Executed with thick layers of oil paint, Kossoff’s tactile rendering of the painting’s surface accentuates the physicality of the work, giving an insight into the artist’s slow and careful working process. Often starting with preliminary drawings, he was intent that his paintings should achieve what he required of them, and his working method was one of constant discrimination: scraping and repainting until he saw the piece as completed. The resulting works from this period, and the present work in particular, explore the duality between a sense of the sitter trapped within the raw textures of the paint yet at the same time executed with clarity, through the powerful delineation of the figure’s facial features. The complexity of the painting’s surface is further accentuated through the use of white and ochre tones, which bring vibrancy and resonance in contrast to the darker tonalities of the artist’s earlier works.
In a similar way to his close friend Frank Auerbach, Kossoff carefully applied paint thickly onto the board with a slow build-up of layers, painstakingly embedding time into the creation process. In this way, Head of George Thompson No. 1 is not only an accurate aesthetic record of the sitter, but also conveys the shifting reality and presence of the moment portrayed through the volume and visceral consistency of oil paint. As Kossoff once said in an interview: “I’m always working to make it more like the sitter, to make the structure more real, more intense – but in the end, at the final minute, something else happens, something overtakes me in his presence, or in the presence of whoever I’m painting… I stop thinking for better or worse” (Leon Kossoff cited in: Exh. Cat., London, Tate, Leon Kossoff, 1996, p. 23). Characterised by Kossoff’s intensely personal and individual approach, Head of George Thompson No. I conveys a simultaneously immediate and intimate connection with the sitter through the emotionally charged application of paint.
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