26 Frank Auerbach
Although I have known the paintings of David Hockney and Lucian Freud for years, I just recently learned about Frank Auerbach's work by reading a first rate book about him by Catherine Lampert (Frank Auerbach - Speaking and Painting.) They, along with others (Leon Kossoff, R.B. Kitaj, Francis Bacon etc.) are referred to as the "London School."
I think Auerbach and Freud are the best of this English group. Auerbach's paintings, along with Kossoff, bring to my mind the Bay Area figurative painters from 6,000 miles away (David Park, Joan Brown, Richard Diebenkorn, Elmer Bischoff...) of the same time period (1950's onward).
It is near impossible, despite all the blathering by academics and critics over the decades, to explain what makes a good painting - GOOD. So, speaking for myself, a good painting surprises me. It is not predictable. In a good painting I see that two things have been combined-skilled creative action and underlying visual logic. Though this might sound contradictory-it isn't.
Auerbach's paintings are the result of 'months of labour and struggle' and that is apparent by the layers of "scumbled" paint on his surfaces. The hard to pinpoint faces and locations are held together by what Auerbach calls a "secret internal geometry."
It is this contentious balance of what I call "internal logic" and spontaneity that, when done well, results in a visual surprise that somehow makes sense. This is what I call good painting.
27 Where DO painters come from?
What do Jackson Pollock, Thomas Eakins, Alice Neel, Arshile Gorky and David Park have in common? They were all born to be painters.
15 years ago I was teaching a summer art class to 8 year olds. Out of 10 kids one little boy stood out because he ran into class, every time, hellbent on getting to work on the day's project. He was as we Californians say-stoked. Stoked to make art.
Painters are born not made. The passion for drawing and painting (and sculpting) is there when artists are children. You can't instill or "instruct" this degree of desire (need)-it's there or it isn't. They want to grab a crayon or they don't. They want to make a picture or they don't.
I've never been able to develop any interest in "conceptual" art. In fact I'm puzzled by it. But that's okay-it's not like we painters need any more competition-so I'm glad conceptualists are putting sharks in formalthehyde and having amplified orgasms in galleries. We painters just go on painting.
It's a legitimate struggle to become a good painter and if one does reach that point, it's still nearly impossible to earn money from one's paintings. It takes years of frustrating experimentation to reach maturity as a painter. Families are often justifiably appalled-"You want to be a painter! Are you crazy?" It's good that it is this difficult because if you can't face it-find something else to do. It's Darwinian.
I was recently at an art store. I saw a young man nosing up and down the same aisles as me. I noticed him because he was tall, handsome, muscular and had a maroon "USC MBA" t-shirt on. Not the typical male art store shopper. I didn't exactly ask him what he was doing in an art store-but it was something along those lines. He was very nice and told me - "I love to draw, I've always loved to draw." I said, but you're in the USC MBA program? "Yeah" he said, "I'm kind of an outlier there." Yeah, I bet he was.
In ten or twenty years will he be the head of his investment banking department or will he have succumbed to his inner demon-artist and be living a cobbled together life in a funky studio as a painter or sculptor?
I wouldn't hazard a guess. I know what makes sense. I also know that painters are born-not made.