Looking at the living and breathing, bustling landscapes of Camden or Mornington Crescent, it is clear that the restlessness of Auerbach’s desire to truly know his subject matter urges him onwards, constantly chipping away at the subject until he is able to reach its core. Further to the cityscapes of North London, one theme above almost all has been revisited, re-examined, torn apart and put back together by Auerbach; depictions of his long-serving friend and model Juliet Yardley Mills (JYM). An artist herself, she first posed for him in 1956 when she was a professional model at Sidcup College of Art, and continued to do so until her final appearance in Head of JYM III (1997, Private Collection) at the age of eighty. The two formed a close attachment throughout their forty year working relationship, as JYM later described after her retirement from sitting: ‘We had a wonderful relationship because I thought the world of him and he was very fond of me. There was no sort of romance but we were very close. Real friends. Sundays now I’m always miserable’ (JYM, quoted in Catherine Lampert, ‘Auerbach and His Sitters,’ Frank Auerbach: Paintings and Drawings 1954-2001, exh. cat., London, Royal Academy of Arts, 2001, pp.26-7). Despite their closeness the task of sitting for Auerbach was no easy feat. JYM arrived every Wednesday and Sunday having taken two buses from her home in southeast London and would sustain awkward poses for four hours or more.
The sincerity of their relationship and the depth of Auerbach’s knowledge of his subject matter is given life through his explosive, luxurious handling of paint, and the deep, direct frontal positioning of the sitter. The immediacy and gripping psychological vigour of the present work demonstrates Auerbach's connection to the sitter. The calm, structured brushstrokes of the background contrast sharply with the exuberance and dynamism of those constituting the figure. Deep, molten layers of paint lie upon each other as the Artist approaches the essence of what he sees before him. The volume of paint almost sculpturally gives her presence, as shadows and features run across the canvas. Under the tutelage of David Bomberg during evening classes at the Borough Polytechnic, Auerbach was encouraged to pursue an organic, spontaneous approach to capturing form, what Bomberg termed the ‘spirit in the mass’ and Auerbach remembers that ‘he had this sort of idiom that allowed one to go for the essence at the very beginning to adumbrate a figure in ten minutes and then to re-do it and then to find different terms in which to re-state it until one got something...' (Frank Auerbach, interview with John Tusa, BBC Radio 3, 7th October 2001). Quite clearly the impact of these classes has permeated Auerbach's output for the many decades since, visibly in the current work.
Presently, the richly layered paint mirrors the depth and stratification of Auerbach’s acute powers of scrutiny, and reveals his passionate relationship with paint and the sitter; building up the surface of the composition, scraping it away only to build it up again, always striving to capture the presence of the person, the very essence of the being seated before him, '…the paint became thicker and thicker, and I didn't notice it...the surface of the painting was eloquent, but it wasn't eloquent for its own sake... It wasn't intentional at all. But on the other hand I was quite prepared to let anything happen because I wanted to make something new' (Frank Auerbach, quoted in William Feaver, Frank Auerbach, Rizzoli, New York, 2009, p.231).
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