simple: the 82-year-old figurative painter is one of the most important - and still living - British painters from his generation, which include the likes of Leon Kossoff, Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud.

"It's very interesting to see these people from that generation who really built their fame in the 1960s. The School of London is a very important movement in English visual arts. It was never forgotten, even when pop art came up," says gallery director Andreas Hecker.

"It's very influential what Auerbach and the School of London altogether did for painting in the 20th century. His [style of] painting is very fresh; it's nothing outdated. What he does has a meaning for many other artists and viewers today," Hecker says.

The 12 paintings on show are from the '70s through to the present and subjects include his wife Julia; his son Jake; art expert and author Catherine Lampert; and businessman David Landau. Two of the artist's principal subjects, Estella Olive West (an actress he met in the '40s and his former flame) and Joan Yardley Mills (a model he "discovered" in the late '50s), were not included.

Hecker admits the works on show are the only ones they could obtain. But he promises that the show is nevertheless a coherent narrative about Auerbach, who has retained the same style, mediums and subjects over the years.

"He's consistently used the same sitters over a long period of time," says Hecker. "So he's getting older and more mature along with the same models he paints. That's an interesting concept.

"It's not about beauty; it's about the relationship between the artist and the models. They may not be a photorealistic image of the person sitting there, but it's very much what he feels when painting these models."

Gallery co-director Liz Clark agrees. "You're not going to see a different technique. He's painted consistently in the same way, same place, with the same models for years. What's going to be different is the character of the picture of who he's depicted. They become extremely personal. It's the story behind each work.

"You need to see them in person because they're very much about the process and texture. He has the system of painting and scraping it away and painting again so it's really built up. That gives history to the picture and it's really about the tactility - that's part of the emotion," she adds.

Ben Brown Fine Arts, 301 Pedder Building, 12 Pedder Street, Central. May 22-August 10. Mon-Sat, 11am-7pm. Inquiries: 2522 9600