Frank Auerbach was born during a very volatile time in Germany’s history. With the help of British writer, Iris Origo, Auerbach was sent to Britain at the age of seven to avoid persecution by the Nazi regime. The method by which Auerbach was sent to Britain is disputed as some say it was via the Kindertransport, which was an organized rescue effort, while Auerbach himself states that he was sent to Britain via a private arrangement. Auerbach’s parents tragically died in a concentration camp so whatever the means, moving to Britain was fortunate. Auerbach became a naturalized citizen of Britain since 1947.
As a child, Auerbach was as successful in theater as he was in art. However, art proved to be his primary interest and, at the age of 21, he began studying at the Royal College of Art, which has produced a variety of famous artists, sculptors and more. In addition to painting, and successful solo exhibits in London, Auerbach taught at Camberwell School of Art where other well-known artists taught.
Frank Auerbach is an active painter and is known for painting every single day. Auerbach is said to not visualize his picture before he begins his work. Initially, he would paint on top of the previous day’s work resulting in very thick final products. His current method, since the 1960s it seems, is to discard the previous day’s work by scraping the paint off of the canvas and starting anew. In this way, while the final version of his painting may take only hours, it can be considered a process that took countless attempts to reach the result. Painting primarily landscapes, his method requires that he draw the landscape and create the painting from that drawing, rather than going back to the landscape for each new version of the painting.
Among Auerbach’s influence are Rembrandt and Picasso and while his style is very different from both of the influential artists’ styles, there are possibly subtle similarities. In addition to landscapes, Auerbach has created stunning portraits. Similar to the way he paints landscapes, Auerbach’s models for his portraits often pose weekly over many years. Auerbach describes his fascinating method, “I find myself simply more engaged when I know the people. They get older and change; there is something touching about that…” Perhaps his most famous portraits are the several versions of Face of E.O.W. The portraits, like many of his other works, have holes and caves, as a result of the painting and repainting over. These holes and caves are described as “lanes to the land of the dead.” Indeed, the colors conjure up images of ghosts from the past.
It’s striking to see the influence of World War II on Auerbach’s work including Rebuilding the Empire Cinema, Leicester Square which was painted while post-war Britain was being rebuilt. It’s easy to wonder if Auerbach thought of his parents while creating the striking images from this tragic era in Europe’s history.