Sunday, November 28, 2010

Leon Kossoff - The Elder Statesman of British Painting

Leon Kossoff is a London painter; his art is concerned with the East End of his childhood, and certain North London territories, too. Like Frank Auerbach, his contemporary and artistic twin, he does not travel, preferring to paint these familiar stomping grounds again and again, so that the work seems like some obsessive investigation carried out in the hope that something new and unexpected might reveal itself. Kossoff is drawn to the underbelly rather than the grand-view: the railway tracks and arches, the beaten back-roads, places of demolition and dilapidation. His landscapes of Kings Cross or Dalston Junction suffocate under leaden skies, or seem filled with darkness and rain; London weather described in paint. And for Kossoff, as for Auerbach, the paint is the thing. Lashings and scrapings of it, the thicker the better, so that each picture becomes something of a battleground. Portraits and landscapes are taken almost to the edge of recognition as he works and reworks; the subject almost lost in the sheer stuff of paint, the impasto seeping out over the edges of the boards (mere canvas couldn’t stand such brutality). Each work seems more an excavation of the city than a mere painting of it.

At 83, he is something of an elder statesman of British painting – he is also a solitary individual who, despite a career spanning some fifty years, remains little known to the general public. Like Auerbach, and the third gang-member Lucien Freud, he has never courted attention, or even, especially, an audience, but even so there have been a number of quiet fanfares for a current rare event: a show of brand new work in London, his first in almost ten years...

Stephen's full review is on

Leon Kossoff is at Annely Juda Fine Art, London W1, until Dec 17th.