In a very good article in that excellent art magazine called Turps Bananas, John Chilver struggles to justify disliking Frank Auerbach and in the process raises a very interesting issue in times of post-minimalist non-sense. I am referring to the presence that painting conveys through its materiality which seems to be a topic that comes more and more often as the craze for objecthood subsides.
John Chilver does a great job comparing Offer Waterman’s exhibition ‘Frank Auerbach: Early Works 1954-1978’ with London;s Post War Art Scene: David Bomberg and the Borough Group at London South Bank University’s Borough Road Gallery only to conclude that Bomberg is the best of them all. Why?
He uses Auerbach’s show to smartly position to opposite readings of his work (which he will use as benchmarks for his conclusion): on one hand, he considers his paintings disembodied self-portraits of the labouring artist and on the other, he transforms those pictorial gestures in a sort of mantra. This Chilver calls ‘animism’. In his own words: ‘What if the effort -which is real enough in Auerbach- is not at all about struggling through to a visual truth, but is more like the psychological effort of a sceptic repeating a mantra? Like uttering an incarnation over and over until something happens subjectively, and a kind of animistic transference happens to the utterer-artis while visually and emotionally immersed in the mutation of the worked pigment, churning it through one fugitive resemblance after another’.
I must confess that I fell in love with that paragraph but it lasted minutes because it is an oxymoronic concoction of words to say that subjectivity can emerge from repetition. In other words, repetition makes the difference between object and subject to collapse into one magmatic chunk of matter and that is what Auerbach is all about. That is why, in my humble opinion, his view of Auerbach’s materiality as a condition for David Bomberg’s greatness simply falls apart. It is great though. Just a thought.