It was raining heavily by the time I got to the gallery and, having been drenched in the typical London summer, I entered the pristine white halls. Had I not been visiting with a friend I would’ve dress-coded myself and turned back before going inside; there was an ominously clean and formal atmosphere to the gallery which is about as far from my dress sense as you can get. Having got over this shock, I became aware that this isn’t a 92-year-old that I’m used to.

Marian Leatherby. 92 years old. The product of Leonora Carrington. That’s what I was expecting, having spent several weeks studying her this past term at uni. But rather than a joyous old age, instead what I was confronted with was the horror of a loss of form as if Auerbach had suffered third degree burns and been fixed up by a mad scientist. The forms of the faces appear almost as a physicalised dementia and as the viewer I was confronted with this image of impending death. Not the cheeriest way to spend some time out in London.

The gallery itself gave the impression that I had been interred in some sort of insane asylum with white walls and nearly no text explaining anything; the only thing to do was to look at these horrifying faces as they stared back from all four walls of the room. ‘There is no escape. This will be you.’

As far as the actual art goes, the graphite works were far more emotional. The ability to see a fragmented head with gaps in it like a bomb had gone off inside leaving only some shrapnel and yet also see an echo of a man’s head softly underneath worked narratively. The alien vomit acrylic on boards, however, looked more like a breakdown in paint. Yes, that may have been the intent, but I couldn’t help but feel that the graphite and acrylics didn’t work side by side. If anything, all they did was to emphasise how the colour, when introduced, hid otherwise interesting forms.

Compare perhaps ‘Self-portrait IV’, 2021, and ‘Self-portrait II’, 2022. Whilst both use acrylics, the former uses it in a far more controlled and sensitive manner. The graphite-created form gives an interesting unfinished sketch feel which when given the acrylics and ink transforms it into an interestingly contrasted form, balancing excellent likeness and the trademark abstract style of Auerbach. In comparison the latter becomes an anarchic mess of colour which looks more as though a pre-schooler had an accident in art class than the work of a famous artist, especially when exhibited beside the far more compelling (mostly) monochromatic graphite-based works.

This brings me to the reason for the title. ‘Self-portrait II’, 2022 was at the very back of the gallery and thus the last piece I encountered anew. This for me gave in one painting everything that was wrong with the exhibition. The red eye. The menacing red eye. Watching. Recording. Analysing what we do. Many art writers talk about ‘the human condition’, whatever that may be, but in this exhibition, it seems to be distinctly lacking. Instead, what we get is a series of jumbled self-portraits which lays bare the reason why until this point Auerbach had so rarely done them: he clearly has nothing interesting enough to say about his own body. It becomes then, instead of an interesting insight to old age, an insight into how not to do art. COVID undoubtedly was the reason for this new subject matter - not being able to find sitters - but I began to wish that Auerbach had spent his time binging Netflix rather than painting. Or perhaps he did both. That would explain The Terminator being present.

Int. Art Gallery Foyer – Night

Frank: I’m a popular figure in the art world can I exhibit please?

Curator: If you have something of value

Frank: What about this?

Curator: Look, this isn’t really what people will enjoy.

Frank: I’ll be Auerbach.

Curator: Wait! Yes, come on in.

I think that really, the only reason any of this ended up on display was the Auerbach name. As art it’s not particularly interesting. As an exhibition it’s downright unnerving. And as an overall opinion? It’s not worth anyone’s time unless you happen to want to feel like you’re in Auerbach’s own personal cult.