Of all the ‘School of London’ painters – a loose group of figurative artists including RB Kitaj, Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon – Leon Kossoff has always been the most London-obsessed. And here, across 90 drawings and ten paintings from the early 1950s to the present, of subjects ranging from Willesden in the west to Dalston in the east, are the landscapes to prove it.
It’s London’s ability to change that clearly captivates the 86-year-old Islington-born artist, with his most famous subjects including frenetic train stations and chaotic construction sites. Kossoff’s style, too, has changed. His 1960s drawings of Willesden Junction are dark, manic, scratchy things, as if he’s angrily chasing himself across the surface of the paper. Over time, while a scribbly intensity is retained, the colours brighten and the mood lightens.
There are some extremely effective later examples. But nothing compares to those frantic works of the ’60s and ’70s, to paintings like ‘Children’s Swimming Pool’ with its maelstrom of bodies somehow diving into the very depths of the painting.