Frank Auerbach: The Charcoal Heads – Barnaby Wright – Deputy Head of The Courtauld Gallery

Frank Auerbach: The Charcoal Heads - Barnaby Wright Deputy Head of The Courtauld Gallery

In “Frank Auerbach: The Charcoal Heads,” readers are treated to a compelling exploration of the artist’s extraordinary series of large drawings, showcased alongside a selection of paintings depicting the same sitters. Accompanying an exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery in London, this catalogue delves deep into Auerbach’s early years as a budding artist in postwar London, where he crafted each portrait head in charcoal.

Authored by Barnaby Wright, the Deputy Head of The Courtauld Gallery, and featuring an enlightening essay by acclaimed novelist Colm Tóibín, this publication offers unparalleled depth into Auerbach’s creative process and the significance of his work. Tóibín’s essay, inspired by his contemplation of Auerbach’s Self-Portrait (1958), provides readers with fresh and profound perspectives on the nature of self-portraiture and the artistic struggle inherent in Auerbach’s technique.

The drawings themselves witness Auerbach’s dedication, with each piece representing months of meticulous labour and countless revisions. These charcoal heads exude a palpable sense of vitality and resilience from the richly textured surfaces to the visible scars of repeated creation and destruction. They are a testament to the postwar era in which they were created and an inspiration for all who admire Auerbach’s work.

For the first time, Auerbach’s remarkable 1950s and early 1960s drawings are brought together in a comprehensive exhibition, offering viewers a rare opportunity to experience the full breadth of his artistic vision. With its compelling blend of scholarship and artistic appreciation, “Frank Auerbach: The Charcoal Heads” is an essential publication for anyone seeking to understand the enduring legacy of one of Britain’s most revered artists.

Frank Auerbach is a celebrated British artist known for his expressive and dynamic paintings and drawings. Born on April 29, 1931, in Berlin, Germany, he fled to England in 1939 as a refugee from Nazi persecution. Auerbach’s early experiences of displacement and upheaval greatly influenced his artistic sensibilities.

He studied at various art schools in London, including St Martin’s School of Art and the Royal College of Art, where he developed his distinctive style characterised by thick impasto layers of paint and bold, gestural brushwork. Auerbach’s work is often associated with the School of London, a group of artists, including Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, who emerged in post-war Britain.

Throughout his career, Auerbach has focused primarily on portraiture and cityscapes, capturing the essence of his subjects with raw intensity and emotional depth. He is renowned for his long and intensive painting sessions, often spending months or years on a single canvas, relentlessly reworking and refining his compositions until he achieves the desired effect.

Auerbach’s work has received widespread acclaim and has been exhibited in galleries and museums worldwide. He has received numerous awards, including the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale in 1986. Despite his international recognition, Auerbach remains dedicated to his artistic practice, continually pushing the boundaries of expression and representation.

Today, Frank Auerbach is considered one of Britain’s foremost living artists. He is revered for his powerful and evocative depictions of the human form and urban landscapes. His work continues to inspire audiences, cementing his legacy as a master of contemporary painting.

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