Painting By Layers: Frank Auerbach Gets The Retrospective He Deserves

Frank Auerbach, Tate Britain ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 104 months ago

Last Updated 09 October 2015

Painting By Layers: Frank Auerbach Gets The Retrospective He Deserves Frank Auerbach, Tate Britain 4
A bright depiction of Hampstead Road in Summer. © Frank Auerbach, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art

Frank Auerbach may well lay claim to being Britain's greatest living painter, and even at 84 he is still badgering away creating new works. This retrospective at Tate Britain is a chance to look back across his entire career to date and has been co-curated by the artist himself — meaning it's Auerback as it's meant to be viewed.

The exhibition starts darkly with Frankenstein-esque heads in charcoal, and a limited palette used to create intense and murky portraits and nudes. Going with the chronological approach, as the show progresses, the paintings get brighter. A sunrise over Mornington Crescent has a sky that looks like it's on fire — a modern successor to Turner's paintings.

Plenty of Auerbach's impasto paintings also feature — so heavily layered it feels like chunks of paint will submit to gravity and peel off the canvas at any moment.

Throughout his career Auerbach loved to create both portraits and architectural studies, particularly of construction sites. What's so impressive about these paintings is how the loose brush strokes capture the energy and very essence of the scene.

The exhibition is laid out perfectly with minimal explanatory text (it's not needed) and by limiting the number of Auerbach's paintings in this exhibition so that each can be fully engaged with in turn.

This is an excellent exhibition that any fan of painting should visit — a fitting tribute to a world class artist and his significant career.

Frank Auerbach is on at Tate Britain until 13 March. Tickets are £16 for adults, concessions available. It's also the last few weeks to catch the equally brilliant Hepworth exhibition. Over at Tate Modern is the exciting World Goes Pop.

For more great art in London see our most talked about exhibitions for September, our top picks for autumn and for October.

One of many portraits on display. © Frank Auerbach, courtesy Marlborough Fine
A rather dreary Mornington Crescent. © Frank Auerbach, courtesy Marlborough Fine Art