(Jake Auerbach, quoted in Laura Barnett, ‘Sitting for Frank Auerbach’, The Guardian, 30th September 2015)
Jake is the artist's son, born in 1958. The relationship between artist and sitter is unique but when artist and sitter are also father and son, the relationship is undoubtedly imbued with further emotional complexity. Frank and his wife Julia separated when Jake was only five or six and he didn't see his father for many years: 'My father and I had a long break... Resuming our relationship seemed dictated by fate, and the suggestion came from a number of areas, as I remember it, simultaneously. The first meeting was nerve-wracking, then an enormous pleasure. I started sitting for him shortly afterwards, and have sat regularly ever since, for over 40 years - with a couple of short breaks, such as when I lived abroad. I still do it every Tuesday, for two hours...' (Jake Auerbach, 'Resuming my relationship with my father was dictated by fate', The Telegraph, 3rd October 2015).
Like all of Auerbach's paintings, the present work is the result of hours spent in front of the subject observing every feature, detail and tension, both physical and psychological, that subsequently informs each stroke. His portraits reveal his own experience of the people and places closest to him and few are closer than the biological bond between father and son. Auerbach sculpts the paint, layering each impastoed element on top of another only to scrap it back with his palette knife and start again, building up the composition until he has captured the very essence of the subject seated before him. Here, Jake sits upright in the same armchair that has appeared in so many of Auerbach's paintings, a nod to Rembrandt's Portrait of Hendrickje Stoffels (National Gallery, London), the chair providing an architectural framework in which to unleash his most energetic brush strokes and an extraordinarily jewel-like palette. It is significant that the artist chose this painting to be illustrated as one of very few details in the catalogue to his major 2001 retrospective at the Royal Academy, London.
The relationship between artist and sitter takes on an added dimension as Jake is himself also an artist:
'I tell people that I don't make films, I make people films... portraits rather than profiles... it's really satisfying then to have these films screened at the National Portrait Gallery, it feels right...' (Jake Auerbach, 3rd March 2008, press release for Jake Auerbach Film Season). Artist and sitter reversed roles for Jake's 2015 portrait of his father: Frank. Inspired by the painter's travelling exhibition to Kunstmuseum Bonn in June 2015, Jake went to film the show so that Frank could experience the exhibition. He had portrayed his father previously in Frank Auerbach: To the Studio (2002) which is a celebrated documentary of Auerbach's intensive working process - painting 365 days a year and rarely leaving the corner of north London where he has lived since the Second World War.
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