I was in the middle of reading about Giacometti when I went to this show so one of the questions in my mind was what Auerbach’s obsessive working and re-working means. For Giacometti, it relates to his changing perceptions of his subject, a feeling that reality constantly escapes him. I’m not sure it’s the same for Auerbach.
Among his earlier works, his drawings interested me more than the thick, coagulated paintings. The drawings, Head of E.O.W. 1959-60 and Self-portrait 1958, are clearly heavily reworked, with multiple tears, layers and even patches on the paper, but at the same time they seem fresh and not over-worked. Whereas the paintings feel as though he just had to stop because he couldn’t get any more paint on them, the drawings have unfinished or unevenly finished areas that create a sense of personality.
I enjoyed the paintings from the late 1960s onwards, when Auerbach started to scrape down the paint before beginning again. The paintings become more expressive of something about the subject, not just the struggle of making. This view, Looking Towards Mornington Crescent Station, 1972-4, is like a construction site or the scaffolding supporting the scene. There seems to me to be a lightness and an enjoyment in these views.