how the artist drew himself for the drawings of the Covid “years of the plague”

how the artist drew himself for the drawings of the Covid “years of the plague”

What do you do when you are a portrait painter but can’t get anyone to sit down for you? Frank Auerbach, once described by Tate as “one of the greatest living painters today”, gave an answer he did not expect to find. At 91 he painted himself – and it’s all thanks to Covid.

For decades, the painter and draftsman sat friends and family for his portraits every week, until the block left him without a sitter. Instead, he found inspiration in his own features for a great series of self-portraits. He told al Observer who, while he hadn’t previously been interested in his own face, aging has made him that much more addicting.

“I’ve drawn a self-portrait or two before, but I’ve always thought there was something a little mundane about taking self-portraits,” he said. “I didn’t find the actual formal components of my head so interesting when I was younger, smoother and less exhausted.

“Now that I have bags under my eyes, things are falling out and so on, there is more material to work with. To my surprise, as I was alone and had drawn the first of this series, I was continually interested. “

William Feaver, former art critic of the Observer and one of Auerbach’s usual subjects, described them as “the most remarkable sequence of self-portraits”.

“They are completely unplanned and not premeditated,” he said. “A kind of diary of the years of the plague, which we all lived through. It is a great sequence of drawings of someone who suffers the state of being holed up, frustrated ”. Feaver has selected 20 of the new works for his next book, titled Frank Auerbachan updated and expanded edition of its acclaimed 2009 volume.

Auerbach is regarded as one of today’s most creative and influential artists, revered for psychologically probing portraits and powerful cityscapes that capture the soul of a person or place with thick lines and thickly layered brushstrokes. In 1986 he represented Great Britain at the Venice Biennale and in 2015 he was the subject of a major retrospective at the Tate, in which he noted that Auerbach is often compared to Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud “in terms of the revolutionary and powerful nature of his work “.

Feaver has sat for Auerbach every week since 2003, for two hours at a time. He said: “It takes months to produce a painting or a drawing. In his opinion, painting and drawing are exactly the same difficulty and require more or less time than each other. We tend to speak for the first hour of the two-hour session and to be more or less silent in the other. “

In the book, Feaver writes about the impact of the lockdown on Auerbach’s creativity: “There would be no more sessions for over 18 months. And so, mostly confined for the duration of his rooms in Finsbury Park [London], Auerbach tried to draw himself (“give himself some hope”), the images testify to his situation. Two dozen or more of them were made over the months, with their chin up, eyes half closed, every reflection in the mirror set it apart. The portraits stemmed from oblique glances and rapid reactions, during which hand, eye and memory had to correlate – as fast as the blink of an eye – the changes between observation and execution “.

The self-portraits are primarily acrylic on board and graphite on paper and measure up to 2 feet 6 inches by nearly 2 feet (77.5 x 57cm). Feaver said: “He produced some of the great paintings of the 20th century, now the 21st century. Self-portraits have the implication of self-esteem and there is absolutely none of this in these. They show all kinds of frustration and irritation and holding their breath – all the things we feel if we look in the mirror There is a look. Eyes narrow if you try to outdo yourself in the mirror. If one then has to move on to the next sheet of paper, it is a mental leap all the time.

Auerbach said he’s continuing to create more self-portraits: “I’ve been going all day for the past two years, seven days a week. Each is a completely different problem in terms of materials [and] what am I thinking about.

Asked if he has learned anything new about his face, he said he has never thought about his subjects verbally, emotionally or psychologically as it “undermines what you are doing. I’m simply trying to use the subject to create an image of my impression on it. “

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