Frank Auerbach

To the Studios


Not on display

Frank Auerbach born 1931
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1695 × 1494 mm
frame: 1788 × 1585 × 80 mm
Purchased 1992


Upto the late 1970s Frank Auerbach, one of the so-called School of London painters, took as his principal landscape subjects the park at Primrose Hill and the corner of Camden High Street and Mornington Crescent. In 1977 he added a third motif: the view of the entrance to his studio in North London. Auerbach began working at this studio in 1954. It is located in an alley in Camden and was built at the turn of the nineteenth century. The previous occupants include the painters Frances Hodgkins and Leon Kossoff. Since 1977 Auerbach has explored the subject extensively, making several paintings and innumerable sketches of the motif.

On the left of the picture a flight of steps leads to a semi-detached Victorian villa. The circular elements at the bottom right of the painting suggest a bicycle leaning against the gate which gives access to the alley. A flash of red paint leads the eye along the path to the area outside the entrance to Auerbach's studio. The large mass at the top right of the image, formed by hatched brushstrokes in yellow, green and crimson, describes a decaying block of maisonettes. At the centre of the picture is the sign at the entrance to the alley that reads 'To the Studios'.

As with his earlier paintings, Auerbach has used the same laborious practice of scraping away and reapplying paint until the final image has emerged. It is only through this process of constant revision that Auerbach is able to 'catch hold of the world of fact and experience at some point at which it hasn't been caught before, so that one remakes it in a sense which speaks to oneself directly…' (quoted in John Christopher Battye, 'Frank Auerbach talks to John Christopher Battye', Art & Artists, London 1971, p.55).

The considerable complexities of colour, composition and scale apparent in To the Studios distinguish the work from previous paintings of this scene. Compared to the predominantly dark hues of To the Studios 1979-80 (Tate T03247), principally blues set against strokes of purple, ochre and an acid yellow sky, the palette is particularly bold, ranging from the literal use of blue in the sky, to arresting juxtapositions of orange and green. A wide vocabulary of marks is also apparent. Space and form emerge from a dense lattice of lines, swirls, scribbles and patches of colour. The tension between Auerbach's treatment of the surface as a material object and the image's illusion of three-dimensional depth invigorates the entire composition.

During the 1980s Auerbach increasingly employed more high key colours, his brushwork became looser, and his description of space opened out and became more literal. To the Studios embraces and extends these developments.

Further reading:
Robert Hughes, Frank Auerbach, London 1990, p.214

Toby Treves
June 2000

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Display caption

Auerbach has worked in Camden Town, north London, since 1954. This is the largest of his extensive sequence of paintings depicting the area outside his studio. The brushwork is looser than the earlier version in this gallery, and the palette is lighter and bolder. During the 1980s, Auerbach's presentation of space became more literal, creating an illusionistic sense of depth.

Gallery label, August 2004

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