One of Britain’s most acclaimed living artists, Kossoff (b.1926) helped to redefine painting in post-war Britain in intensely expressive depictions of London landscapes and engagement with the human figure. Leon Kossoff: A London Life embraces the entire span of Kossoff’s career from the early 1950s to work made in the past 20 years. With his catalogue raisonné nearing completion, this timely exhibition comes as Kossoff emerges as a preeminent artist in the crowded field of figurative painters active in London during the second half of the 20th and the early 21st centuries. During this time, figurative painting has fallen in and out of favour but is currently witnessing a widely appreciated renaissance. This makes Kossoff, who has never bowed to fashion, a more relevant figure than ever both as a historical influence and current practitioner.
Leon Kossoff has lived and worked in the capital his whole life. Observing its restless flux prompted a desire to capture in paint, charcoal and pastels the essential mutability of the city. The paintings and works on paper gathered for this exhibition feature many of the places and people that have captivated the artist for more than half a century. Their subjects act as pins on a map, tracking his studios and intimate portraits of models, family and friends. Kossoff never loses sight of his subject, balancing the human with the elemental, and metaphysical with the material.
Born in 1926 on City Road in London, Kossoff was evacuated to Norfolk during the war. After National Service, he studied at St Martin’s School of Art, attended David Bomberg’s evening classes at the Borough Polytechnic, and went on to the Royal College of Art.
His early career saw him identified as one of the post-war School of London, a particular friend of Frank Auerbach and member of a cohort that also included Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Michael Andrews and RB Kitaj.