Kossoff’s personal relationship to London is the point of connection in his oeuvre. Born and raised in the borough of Islington, Kossoff found particular inspiration in the bustling streets and stations of the neighbouring areas. Enrolling in Saint Martin’s School of Art, Kossoff befriended fellow student Frank Auerbach. The influence of Auerbach on Kossoff’s approach is undeniable, both students treated paint like sculpture, defying the canvas’ flat surface. Indeed, Kossoff’s process of preparation is integral to the outcome of his works. Over periods of months or years, Kossoff would sketch out his subjects with intense observation. In the studio, these preparatory drawings are a way for the artist to amass memory, time and an obsession with the subject. Like an actor embodying his role, Kossoff submerges himself into the psyche of his subject, rehearsing for months on end, leading up to his final performance. The day of painting is where he subsumes to chaos: “The subject, person or landscape, reverberate, in my head unleashing a compelling need to destroy and restate” (Leon Kossoff cited in: Exh. Cat., London, Anthony d’Offay Gallery, Leon Kossoff, 1988, n.p.). Kossoff is spontaneous and relentless with his brushstrokes, an outpour of emotion floods the canvas surface. The thick impasto act as layers the built-up memory, remnants of the months of preparation.
Colour is deep and sonorous in Fidelma, No. 2. The red of the chair runs into Fidelma’s body; Kossoff dissects her frame like a doctor, crimson strokes punctuate the skin and streams of blue run down the canvas, reinforcing the fluidity of the brushstrokes. Confident lines define Fidelma’s form, yet the sense of movement in the paint gives her presence a sense of transience, an intimate moment in passing. Kossoff comments on the impermanence of painting: “Every time the model sits everything has changed. You have changed, she has changed. The light has changed, the balance has changed. The directions you try to remember are no longer there and, whether working from the model or landscape drawings, everything has to be reconstructed daily, many many times” (Leon Kossoff cited in: Exh. Cat., Venice, XLVI Venice Biennale, 1995, p. 25). For Kossoff, painting is in constant flux. His sculptural paintings are indents of life and traces of memory, yet he animates the canvas with a sense of movement like no other.
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