I’ve been inspired to try a little experiment after a recent visit to a Frank Auerbach retrospective. Auerbach famously revisits the same subject matter time and again in his visual artwork. He draws, sculpts and paints the same models over the course of decades, he paints the same city views dozens, if not hundreds, of times over. In particular, he paints Camden (London). Even more specifically, he paints the view from his Camden studio, looking out over across rooftops of Mornington Crescent and towards what was once a cigar factory, but is now Greater London House.
The repeated return, especially to his studio window view, captured my imagination. It’s partly because it’s a scene I’ve seen from a different angle. I used to work in Greater London House, back in the days when I smoked like a chimney but refused to by fags. Every time I’d managed to nick one from Erica (sorry Rica!) we’d go out and smoke on the very spot Auerbach captures in so many of his works.
Seeing Auerbach’s depiction of colour and space, his interpretation of a place I occupied as part of my daily working life got me thinking about how much I don’t see when I enter the ‘work’ part of my day. But this is also part of Auerbach’s regular working day – he visits this view countless times, over decades, and yet, each time he describes it in paint, it is never the same. The light, the colour, the relationships of shape and space change even if nothing else has. And then, in the practice of revisiting this scene across months, years, decades, his work traces changes that in themselves mean very little but placed in the context of a wider series gain a shimmer of significance. A post box that seems to disappear. A shape that might be an aerial appearing on a rooftop. Small things that suddenly seem important as part of a bigger work.
It’s not something I’ve ever tried, depicting the same place at different moments. Or I thought I hadn’t, but I realised the other day I’ve sort of stumbled into trying it since spring has made it warm enough for me to eat lunch outside. When the weather is nice enough, this is where I go:
It’s a closed-in garden, surrounded by the building on all sides. It’s pretty wild, and quiet and sitting there, in the sun, listening to the birds, I’ve been inspired to scribble a few poems, all drawn from this spot. So while it’s not quite Auerbach’s repeated depiction of the same scene, I’m telling something that comes from experiencing this place in a particular moment.
I thought I’d turn it into a little experiment, across the next two months. A poem a week, from the bench. Good, bad, ugly, rough and ready, it doesn’t matter. They’re getting written and then I’ll see what I’ve got at the end.