‘It is because of the subtle and profound way in which Auerbach's work gives expression and coherence to the complexity of our perceptions of simple things that he is for me the most interesting painter in this country’ (D. Sylvester, quoted in I. Chelvers (ed.) A Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art, Oxford 2009, p. 45).
Brimming with paint that appears as thick and fresh as the day the painting was made, Seated Figure With Arms Raised, 1973, is a beautiful example of Frank Auerbach’s mature practice. Auerbach’s brushstrokes are typically inquisitive, urgent and intuitive as they energetically and rapidly respond to the physical presence of the sitter, layering paint liberally onto the canvas to articulate the essential forms of a sitting figure, its arms raised above its head. Demonstrating the full range of Auerbach’s remarkable understanding of tonal nuance, broad impasto swaths of pale yellow and beige models the variegated body of the sitting figure against a muted black and wine red background. With its dark hues and virtuosic sense of light, this work recalls Auerbach’s admiration of such old master painters as Rembrandt, Titian, or Peter Paul Rubens. 'In spite of the excessive piling on of paint', fellow artist Leon Kossof once noted, 'the effect of these works on the mind is of images recovered and reconceived in the barest and most particular light, the same light that seems to glow through the late, great, thin Turners ... an unpremeditated manifestation arising from the constant application of true draughtsmanship' (L. Kossoff, quoted in Frank Auerbach, exh. cat., Arts Council, Hayward Gallery, London, 1978, p. 9).
Whilst teetering on the brink of abstraction, Seated Figure With Arms Raised is a definitive example of Auerbach's virtuosity as a figurative painter. Though his raw and visceral painterliness has an expressive quality, Auerbach did not consider himself an expressionist painter; rather than searching for an emotional or spiritual equivalent within the possibilities of painting, his interest lies in the existential qualities of paint as means of opening up new ways of seeing. Though Auerbach would paint portraits and city scenes of London from life, often developing lasting and intense relationships with his sitters, he was insistent that his portraits were more than mere records of a person, time or place. As Auerbach proclaimed, 'what I'm trying to make is a stonking, independent, coherent image that has never been seen before' (F. Auerbach, quoted in W. Feaver, Frank Auerbach, New York 2009, p. 229). Aspiring to articulate a much deeper, psychological likeness, portraits such as Seated Figure With Arms Raised are the laborious product of Auerbach’s continuous process of layering and scraping off paint until the desired image of his sitter is achieved. Describing the discovery of this distinctive way of capturing an image, Auerbach has said that 'it seems to me the only way to get something that was both surprising and totally coherent. And so the paint became thicker and thicker, and I didn't notice it the surface of the paint 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' (F. Auerbach, quoted in W. Feaver, Frank Auerbach, New York 2009, p. 231).