Magazine article Artforum International

"The School of London and Their Friends"

Magazine article Artforum International

"The School of London and Their Friends"

Article excerpt

R.B. Kitaj coined the phrase "School of London" in 1976, and although no one really knows what it means, the label stuck, especially after a touring exhibition in the late '80s and an unrelated book both used it as a title. Broadly speaking, the School of London seems to include almost any contemporary British figurative painter, though the core members are usually said to be Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Leon Kossoff, and Kitaj. All but Kitaj are artists who paint from and against perceptible reality rather than the imagination; all but Kitaj and Andrews are figurative painters who paint from and against perceptible reality and have some affinity with Expressionism. On the other hand, and perhaps not coincidentally, all but Andrews and Bacon are Jewish painters in London. Just as the School of Paris was, essentially, non-French painters in France, the School of London is essentially a band of outsiders--mostly emigres (from Eastern Europe, Ireland, or the United States), mostl y set apart by religious background (even Andrews, the one non-Jewish Englishman, was brought up as a Dissenter rather than in the Church of England).

Elaine and Melvin Merians see it differently. Their collection, from which this exhibition was drawn, excludes Bacon (perhaps because his best period was nearly over by 1960, when their collection begins) and includes artists ranging from the fascinating Pop artist turned "Ruralist" Peter Blake to an able academic like John Wonnacott, a former student of both Andrews and Auerbach, to neo-figurative wunderkind Peter Doig. The result is an informative survey of an aspect of contemporary English art that is not well known abroad; here we can see the few familiar artists--Hockney, Freud, and so on--in a broader context. In this case, the context shows just how uneasily Auerbach, Freud, and Kossoff--the Jewish-Expressionist core of the School of London--fit with any of the others. …

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