Acknowledged as one of the world’s greatest post war figurative painters, Kossoff’s paintings are recognisable by his heavily worked impasto paint surface and brushwork. Central to his practise was also a constant desire to draw and sketch from life. Whether in pencil, charcoal, pastel or crayon on paper his drawings show him to be a consummate draftsman capable of subtle delicacy as seen in the intimate sketches of his sleeping baby son to the vivid expansive marks used to capture scenes of industrial London.
From early drawings of his immediate family circle the exhibition broadens out into the vast amphitheatre of London: its railways, bridges, schools, swimming pools, churches and gardens. At Willesden Junction, where Kossoff had a studio in the early 1960s, the drawings become panoramic, the complexity of the railway site bringing out Kossoff’s fierce sense of spatial depth and his ability to create in two dimensions the mass, volume and extent of three. At Willesden Swimming Pool, newly built in 1965, the drawings crackle into life, bodies dissolving and re-shaping themselves as abstraction and figuration play catch-up round the pool. At equally busy Kilburn, Embankment and King’s Cross stations, people crowd in, their pressing flow washing through the capital. Kossoff seizes on all this while at the same time celebrating the grandeur of some of London’s architecture. On Willesden Lane, a red-brick Victorian school stands its ground. At Spitalfields, Christ Church reaches into the sky, transcending time and tide.
Kossoff also made many drawings on his frequent visits to the National Gallery where he would go early in the morning before the galleries opened to the public. In her catalogue essay, curator Andrea Rose writes ….”He made innumerable drawings from works in the collection. It was less a question of copying than searching the worlds of the Old Masters, closing the intervals between past and present. ‘ I suppose it’s the difference between looking and experiencing’ he once said when talking about Poussin’s Cephalus and Aurora” .