Frank Auerbach and Tony Bevan Go Head To Head

Frank Auerbach - Reclining Head of Julia II - 2011

Two world famous figurative painters, Frank Auerbach and Tony Bevan, come together in artistic dialogue for the first time in Frank Auerbach / Tony Bevan: What Is A Head?. The exhibition, postponed from November, now takes place from 7th December 2020 – February 2021 at Ben Brown Fine Arts.

The exhibition, curated by internationally renowned curator and author Michael Peppiatt, features portraits by two of Britain’s leading figurative painters, Frank Auerbach and Tony Bevan. This is the first time they have been placed in such an exceptional two-way dialogue, in an exploration of one of their most fascinating and enduring subjects.

Frank Auerbach - Head of Jym III - 1981
Frank Auerbach – Head of Jym III – 1981

A generation apart, Bevan and Auerbach share a fascination for the conceptual and painterly possibilities of reinventing heads. For both artists, the head is the centre that controls everything we do, its mysterious significance laying in its endless sparring of juxtaposed natures: impulse and restraint, instinct and order, spontaneity and discipline. It is rife with contradiction and yet to both remains the prime vessel of human life.

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The concept for this show is based on the exhibition organised by Michael Peppiatt in 1998 at the Musée Maillol in Paris under the title L’Ecole de Londres de Bacon à Bevan, which traced the influence of Bacon, Freud, Auerbach and Kossoff on the younger generation of figurative artists working in London.

Tony Bevan - Head - 2020
Tony Bevan – Head – 2020

Michael Peppiatt writes: “AUERBACH/BEVAN: WHAT IS A HEAD? What, indeed, is a head? For us, surely, it’s as big as the world, as existence itself, and just as unknowable. It contains everything we are and everything we can ever know, including our own limits, because whatever we do we can never go beyond its bounds. The head is all, the centre of the universe, as well as in the long term its circumference. Small wonder, then, that heads have preoccupied artists from the very beginning of recorded time and still intrigue them, re-emerging, Hydra-like, as the central symbol of humanity.

“The head also serves as a mirror of the whole history of art: its significance and the way it is represented have changed constantly over the ages. One wonders what in fact, after the combined ingenuity of centuries, is left in the subject for contemporary artists to explore, since the head was so radically reinvented during the last century that at one point it vanished altogether into the white heat of abstraction. Hence it is for good reason that, when contemplating the heads of Frank Auerbach and Tony Bevan, you are struck by a sense of resurrection: of elements destroyed, recovered from the past and reintroduced into the picture plane. A half-forgotten language has been retrieved, its subtle syntax, its infinite moods and accents brought back into play.”

Tony Bevan - Self Portrait Neck - 1988
Tony Bevan – Self Portrait Neck – 1988

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Frank Auerbach (b. 1931) was born in Berlin to Jewish parents and sent to England in 1939 to escape Nazism. He attended St Martins School of Art in London from 1948 to 1952 and took night classes at Borough Polytechnic. Auerbach went on to study at the Royal College of Art in London from 1952 to 1955. In 1978, he was given an Arts Council retrospective at the Hayward Gallery in London. Solo exhibitions have also taken place at the British Pavilion at the 1986 Venice Biennale and at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, in 1989. Auerbach’s work has been exhibited at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut; Kunstverein, Hamburg; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; the National Gallery, London; the Royal Academy of Arts, London; and the Courtauld Institute of Art, London, among other institutions. His works are included in numerous major public collections. Auerbach himself rarely leaves Britain and has lived and worked in the same London studio since the 1950s.

Tony Bevan (b. 1951) studied at the Bradford School of Art in Bradford, England (1968-71), followed by Goldsmiths College (1971-74) and the Slade School of Fine Art (1974-76), both in London. Bevan has exhibited internationally since 1976, holding his first US solo exhibitions at Ronald Feldman Gallery in 1988 and L.A. Louver gallery in 1989. Bevan has exhibited at prominent institutions around the world, with solo exhibitions at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; Staatsgalerie Moderner Kunst, Munich; Whitechapel Gallery, London; and the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. In 2005, a major retrospective of Bevan’s work was held at the Institut Valencià d’Art Modern, Valencia, Spain. In 2007, Bevan was elected a Royal Academician at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. His work is included in many prominent private and public collections, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and National Portrait Gallery and Tate, both in London.

Ben Brown Fine Arts
12 Brook’s Mews, London W1K 4DG 


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