FRANK AUERBACH

‘Tucked down a side alley in Camden Town, north London, bound by a railway track, a busy high street and a former cigarette factory, there is a small row of Victorian brick studios. An address is written in fading white paint on an outer wall. Apart from the odd weed, the concrete passageway is clean and free of dustbins and debris. The noise of children playing, of birdsong, piano practice and the strains of Radio 4 suggest a certain kind of genteel neighbourhood. The only hint of anything unusual is a whiff of oil paint emanating from one black door. This is the hideaway of the man whom many believe to be Britain’s greatest living painter.

Unlike many artists Auerbach does not collect works of art or mistresses. He barely drinks, never travels and seldom socialises. According to his wife, Julia, he has two haircuts a year, wears his clothes until they disintegrate and is not interested in material possessions. He works seven days and five evenings a week and takes one day off a year.

The map of Auerbach’s world is sparse. His paintings reveal a life pared down to a few significant co-ordinates; there is the studio entrance, glimpses of Mornington Crescent, the house next door, a certain tree and a few faces. He does not accept commissions. His sitters include two relations and a couple of friends. None is paid. They come at the same time, on set days, 52 weeks a year. The longest serving sitter, his wife, has notched up 53 years.

In the past Auerbach went to the odd restaurant, the cinema occasionally and the National Gallery weekly, but even these activities have dwindled. The main change is that he now sees his wife three nights a week – rather than one. It is the life of an ascetic, but one dedicated to work instead of religious or spiritual goals. ‘There have been painters who almost haven’t had a life – Mondrian comes to mind, whose life seemed to be very austere and hermit like,’ he says. ‘On the one hand if one didn’t have a life, there would be nothing to paint, but on the other hand if one gave in entirely to life, one wouldn’t have any energy to paint. There is the conflict. On the whole I think it is a creative one.’’

Excerpt of Hannah Rothschild, ‘Frank Auerbach: An interview with one of our greatest living painters’, The Telegraph, 30 Sep 2013.

Read more of this fascinating glimpse into Auerbach’s life here: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-features/10336972/Frank-Auerbach-An-interview-with-one-of-our-greatest-living-painters.html

Frank Auerbach in his studio, photographed by Snowdon, 1963

Frank Auerbach in his studio, photographed by Nicholas Sinclair, 2000