Frank Auerbach documentary
Post #724 • February 6, 2006, 12:02 PM • 16 Comments
Last night I watched the Frank Auerbach documentary produced by son Jake Auerbach, and I found it hauntingly candid and hugely inspiring. The director interviewed the artist, at once prickly and affable, and sitters who have posed weekly, nearly without fail, for decades. Auerbach paints every day of the year (but one) for ten to twelve hours at a stretch, cleaving to sky-high standards that demand that he lay paint down and scrape it off in what sound like half-hour cycles of creation and destruction, seeking the right image. Sometimes the paintings go on for years, awaiting resolution. Historians have probably gilded the image of Van Gogh's dedication to his work; in Auerbach's case, they probably will find themselves unable to overstate it.
Auerbach has selected a handful of people to sit for him, based almost entirely on their willingness and reliablility. The only notable art-world person among them is curator Catherine Lampert. The rest are his family, and some former neighbors and casual contacts. With not even a mote of affectation, they talk about what it has been like to sit for him, sharing in the successes and disappointments. One described the despair he felt when his portrait, two years in the making, was recalled by the artist from the gallery because he changed his mind about its state of completion. Another sitter, the very picture of a zaftig, elderly, well-bred Englishwoman, spoke about the way he stamps his feet and mutters curses when things go badly. (Oh, does that ever sound familiar.)
Famously well-read, he nevertheless describes painting as a mystery beyond explanation. The camera follows him to the National Gallery, where he gets up into a Turner, discussing the surface. He admits that when he was young, he thought of himself as being in the ring with the old masters (consciously paraphrasing Hemingway), but now he mostly needs their help.
I recently confessed a desire to have met Balthus, which will never happen in this world. I would like very much to meet Auerbach and Lucian Freud as well, which theoretically could, although both artists are reknowned for their reclusiveness and I hardly deserve the honor. (Jake also produced a documentary on Freud, likewise on loan to me from my friend. I get the sense that no one but Jake would have been allowed into the studios.) It would give the great artists no pleasure but it would mean quite a lot to me. On the off chance that someone out there could arrange it, by all means, do.
At any rate, I'm not working enough on my art, not by a longshot.