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December 07 2011

When Freud met Bacon – in pictures

A new exhibition, The Mystery of Appearance: Conversations Between Ten British Postwar Painters, looks at the personal relationships between artists from Freud to Bacon to Hockney

December 18 2009

Space invaders

London stages Bob Law and Frank Auerbach retrospectives, videogame art invades Liverpoool, and Martin Boyce puts the terror in interior design in Dundee

Frank Auerbach, Courtauld Gallery, London

London looked to the future during the post-war years, as the bombed-out city rebuilt itself with towers of steel and glass. And it was precisely that heady moment of change which Frank Auerbach attempted to capture in his paintings, London Building Sites, on show in the city's Courtauld Gallery. His vision is rooted in the mudbanks of construction sites that were disinterring the bones of London's past. With a palette of blood-tinged ochre and sludge green, he built up layers of paint as churned and gritty-looking as the earth beneath the labourers' feet. This was the decade in which the young Auerbach and his peers Lucien Freud and Francis Bacon emerged as figureheads of new British painting. These gutsy artworks demonstrate why.

Space Invaders, Fact, Liverpool

This timely exhibition at Fact in Liverpool explores the new frontier of the digital world. Hailing from a generation that came of age with globalised cyberculture, the eight artists and videogame programmers presenting their work here are a largely fresh-faced bunch. American Mark Essen, for instance, who is barely out of his teens, makes fierce, rudimentary games that strip back the medium to its primal essence. Acclaimed young Chinese artist Cao Fei explores a gentler culture of avatars in her video COSPlayers. Set in Guangzhou, teenagers dressed as their favourite anime characters reveal how old China is passing into new, virtual realms. But computer games aren't just for kids. Having transformed low-fi video art into a big-budget affair in the 1980s, even Bill Viola is getting in on the act. His "slow" videogame promises to take players on a transcendental journey.

Martin Boyce, Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee

In the hands of Scottish artist Martin Boyce, interior design becomes a fearful thing. His installations feature modernist fixtures and fittings, but conjure up an atmosphere of Romantic gloom and middle-class neurosis. In his earlier works, an Eames chair wedged against a door keeps who knows what terror at bay, ventilation grills carry forbidding labels such as "undead", and wire-mesh fences transform gallery spaces into prisons. Conceived as an abandoned garden, his latest exhibition No Reflections has arrived at Dundee Contemporary Arts fresh from its debut in the Scottish pavilion at this year's Venice Biennale. It features abstract slabs of cold, grey concrete, a metal skeleton of a bed and a rusting bench, surrounded by a flurry of dead leaves. The organic world and this harsh man-made environment make melancholy companions. Definitely not a place to get too comfy.

Laura Oldfield Ford, University of Hertfordshire Galleries, Hatfield

Laura Oldfield Ford's punky drawings interpret the new towns and leisure developments found at the edges of urban sprawl. Yet what this young artist creates in pencil, ink and biro is far from the squeaky-clean structures you see on billboards, advertising a bright future for Britain's poorest areas. Distributing work through her self-produced magazine Savage Messiah, alongside gallery shows, Ford taps into the mental landscape as much as the physical world. In her work, building projects such as the Olympic site and the gleaming apartment blocks of east London's Lee Valley are shown as future ruins, cluttered with the waste they're intended to cover up. Via layers of pencil palimpsest, she reveals the memories that still beset these locations. On show at the University of Hertfordshire, her latest works excavate the buried history of the 1981 race riots, with depictions of places such as Harlow, Stevenage and Hatfield.

Bob Law, Thomas Dane and Karsten Schubert, London

The late Bob Law was a frontrunner of British minimalism in the 1970s, but he is far from well-known today. Providing the chance to consider him afresh, this show of his work spread over two London galleries – Karsten Schubert and Thomas Dane – is quietly persuasive. Like his American counterparts, Law's canvases strip back painting to monochrome stripes, blocky shapes and colour fields. Confronted with his "black paintings", for instance, it's strange to consider that his career began in St Ives in the 1950s, where he developed his skills alongside Trevor Bell and Peter Lanyon, painters whose abstractions were more obviously rooted in the Cornish landscape. In other works, Law's use of basic geometric forms suggests landscape with brilliant economy: lines, squares and rectangles become horizons, houses and skies. His hand-rendered daubs of paint, meanwhile, are a long way from the industrial finish usually associated with the minimalists. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2009 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

November 17 2009

What artist Frank Auerbach dug out from London's primaeval clay | Jonathan Jones

Arresting and forceful, Auerbach's paintings of postwar construction sites churn with the dark currents of modern life

In the classic 1950s sci-fi serial Quatermass and the Pit (written for the BBC by Nigel Kneale and later remade as a brilliantly lurid Hammer film), a London building site starts turning up prehistoric skulls that lead to a foul encounter with humanity's dark nature. In the original television programmes, the setting is explicitly postwar, with builders working on a West End bomb site.

Painter Frank Auerbach gazed at those same huge construction sites in the late 1950s and early 1960s, as bright new modern buildings went up to replace those destroyed in the war. Most spectacularly of all, he painted the huge tangle of red earth and brown girders where the John Lewis departmant store, bombed out in the blitz, was being rebuilt on Oxford Street. And like Kneale's troubled hero, he saw something terrible as he gazed into the pit.

Auerbach's London Building Sites, on view in a compelling exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery, record a city in transition, about to burst from its drab cocoon into the modernity of swinging London. At least, that's how someone else might have seen it, as clean new technocratic architecture rose up to replace old Victorian buildings destroyed by Hitler. But Auerbach's matted, moist, dank and rusted imagination dwells not on the new and the optimistic, but on the startling voids and archaeological excavations of the deep-dug foundations: his eye goes down there, into the mud, the primaeval clay, the ancient London revealed by the builder's preparations. Over the depths hang girders, red as scars.

There is one building site that arrested me in the way these paintings do – and it was Ground Zero in New York. There's a force of rage and memory in Auerbach's paintings, a vision of modern life as a churning, changing and sublimely destructive life force. They are like TS Eliot's image of new life as pain in The Wasteland: "April is the cruellest month ..." © Guardian News & Media Limited 2009 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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