Recently, I reviewed a book here about the work of Leon Kossoff's great friend, Frank Auerbach. Unlike the native (British) born Kossoff, the younger Auerbach was born in Berlin and came to England as an immigrant child. Despite these differences, both artists have remained devoted to the figurative, representational approach with strong linkages to the expressionist tradition. The work of both is strongly rooted in the London setting and working with the live model, both in the studio and as found in the reality of their native surroundings. Both were students of the outstanding, but inadequately recognized and supported, David Bomberg. All three reflect the impact of their Jewish heritage reinforced by their emergence from within deep rooted Jewish communities. Both Kossoff and Auerbach produce works (the former mostly board, the latter on canvas) which are laden with paint which has been scraped, layered, reapplied, streaked, rutted, ridged and in many ways manipulated over time. Auerbach tends to built layer upon layer, kossoff scrapes down to the board each day, then rebuilds time and again till he has created the look which clicks for him.
The retrospective (of paintings only) by the Tate for which this is the catalog, is one of the few given him, despite a general recognition of his talent. Despite that limitation, the book is sufficiently rich in drawings illustrating the text sections as to give the reader a reasonably sound basis for understanding their relationship to the painting. The essays are quite good in their use of visual representations to provide a clearer understanding of the underlying principles of Kossoff's approach. I was quite happy with them. The plates themselves are about as good a representation as one can get in a printed text of such paint enriched surface. Study with my 5", x2 magnifying glass, gave me a very good sense of what the work was like, although only an approximation of the reality. Unfortunately, contrary to the situation with Auerbach (whose work was exhibited fairly often by his dealer Marlborough in their NYC gallery), the American who finds himself drawn to Kossoff finds a lesser opportunity to study the works themselves. I was quite happy to find one of his large paintings of his brother, Chaim, adorning the walls of the Metropolitan Museums gallery which also included one of Alex Katz's many Ada paintings, Warhol's Mao, and a variety of Chuck Close's large photo-based works. This gave me a good chance to enrich my study of the catalogue's plates. (Amusingly, Chaim was replaced in time by one of Frank Auerbach's portraits. Perhaps they reserved the area for British figurative artists since it was right next to one by Lucien Freud of his bulky entertainment model of the 1980's.)
While there are other catalogues and books available on Kossoff, this one, I believe, is best able to provide a broad perspective on his work. The one with a nice but short essay by Sylvester covers only a limited period. For anyone interested in contemporary figurative art, British art, or excellent art, this book will be a fruitful source of enlightenment and pleasure