It’s a rare thing to have a first-hand account of an artist’s innermost thoughts. Catherine Lampert was one of Frank Auerbach’s first sitters and has had access to him since1978, building up a relationship which has matured with time. Now an independent curator and art historian, she also has the academic credentials to interpret, rather than just report, what she hears. In addition to that, she has the good sense to recount the tone and nature of her conversations, rather than simply quote them verbatim or try to reconstruct something that was said maybe years earlier.
The resulting book is both a portrait of the artist as thinker and also an account of his life and career. It is, however, arranged by topic and theme, as Catherine explains in her preface, largely due to the fact that its subject dislikes talking about his own work or its intentions and deliberately tries to avoid any sense of progression or development in his oeuvre.
My first thought was, “does the artist approve?” There’s no specific statement to this effect, but the acknowledgements do list an impressive number of figures, including members of Auerbach’s own family, so I think we can conclude that this was, at the very least, not done against his will.
Marshalling this amount and type of material is a magisterial task and it could very easily go wrong. Things need to be ordered and put in context and a sense of narrative created and maintained. It’s perhaps more a job of curation than authorship, but Catherine Lampert is well on top of the task and the resulting book is a fascinating and rewarding account of a major contemporary artist.
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