THE FAINTEST WHIFF OF BULLSHIT by Russell Lumb
It is very rare that I disagree with Tom, and right now, having re-read the piece on Frank Auerbach, I think that I fail to understand rather than disagree. This should not come as a surprise as I do realise that Auerbach is no coffee table artist, requiring a strong stomach and a will to work at his uncompromising images.
Tom generally executes a seamless transition from serious artworld player to friendly, approachable school art master; able and endlessly willing to shepherd his flock of disparate talents around the studio and it’s numerous materials and opportunities. He must, however, occasionally long for meaningful discourse at a level which none of us can satisfy. A lifetime spent painting, and learning, in the company of gifted individuals is the minimum qualification, and you can sense the excitement at the prospect of re-acquaintance with one of the chief protagonists of the past century, and a personal hero to boot.
Although I have been aware of Auerbach for many years, it is in the role of an amateur art lover and I have not gone out of my way to try to understand this difficult work, being too easily seduced by more literal, graphic art, evidenced by my own painting which is currently passing through a “comic book” phase. My natural inclination, and my professional training and practice is largely about the elimination of ambiguity, at least in the design process and construction of buildings. Whereas ambiguity in completed structures can be mildly, and briefly amusing, if ultimately embarrassing , the process of making buildings demands absolute certainty; every mark on a construction drawing must have a clear, unambiguous meaning, and that tends to be how I paint and , to a lesser extent, view others’ work. So it is that, within the realm of expressionist painting, I gravitate to Bacon‘s graphic, structured diagrams rather than Auerbach’s, apparently undisciplined and joyless accretions of paint. Please give proper attention to the word “apparently” here, for I can see that this is a very serious, long term pursuit of one man’s artistic objective, and I am content to defer to “the genuine article”. I do not feel the need to understand or appreciate everyone’s art equally, but I do have a problem in disregarding Auerbach’s use of heavy paint.
Accepting that I tend toward the myopic literal, it cannot be Auerbach’s intention that we should ignore the thick paint; it is not an accidental by-product of his painting process and must dominate perception of his work. I am prepared to believe that other, less obvious motives generate the paintings, but the means of expression is the paint and I assume that it is required to deliver the message. Tom’s work is equally determined by the paint, although far more accessible to my literal analysis, and I also know that underneath the painter is a fine draftsman. Perhaps this is Tom’s message ,which I have only partially registered; the paint is important eventually, but the drawings tell us more about the artist. But this is not the “typical” journey from exacting draftsman to freely expressive painting, of a Picasso or even a Hockney, because Auerbach’s drawings are contiguous with his paintings; in motion rather than resolved and fixed. I will take Tom’s advice to visit the show, and expect to struggle with most of the work, but I know now that I will be ambushed by the paint.
Yesterday’s life session, with the surprisingly tough Siobhan, showed no trace of the above difference, and was a particularly focussed affair. Eight paintings from ten artists demonstrated the unconscious range of techniques, from Tom and Bren’s liberal application of oil paint to my own parsimonious, watery acrylic, but the concentration and effort was common to all. The results are consistently interesting with huge pleasure to be taken from the individual expressions of a shared task. I particularly like Jane’s hard-worked figure, where no single feature is precisely resolved, but the whole is awkwardly human – the tension of a difficult pose.
Paintings and drawings by Bren, David, Jane, Mati, Nikki, Sue I, Sue, Tom, Tony and featured artist Russell.