Bohemian artist who enjoyed a close association with Francis Bacon
By David Buckman | The Independent | 22 October 2011
Denis Wirth-Miller and Francis Bacon
Wirth-Miller was one of a group of artists who for many years injected
the spirit of bohemia into the life of Wivenhoe, a small shipbuilding
and repairing town on the
stories, true or untrue – among the latter is one that after Bacon's
death his former Wivenhoe house was kept as a shrine by Denis and Dickie
– have tended to overshadow Wirth-Miller's achievements as a painter.
One recognition of this will be a forthcoming small retrospective at the
undermining Wirth-Miller's reputation was the fact that from the early
1970s sight problems hindered him and that latterly he suffered from
dementia. All this must have been hard for a man who had shown in
Bacons streaming back on the market
A portrait of a mystery man from 1953 by Francis Bacon could go for £11 million.
Study for Portrait by Francis Bacon from 1953
A painting by Francis Bacon that he gave to another artist in return for the use of his studio could fetch as much as £11 million at Christie’s next month. In 1951, grief-stricken at the death of his former nanny and companion, Jessie Lightfoot, Bacon left his flat in Cromwell Place, South Kensington, which they shared, and embarked on a nomadic existence, borrowing the studio of the Professor of Painting at the Royal College of Art, Rodrigo Moynihan, to work in. He used the studio for another two years, producing some of the most haunting images of his career, and exercising a powerful influence on the students at the college.
Study for Portrait was one of the last works he produced there. For Bacon, according to his biographer Michael Peppiatt, 1953 was an “annus mirabilis as inventive as it was prolific”. In spite of “flitting from debt to debt, and digs to digs”, he managed to produce more than 20 “majestic and terrifying” paintings including eight paintings of popes.
With the artist finding stimulation in adversity, Peppiatt concludes, “this was the period when Bacon acquired the means he needed to bring forth his vision.”
The subject of Study for Portrait is not known. The painting bears resemblances at once to Velazquez’s Portrait of Philip IV of Spain, to a photograph of Joseph Stalin at the Yalta Conference, to the art critic David Sylvester and to Bacon’s lover at the time, Peter Lacy. Whoever it is, it is a figure of power, seated on a semi-gilded throne and staring menacingly down at the viewer from the dark, caged solitude in which he is trapped. Look closely at the darkness, and it is a vivid Prussian blue-black that recedes in tone to the depths of the unknown where the subject sits regally, his starched white collar and brilliant flesh tones glowing like a ghostly apparition.
At some point, the painting was acquired from Moynihan by the successful Irish artist, Louis Le Brocquy, known for his spectral paintings of Bacon, who in turn sold it to Marlborough Fine Art, which had become Bacon’s principal dealers.
In 1984 it was bought from Marlborough by the Swiss entrepreneur and wine producer Donald M Hess, who, though not identified as such by Christie’s, is the seller next month.
Hess, 75, who announced his retirement from the family business last week, is one of the world’s top art collectors with more than 1,000 contemporary art works, including 30 by the American light artist James Turrell, which he displays in three museums dotted around the world in locations where his winery business operates: in Napa Valley, California; Paarl, South Africa; and Salta, Argentina. A fourth museum is being planned in the Barossa Valley, Australia. Of his art buying, Hess has said: “When I have seen an art piece which keeps me awake over several nights, I know that this art piece has touched me deeply and this is one of my most important criteria to buy an art work.” But he is not known to have previously sold any art from his collection. His website states: “Sales of artwork are for Hess taboo.”
So why is he now breaking that taboo? Hess has also said that he favours buying the work of living artists. He bought this Bacon when the artist was still alive, and is now thought to be buying more works by living artists.
His timing might be good because the market for paintings by Bacon is back on the boil again. During 2007, buyers such as the investor Joseph Lewis and Sheikha Mayassa of Qatar paid record prices of between £25 million and £30 million for Bacon masterpieces, and in May 2008, Roman Abramovich lifted that record to £44 million for a large triptych. In the downturn that followed, several works went unsold, and then little appeared on the market.
This year, however, another Russian buyer, thought to be banker Pyotr Aven, paid £23 million for a small triptych of paintings of Lucian Freud. As a result, Bacons are streaming back on to the market, and two were sold this month in New York. Both had been on the market relatively recently, as has a reclining female nude which is to be sold by Sotheby’s next month with a £7 million to £9 million estimate.
The Hess portrait may be dark – and other dark paintings from this period, while relished by academics and critics, have not always proved commercially successful. But it is fresh to the market, which counts as a bonus. And, like the £44 million Bacon, which was sold by the Mouieux family, producers of Château Petrus wines, it comes from a collector with proven taste.
Two Meaty Visions of Flesh and Blood
Francis Bacon Three Studies for Henrietta Moraes Oil on canvas in three parts. Each 35.6 x 30.5 cm. Executed 1966
In 1952, Francis Bacon posed for photographs with two sides of beef attached, like wings, to his naked torso. The gesture was provocative, as Lady Gaga’s meat dress would be a half-century later, but it was also deferential, a nod to Chaim Soutine, whose paintings of carcasses dangling in butchers’ stalls had been haunting the art world since a 1950 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art.
Bacon thought about Soutine a lot, or so we’re told by “Soutine/Bacon” at Helly Nahmad Gallery, an intense pairing of Soutine’s still lifes, landscapes and portraits with Bacon’s caged, half-flayed figures. It comes accompanied by a catalog of glossy reproductions, light on commentary but with detailed chronologies of both artists.
The exhibition is more of a one-sided conversation, with Soutine as the dominant voice. This may come as a shock to the general public, which is well acquainted with Bacon’s record-breaking auction prices and lauded international retrospectives. But it should not surprise painters, who have consistently mined Soutine’s roiling fleshscapes for abstract and figurative inspiration.
And in any case the organizers, Maurice Tuchman and Esti Dunow, are co-authors of the Chaim Soutine catalogue raisonné. They also coordinated “The New Landscape/The New Still Life: Soutine and Modern Art,” a similarly ambitious and memorable undertaking at Cheim & Read gallery in Chelsea in 2006. For this show, they’ve wrangled some incredible Soutines from the Tate and private collections in Europe.
Both artists exemplified the bohemian ideal, although in different ways. Soutine (1893-1943) emerged from the shtetls of Lithuania and found his way to the garrets of Montparnasse, nearly starving before the American collector Albert Barnes swept in and bought his paintings in bulk. During the World War II he lived in hiding in rural France, suffering from a stomach ulcer that eventually killed him.Bacon (1909-92), born into and cast out of a well-to-do family, lived dangerously as a matter of preference. His proclivities for drinking, gambling and sado-masochistic relationships made him an enfant terrible of the postwar London set.
The two shared an appetite for viscera. An often-repeated, possibly apocryphal anecdote holds that the police and the department of health visited Soutine’s studio after neighbors complained about the stench of rotting meat and the blood dripping through the floors. Bacon was known to admire a line from Aeschylus’ “Oresteia”: “The reek of human blood smiles at me.”
Religion had something to do with it. “I’ve always been very moved by pictures about slaughterhouses and meat, and to me they belong very much to the whole thing of the Crucifixion,” Bacon said. One might go through this show with an eye to Soutine’s Judaism and Bacon’s Catholicism: kosher steak and blood pudding, as it were. Or one could focus on other signals of outsider status, with Bacon’s homosexuality as the counterpart to Soutine’s ethnicity.It’s all there, for those who want to look. But this show isn’t really about identity or narrative or even subject matter. It’s about painting as “a direct assault on the nervous system,” as Bacon once wrote.
On the gallery’s cramped ground floor you will find Soutine’s “Flayed Beef,” from the Musée de Grenoble, one of the six nearly life-size renderings of bovine carcasses he made in 1924 and ’25. He had been looking at Rembrandt’s “Slaughtered Ox” at the Louvre, but his brushstrokes have a writhing urgency that evokes Titian’s more disturbing “Flaying of Marsyas”.
e could serve up surf as well as turf, a glistening “Still Life With Ray Fish” made in homage to Chardin’s “Skate.” Poultry is on the menu in “Dead Fowl” and “Brace of Pheasants,” which flank a Bacon painting of a plucked chicken suspended over a platform or butcher’s block.
Bacon also liked to reinterpret masters, though he gravitated to different ones: Velázquez, in his pope portraits, and van Gogh, in his landscapes. So the second-floor gallery’s pairing of Bacon and Soutine vistas feels forced, even if it includes some incredible Soutines like the Tate’s “Landscape at Céret (the Storm)” from around 1920-21, a crackling mass of thunderheads that anticipates Pollock and De Kooning.
The portrait section, also upstairs, is better matched. In works like “Old Actress” and “Portrait of the Sculptor, Oscar Miestchaninoff,” Soutine gives entire figures an astonishing plasticity, with Gumby-like limbs and twitchy features. In his triptych studies of friends and lovers Bacon goes right for the head, inducing Cubism with X-rays and deft, surgical strokes.
Soutine might not have held as much sway over Bacon as he did over School of London painters like Lucian Freud, Leon Kossoff and Frank Auerbach. But Bacon, out of all of these postwar figures, has had the biggest influence on contemporary art. You can’t have Damien Hirst without Bacon.
Can you have Bacon without Soutine? This show won’t resolve that question to everyone’s satisfaction, though it makes clear that Soutine was a vital part of the ecosystem that nourished Bacon. “In the 1950s Soutine was the artist who mattered, as Cézanne mattered in the decade before 1914, or Warhol in the 1980s,” as Martin Hammer asserts in the catalog.
And as any painter will tell you, he matters still.
“Soutine/Bacon” continues through June 18 at Helly Nahmad Gallery, 975 Madison Avenue, at 76th Street
Chaim Soutine's “Still Life With Ray Fish” (1924). Credit Metropolitan Museum of Art
Mike McKenzie, Thea Porter, Jeffrey Bernard, Michael Wojas, Francis
Bacon, Ian Board, John Edwards,
Mike McKenzie, Thea Porter, Jeffrey Bernard, Michael Wojas, Francis Bacon, Ian Board, John Edwards,
Tom Baker, Bruce Bernard, Liz McKenzie, Michael Clark, Allan Hall, John McEwan, and David Edwards
The Colony, fundamentally an afternoon drinking club, in the days of restricted pub hours, formed, from 1948, a notable part of the real-life, comic-tragic soap opera of Soho. Wojas, an English Pole with a nasal London accent and a long chiv-mark down one pale cheek, arrived as a barman in 1981 and took over on the death of Ian Board in 1994.
Board, who called himself Ida after his supposititious initials, was a monster: hoarse-voiced, swollen-nosed and foul-mouthed, he fell into uncontrollable rages. He was also very funny. While the club's founder, Muriel Belcher, had taken to using as an affectionate diminutive a four-letter word with the letter -y tacked on, Board's speciality was a torrent of obscenities artfully studded with demoralising terms such as "dreary".
For 13 years under Board, Wojas served quietly behind the bar in the upstairs room with its dark-green walls covered with photographs and its carpet like asphalt. He dried up glasses, all the while clocking the peculiarities of the customers: Bacon, alternately hilarious and stiletto-tongued; Daniel Farson, who would suddenly turn from affability into strangulated tirades of abuse; Graham Mason, a former television journalist known for his stupendous intake of alcohol, once going for nine days without eating. Wojas knew too the habits of the solicitor who often fell backwards off his barstool, or of the old woman known as Mumsy whose son had died. At his best, Wojas was a therapist.
In his first two years at the club, each day would begin with a hunt to find the previous day's takings, which a suspicious Ian Board had hidden behind a mirror or inside the piano before passing out and forgetting the spot.
Some members grew tired of being insulted, and Wojas attempted after Board's death to prevent the club from turning into a museum by encouraging its use by a generation of young British artists such as Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin.
Wojas would sit on the high stool at the end of the bar near the door, taking note of who should be repelled. He also decided who could become a member. On top of the fridge by the window a bust of Ian Board, in which his ashes had been inserted, sullenly eyed proceedings. Opposite, a smoke-darkened mural by Michael Andrews covered the wall behind the piano that was seldom played.
But Wojas initiated music nights in the one small room, attracting names such as The Magic Numbers, Alabama 3, Billy Bragg and Paul Weller. Suggs, from Madness, whose mother had long visited the club, presented a music series for ITV from there.
Wojas also came up with the wheeze of holding a series of art exhibitions by members. Behind the bar, above a caption "Not worth a fucking penny", hung a spot-painting by Damien Hirst, who bucked the general trend by giving up drink and moving to the country.
Like most stories associated with the Colony, Wojas's ended in tragedy, with the closure of the club at the end of 2008, and a tangled series of lawsuits over his right to artworks he had offered for sale.
Michael Wojas was born in London on August 9 1956. After Haberdashers' Aske's Boys' School, he studied Chemistry at Nottingham University. The rest of his life he gave to Soho.
Habitués of the Colony were used to the florid symptoms of decay of fellow-drinkers; observing them was said to be Ian Board's pastime. In the last decade of his life Wojas, who died of cancer, could sleep only by leaving on the radio and rocking backwards and forwards. The rocking and shaking increasingly invaded his daytime life.
He did not marry, but had a succession of more or less long-term girlfriends.
The Times | 8 June, 2010
If the walls of the Colony Room Club in Soho could speak, polite society would blush. It had been the archetypal louche drinking den for artistic bohemians for the past 60 years or so, with only three proprietors, the last of whom was Michael Wojas.
He did not cut a prepossessing figure. Pale, diminutive and hunched, he tended to slink through the streets of Soho in dark glasses, hugging the walls, as if trying to look inconspicuous. He had a serious vodka habit and the characteristic etiolated look of one for whom daylight was anathema. One acquaintance described him as looking like a blade of grass growing under a bucket. In his latter years he said little but would sit on a chair quietly rocking. He never seemed to eat. Or, at least, that’s what some saw. To others, he was quite the opposite: talkative, amusing, sensitive and with a great capacity to listen and dispense sympathetic advice — “our twisted shepherd”, as one friend described him. He was also an enthusiastic cook.
Some 18 months ago he incurred the wrath of some of the club’s stalwarts by giving up the unequal struggle to make ends meet and handing the premises back to the landlord, thus bringing down the shutters not only on their favourite watering hole and meeting place but also on a little piece of Soho history.
Over the years the tiny first-floor club in Dean Street, with its bilious green walls and battered carpet with countless cigarette burns, had beceome celebrated for its unbridled conversation and excess. It had gained notoriety in the 1950s as the place where the painters Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud let rip in heroic drinking bouts under the baleful eye of its then chatelaine Muriel Belcher, a Portuguese-Jewish lesbian with an acid tongue who referred to everyone as “she”. Bacon mixed generosity with tartness. “Champagne for my real friends and real pain for my sham friends,” he would say.
The Labour MP and journalist Tom Driberg (later Lord Bradwell) was a regular, sometimes with a young man on his arm. The jazz singer George Melly was a habitue; the artists Patrick Caulfield and Frank Auerbach were members, as was Colin MacInnes whose novel about London life in the 1950s, Absolute Beginners, has more than a whiff of the Colony Room Club about it.
Tennessee Williams, Noël Coward, E. M. Forster, David Bowie, Dennis Hopper, even, it was said, Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon — all had made the pilgrimage to the bohemian shrine and crossed the tattered threshold to savour its disreputable atmosphere. In recent yearsy, the club had been colonised by the Britart pack of Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Marc Quinn, Gavin Turk and Sarah Lucas.
Michael Wojas was born in Edgware, North London, in 1956 and was educated at Haberdashers’ Aske’s School and then Nottingham University where he read chemistry. On graduating he came to London where he got a job as a barman at the Colony Room in 1981. His girlfriend’s mother was a friend of Muriel Belcher who had set up the club in 1948. Belcher had died a year before he arrived and her place had been taken by the even more foul-mouthed Ian Board.
“I thought I would work there for a couple of months before I figured out exactly what I wanted to do,” Wojas said. “I didn’t realise at first that I had found my home. I spend more time here than I do in my flat.
“I had led quite a sheltered upbringing, coming from a scientific background,” Wojas said, “and I was fascinated by the range of crazy extroverts here; Ian perhaps being the maddest. The first couple of years Ian would hide the takings from the till every night, when he was drunk. The next day we would spend an hour trying to find them. He thought I was going to nick the money. It took him two years before he realised I was going to stay, and he started to trust me. He drove a lot of people away.”
Board died in 1995 and left the business to Wojas. “I’m the proprietor, the bar manager, lavatory attendant, psychiatric counsellor, odd job man and accountant. There certainly isn’t anything I haven’t done,” he said.
Latterly, Wojas had suffered from depression and the vodka had taken its toll on his liver. He is survived by his long-term partner, the actress Amanda Harris.
Michael Wojas, proprietor of the Colony Room Club, was born on August 9, 1956. He died of cancer on June 6, 2010, aged 53
Michael Wojas obituary
Genial barman and owner of the Colony Room, a boozy den of Soho bohemia
Paul Willetts | The Guardian | Friday 11 June 2010
Michael Wojas, who has died aged 53, was the former barman and owner of the Colony Room, a Soho drinking club famous for being the haunt of Francis Bacon and other sharp-tongued, bibulous denizens of the metropolitan art scene. But Wojas's duties extended far beyond those of genial host. "I am the proprietor, bar manager, lavatory attendant, psychiatric counsellor, odd job man and accountant," he said.
Like many a romance, his love affair with the Colony Room started by accident. Born in London, Wojas attended Haberdashers' Aske's school, Hertfordshire, and went on to study chemistry at Nottingham University. On completing his degree in 1981, he looked around for temporary employment while he pondered what to do with the rest of his life. Via his girlfriend's mother, he landed a job as barman of the Colony, a cramped and dingy one-room drinking den on the first floor of a Georgian building in Dean Street.
Founded in 1948, it was the longest surviving of those clubs that had flourished in the era before the liberalisation of British licensing laws in the early 1960s. In those days, the Colony and other such establishments enabled determined boozers to continue drinking when the pubs were closed. Its founder was Muriel Belcher, an imperious lesbian with a fondness for insulting banter. Under her tenure, the club acquired a raucous, artistic clientele that encompassed not only Bacon but also Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach, John Deakin and Michael Andrews. In settlement of overdue bar bills, hard-up members got into the habit of handing over works of art. Together with an assortment of photographs and other memorabilia, several of these hung on the club's dark green walls, the colour of which accentuated its claustrophobic ambience.
When Belcher died in 1979, her throne was inherited by her bottle-nosed, brandy-marinated barman, Ian Board, who maintained her tradition of unprovoked belligerence. While Belcher dispensed acerbic one-liners, Board specialised in expletive-strewn tirades.
Being a gentle, rather shy young man who had enjoyed a sheltered upbringing, Wojas appeared ill-equipped for this sort of environment – bohemian London's equivalent of a gladiatorial arena, swords and tridents replaced by barbed comments, withering sarcasm and assorted bad behaviour. Yet he flourished at the Colony, offering an incongruously sensitive and gentle counterpoint to his boss's excesses. "I was fascinated by the range of crazy extroverts there," he admitted.
instead of leaving after a few months and pursuing a conventional career, Wojas remained as Board's sidekick for 13 years, during which he spent more time at the Colony than at home. Board repaid this stamina-sapping loyalty by bequeathing the club to Wojas on his death in 1994.
Aware that the club could not survive on its reputation and ageing membership, Wojas set about recruiting fresh blood. Before long, a new generation of young artists was cavorting in his dishevelled, smoke-wreathed kingdom. Perched on a bar-stool near the entrance, his demeanour infinitely more hospitable than either of his predecessors, Wojas cast an indulgent eye over the frivolous antics of the artists Sarah Lucas, Damien Hirst and their circle.
"I remember evenings when the revels went on through the night," said the film-maker John Maybury. "I fondly recall Michael performing the Alastair Sim-like role of gym mistress while Sarah Lucas, Lisa Stansfield and I – all completely blotto – did forward-rolls across the carpet."
As part of the process of reviving the club, Wojas started holding exhibitions of artwork by its members. He also launched regular music nights, the entertainment provided by Suggs, Billy Bragg and other well-known performers. His most inventive promotional gimmick entailed him persuading members and their friends to work as guest bar staff. Each Tuesday night, anyone from Kate Moss to Sam Taylor-Wood could be found serving drinks.
In 1997 Maybury exploited similar communal spirit when he filmed his brilliant Francis Bacon biopic, Love Is the Devil, starring Derek Jacobi. "Michael was happy to let me shoot the Colony sequences in the club, but there wasn't enough space there for all our equipment," Maybury recalled. "I ended up building an exact replica of the club in a film studio. I employed Michael as an extra. He brought with him numerous old-time members who appeared as extras, too. When Jacobi walked on to the set, several sozzled veterans thought he was Francis. Michael had to patiently explain to them, 'It isn't Francis because Francis is dead, and this isn't the Colony Room.'"
A decade after Maybury's film came out, the lease on the Colony's premises expired. His health deteriorating, Wojas decided to close the club and sell its better-known pictures, notably a large Michael Andrews painting. The announcement and ensuing auction provoked a bitter legal dispute with many of the regulars.
Diagnosed as suffering from cancer soon after the club's closure, in the final year of his life Wojas was proud to register what was, for any Colony Room stalwart, a rare accomplishment – he gave up smoking and drinking. He is survived by his mother.
Michael Wojas, club owner, born 9 August 1956; died 6 June 2010
Pop Goes the Art Market
Never underestimate the power of suggestion: On Tuesday, Sotheby's hired waiters with silver trays to offer up tiny glass bottles of soda pop to collectors arriving for its major evening sale of contemporary art. Half an hour later, eight bidders fought over the sale's priciest offering - Andy Warhol's 1962 soda bottle, Coca-Cola  [Large Coca-Cola]. A telephone bidder won it for $35.3 million, over its $25 million high estimate.
But the sale relied heavily on faraway collectors to pick up its priciest pieces, including examples by boom-era favourites Mark Rothko and Francis Bacon. An Asian telephone bidder paid $22.4 million for a lemony, untitled Rothko from 1955 that was being sold by architect Graham Gund. Sotheby's London-based expert Oliver Barker also fielded the $14 million winning telephone bid for Bacon's orange-and-blue Figure in Movement, which was priced to sell for up to $10 million with fees. (Sale prices include the auction house's commission, which estimate prices omit.)
Eager Collectors Snap Up Pop Art at Sotheby’s Auction
By CAROL VOGEL |THE NEW YORK TIMES | NOVEMBER 9, 2010
It was to have been Warhol’s night. Waiters in black served Coca-Cola in old-fashioned green-glass bottles to the throngs of collectors and dealers who packed Sotheby’s salesroom on Tuesday night, an homage to a 1962 Coke bottle painting by the artist that was on offer.
There has been far less work by Francis Bacon to come on the market this season than in years past, but Figure in Movement, a 1985 painting of one of the artist’s anguished figures, this one wearing knee pads and boxed in by sky-blue bars against a black background, was a present from Bacon to his doctor, Paul Brass, who had decided it was time to sell and was watching the sale from a skybox. Four people fought over the painting, which was estimated to bring $7 million to $10 million, and sold for $14 million.
ART UNCOVERED: THE PUBLIC'S ARTWORK DENIED AN AUDIENCE
IN THE current tough climate of arts cuts, Jane Clinton reports on the treasures that are costing taxpayers thousands of pounds to store but which remain hidden from view for much of the time.
By Jane Clinton | Sunday Express | Sunday November 7, 2010
THEY are the art treasures that are often away from view and include works by Francis Bacon and Damien Hirst.
News that the Arts Council
“We are like a gallery without walls,” says a spokeswoman. “We have a third of our collection on show whereas some museums have less than 10 per cent of theirs on display.”
Among those not on loan are Francis Bacon’s Head VI, 1949, Lucian Freud’s Girl In A Green Dress, 1954 and Damien Hirst’s He Tried To Internalise Everything, 1992-1994.
The Arts Council
has also launched a new process whereby organisations will have
to reapply for their grants. Despite the cuts, however, it
insists the loans collection will not be sold off and is not
under threat. “Selling off the collection would mean these
world-class works would be lost to the British people for ever,”
says Arts Council
“I’ve not heard anyone suggesting that we should sell off any of our other great national collections to pay off the national debt.
“A modest amount is invested on behalf of the public, supporting artists at the very beginning of their careers, many of whom have gone on to become key figures in the history of art. Francis Bacon’s Head VI was bought for £60 in 1952 and is now worth an estimated £12million. This means that these important works, a world-class collection of post-war British art, belong to, and can be seen by, the British people for ever.”
There are, however, plans to review the amount spent on new
acquisitions. The Arts Council
However, leading art critic Brian Sewell believes the Arts Council should sell off the collection to free up funds and save on the expense of storage and conservation. “I see no purpose in the collection at all,” he says. “The Arts Council is in many ways just duplicating what is done by the Tate and other collectors and collecting bodies. There is a great mass of material being accumulated by the museums and galleries that no one ever sees and the Arts Council simply joined in.
It has very little out on loan. The collection should be spread into galleries. The Tate Gallery, as the heritage body in contemporary art, should be encouraged to go through the collection and select what it doesn’t have. Then that should automatically pass to the Tate. “The rest of it could easily be sold and even if it doesn’t make a substantial amount of money you will immediately save the costs of storage, conservation, maintenance security and curatorial staff. It would be a neat solution to the budget cuts.”
Kundera, unmoved, turns the canon on itself
Encounter: Essays By
Geordie Williamson | The Australian | October 30, 2010
It is in the novel, that zone of total imaginative freedom, where the Czech author's genius for melding pure idea to character and narrative is most apparent.
Taking in the four volumes of essays made available in English since The Art of the Novel in 1986, we might say Kundera's nonfiction operates as a series of retrospective explanations and genealogical justifications for the louche, playful and incorrigibly metaphysical content of his imaginative work.
Nonetheless, there is much that is fresh here, not least because the writer's attention is thrown outward, towards other creative figures (hence the title). The collection opens, for example, with an essay on Francis Bacon that aims straight at the heart of that magnificent and brutal artist's program:
Bacon's portraits are an interrogation on the limits of the self. Up to what degree of distortion does an individual still remain himself? To what degree of distortion does a beloved person still remain a beloved person? . . . Where is the border beyond which a self ceases to be a self?
What impresses Kundera about Bacon is not only his quest for an originality that does not sever modernism from earlier painterly traditions, but also his willingness to search, "in a time when the 'self' has everywhere begun to take cover", for (in Bacon's words) "that treasure, that gold nugget, that hidden diamond" that is "the face of the self".
And so Bacon serves as a template for what the creative figure should possess: "a clear-sighted, sorrowing, thoughtful gaze trying to penetrate to the essential". writing unique: "
Geordie Williamson is The Australian's chief literary critic.
An encounter on familiar turf
Schools Cancel Trip to Bacon Show
CONTEMPORARY ART EVENING
Session 1: Tue, 9 Nov 10, 2010, 7:00 PM
Figure in Movement 1985 Francis Bacon
LOT NO. 31
FIGURE IN MOVEMENT
$7,000,00 - 10,000,000
Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium: 14,082,500 USD
A gift from the artist to the present owner in 1985
London, Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., Francis Bacon: Paintings, May - July 1985, cat. no. 17, p. 39, illustrated in colour
Glasgow, McLellan Galleries, Glasgow's Great British Art Exhibition, March - May 1990, p. 37, illustrated in colour
Paris, Centre national d'art et de culture Georges Pompidou, Francis Bacon, June - October 1996, cat. no. 81, p. 217, illustrated in colour
The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, Francis Bacon, January - May 2001, p. 111, illustrated in colour
London, Tate Britain; Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado; New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Francis Bacon, September 2008 - August 2009, p. 243, illustrated in colour
London, Tate Gallery, 2000 - 2010 (extended loan)
Hugh Davies and Sally Yard, Modern Masters: Francis Bacon, New York, London and Paris, 1986, no. 102, p. 107, illustrated and illustrated in colour on the back cover
Michel Leiris, Francis Bacon, Paris, 1987, no. 149, n.p., illustrated in colour
catalogue to the spectacular retrospective at the Tate Gallery in 1985,
the museum's renowned director Alan Bowness described the art of Francis
Bacon thus: "His own work sets the standard for our time, for he is
surely the greatest living painter; no artist in our century has
presented the human predicament with such insight and feeling....for
Bacon, the virtues of truth and honesty transcend the tasteful. They
give to his paintings a terrible beauty that has placed them among the
most memorable images in the entire history of art" (Exh. Cat.,
Gifted by the artist to his physician Dr. Paul Brass, who followed his father Dr. Stanley Brass as Bacon's personal doctor and with whom Bacon maintained a close bond until his death in 1992, Figure in Movement possesses an exceptional provenance. The terms of its ownership vividly reflect its importance to Bacon: not only was Dr. Brass a most trusted friend, but when he was first offered a choice of painting and initially suggested another work, the artist instead recommendedFigure in Movement, assuring his doctor that it was a superior painting. Eminently regarded through its distinguished exhibition history in major shows in Moscow, Paris, London and The Hague, as well as its long-term loan to the Tate; this marks the historic occasion of its first appearance to market.
Foremost among Bacon's innermost clique in 1985 was John Edwards, a
handsome East-Ender and the artist's closest companion at this time.
Edwards wrote, "it was a perfect relationship. I was never Francis'
lover, but I loved him as the best friend a man could have. He was fond
of me like a son" (Exh. Cat.,
While the figure twists and writhes as if to struggle free of the canvas, it is contained within indications of rigid cricket pads. The sport was a subject of fascination for the artist's later career. A photograph of source material littering his studio floor reveals the intriguing arrangement of a copy of Physique Pictorial lying on top of England cricketer David Gower's book With Time to Spare, so that the legs of a brooding male bodybuilder join up with the cricket pads of a batsman underneath. This fusion of diametrically opposed images is archetypal of Bacon's ability to meld starkly eclectic themes to portray the chaos of human existence, and provides apt parallel with Figure in Movement. Bacon draws on his knowledge of art historical precedent, such as the incomparable figural studies of Michelangelo. He accelerates the effects of light and shadow, plunging form in and out of darkness so that several passages of light flow in simultaneous chorus. Chiaroscuro rhythms of anatomic gesture negotiate between material and void, while the figure's left leg dissolves in the black ether of the platform.
More than any other artist of the 20th Century, Bacon held a mirror to the nature of the Human Condition, and Figure in Movement provides the perfect reflection of what he saw. He was fascinated by the postwar works of the French existentialists Sartre, Camus and de Beauvoir, and their themes of alienation, imprisonment and the absurd. The most important actors of Bacon's canon, typified by this figure, crystallise this entire philosophical enquiry, as they let go of the sureties of the past and stand on the threshold of an unknowable future.
An interview between Sotheby's Michael Macaulay and Martin Harrison, editor of the Francis Bacon catalogue raisonné in preparation for publication.
MM: Could you share your opinion of Bacon's late work of the 1980s and explain how Figure in Movement from 1985 fits into this important period?
MH: Bacon's project in the 1980s can be summed up as refining to their essence the themes that preoccupied him most of his career – the human body, gesture and movement. In eliminating superfluous detail, he could be described as a figurative minimalist. Figure in Movement is a quintessential exemplar of this process. It is a compelling variation of a concept he had first essayed in 1982, in which a naked form wearing cricket pads was raised on a dais. In the 1982 paintings, the 'figure' is an abstracted semi-torso, as in the panel Study from the Human Body, 1982–84, from the diptych in the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D. C. and in Study of the Human Body, 1982 (Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris). Evidently, in Figure in Movement, 1985, Bacon set himself the challenge of representing a more complete human body.
MM: How does Bacon's symbolic content, in this case the gladiatorial inference of the inclusion of the cricket pads, relate to the isolation of his figures?
MH: The reference to cricket is deliberately ambiguous: the figure, isolated in an artificial arena, is simultaneously vulnerable and aggressive. Bacon's figures are radically decontextualised into a kind of existential vacuum: cricket is an outdoor sport, but Bacon's visual field is neither exterior nor interior. Figure in Movement is one of a select group of works made in the last decade of his life that feature a dominant, bright cadmium orange ground, Bacon's favourite colour. In its positive and vibrant aspects it intensifies the confinement of the abject yet heroic figures.
MM: The cricket pads invoke Bacon's appropriation of found imagery as cues for composition. How had the artist's treatment of found imagery altered by this stage in his career?
MH: Bacon collected images of cricketers in the 1980s, and four books on cricket that remained in his Reece Mews studio at the time of his death are now in the collection of Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane: Patrick Eagar and John Arlott, An Eye for Cricket, (1979); David Gower and Alan Lee, With Time to Spare (1980); Mike Brearley, Phoenix from the Ashes: The Story of the England – Australia Series 1981, (1982); Patrick Eagar and Graeme Wright, Test Decade 1972–1982 (1982). He was familiar with cricket through his relationship with Eric Hall from the 1930s to the 1950s; Hall was an aficionado of the sport and on intimate terms with many of the leading players. Bacon greatly admired David Gower, one of England's leading batsmen renowned for his good looks, and David Sylvester identified Gower as a specific spur for the paintings. [Interviews, p. 180] However, even in the last painting to reference cricket, the central panel of Triptych 1987, the head is unequivocally that of John Edwards whose representations were based on photographs: therefore, Bacon's modus operandi in terms of appropriated imagery remained the same as it had since the 1940s, when he first adapted reproductions of Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X and Eadweard Muybridge's Animal Locomotion.
MM: This work was executed seven years before Bacon's death. Do you perceive a growing sense of his own mortality, and what does Figure in Movement say about the artist's self-perception in this final period?
MH: Crucial to Bacon's anti-narrative strategy, he located the elements of Figure in Movement in a zone of ambiguity. The protagonist is non-specific, adopting neither an offensive or defensive attitude. The figure also defies spatial logic, occupying an abstract field both behind and in front of the pale blue and black backdrop. The padded left leg dissolves into a smoky shadow on the floor of the elevated dais, the dissociated 'field of play' that acts as a cipher for the confrontation between batsman and bowler on the cricket field. It is too facile to relate the dissolving of forms to his consciousness of mortality, although the black backdrops – opaque voids that resemble tombstones – tend to support such an interpretation, as would the collapsing of the head into the negative space.
This intense and deceptively simple painting transforms the role of the viewer from a passive to an active state: Bacon's fragmented forms and anatomical diversions – the tilt of the body and the violent diagonal sweep of the sketchy arms and hand – insist on a creative interaction. Our gaze is drawn through the converging perspective of the wicket/pedestal and we become both observer and participant.
Last week’s auctions fetched more than double the amount achieved last year.
By Colin Gleadell | The Daily Telegraph | 18 Oct 2010
Study for a Dog Francis Bacon
No one, it
seems, was bold enough to bid at Christie’s fund-raiser for the
By Anita Singh, Arts Correspondent, The Daily Telegraph, 12 October 2010
Francis Bacon's Figure in Movement is estimated to fetch over £6 million at auction.
The 1985 painting, Figure In Movement, is being sold by Dr Paul Brass, the artist's friend and personal physician. It depicts a figure wearing cricketer's kneepads - Bacon had a lifelong passion for the sport.
who died in 1992, was the perfect patient, Dr Brass said. "He was always
15 minutes early for every appointment." The portrait has been on loan
Figure in Movement, a gift to the artist's friend and GP, expected to fetch at least £4m in Sotheby's sale
Mark Brown |arts correspondent | The Guardian | Monday 11 October 2010
Francis Bacon’s Figure In Movement
A Francis Bacon painting of a tortured cricketer twisting and writhing is to be sold at auction after hanging in Tate Britain for much of the last decade, Sotheby's announced today.
The painting is being sold by Bacon's friend and personal doctor, Paul Brass, who was given the portrait in 1985, the year it was completed.
loaning it to the Tate, Brass has decided to sell and an estimate of
$7m-$10m (£4.4m-£6.3m) has been placed on it ahead of the auction in
Figure in Movement, featuring a typically agonised figure, common in Bacon's work, this time in cricket pads and against a black and bright orange background with blue cage-like struts, also featured in the major 2008 Bacon retrospective at Tate Britain, which toured New York and Madrid.
Brass took over the role of being Bacon's personal physician from his father, Dr Stanley Brass, and was offered a choice between two paintings – the cricketer and one of a jet of water.
In an interview with the New York Times, Brass said: "I was tempted to opt for the jet of water, but when I told that to Francis, he said no, that painting happened by mistake when he spilled white paint on the canvas. He told me, 'If I were you, I would choose the cricketer'."
died in 1992 and his works attract some of the biggest prices for any
20th century artist although no one expects the painting to get anywhere
near the record, set in 2008 when Bacon's Triptych
1976 was bought by Roman
Abramovich for $86m, reportedly to hang on the walls of his
have been disagreements about what is going on in Figure
In Movement and who it is
based on. The figure seems to resemble John Edwards, the man Bacon found
solace in after the suicide of his lover George Dyer in 1971, but there
have also been suggestions Bacon based it on David Gower, captain of the
Dr. Brass, an internist, knew Bacon as a friend and as a patient of his father’s. “The first time I met him I must have been 16,” Dr. Brass recalled, sipping tea in a conference room at Sotheby’s in London recently. He added later, “I would occasionally treat him when my father was on holiday.”
When the senior Dr. Brass retired, his son took over the practice. “I never liked to send fees” — that is, bills — “to friends and family,” he said. “And one day I received a letter from Francis saying that if I didn’t send him a bill for the last two years he would have to find another doctor.”
Not only did Bacon, who died in 1992, pay by “return post,” as Dr. Brass put it, but he also “was always 15 minutes early for every appointment.”
Over the years, as their friendship grew, Dr. Brass would make a point of going to Bacon’s exhibitions. At a show at the Marlborough Gallery in London, Valerie Beston, a director of the gallery at the time, told Dr. Brass that Bacon wanted to give him a painting and that he was to choose from two in the show: one of a jet of water, the other a figure of a cricketer.
“I was tempted to opt for the jet of water, but when I told that to Francis, he said no, that painting happened by mistake when he spilled white paint on the canvas,” Dr. Brass said. “He told me, ‘If I were you, I would choose the cricketer.’ ”
So he did. But Dr. Brass has decided to sell this 1985 painting, Figure in Movement, which features one of Bacon’s anguished figures, this one wearing knee pads and boxed against a black background within a sky-blue frame that is much like a cage. It will go on the block on Nov. 9 at Sotheby’s in New York, where it is expected to bring $7 million to $10 million.
For the past decade the painting has been on loan to Tate Britain. It has also been included in many major Bacon exhibitions, most recently a retrospective at the Tate that travelled to the Prado in Madrid and then the Metropolitan Museum of Art last year.
Cricket fascinated Bacon, and beginning in the 1950s he would attend matches. Over the years the subject crept into several of his paintings. In Figure in Movement, however, the man’s jaw line, eyes, nose, mouth and hair are unmistakably those of John Edwards, Bacon’s closest companion from the mid-1970s until his death.
But the body was adapted from 20-year-old photographs of George Dyer in his underwear. Mr. Dyer was Bacon’s companion until Mr. Dyer committed suicide in 1971. “Dyer and Edwards were both patients,” Dr. Brass noted.
Il compito dell'artista? Svelare qualcosa di me
La mostra milanese di Maurizio Cattelan fa riaccendere il dibattito sul ruolo dell'arte: ha una missione sociale o la sua responsabilità è di altro tipo? Per capirlo, proviamo a fare i conti con «due giganti del Novecento»
di Giuseppe Frangi,
Francis Bacon Autoritratto.
Complice (anche) la mostra milanese di Maurizio Cattelan, sui giornali è riaffiorata una domanda che tendiamo a dare un po’ per scontata, quando si parla di artisti contemporanei. Esiste una responsabilità sociale dell’arte? Insomma, l’artista ha dei doveri, un compito, in qualche modo “una missione da assolvere” nei confronti della società a cui si rivolge? Rispondo provocatoriamente dicendo di no. L’arte ha un’altra responsabilità: quella di “rispondere” alle domande che riguardano la radice dell’essere.
Faccio un esempio, per rendere più chiara l’idea. I due artisti che più passa il tempo e più si affermano come i due giganti del secondo Novecento, Francis Bacon e Alberto Giacometti, non si sono mai fatti nessun problema sulla ricaduta sociale delle loro opere. Semplicemente sono stati fedeli a loro stessi e al bisogno vertiginoso di cogliere il mistero dell’essere dentro una società che chiudeva tutti gli spazi al Mistero. Bacon e Giacometti però, così facendo, sono stati artisti di enorme rilevanza sociale, perché per primi e senza timori hanno colto il dramma di quella «
Bacon e Giacometti sono stati due grandi solitari, scontrosi e spesso asociali nei loro atteggiamenti. Non hanno risposto a nessuna delle chiamate civili o culturali che la società lanciava. Eppure, andando al fondo alla verità di se stessi, alla fine hanno restituito un messaggio di vera rilevanza sociale. Hanno messo l’uomo davanti alla sua condizione. Hanno rilanciato in modo drammatico e tranchant la domanda che sta poi alla base di ogni possibile consesso sociale: quella sul destino. Il loro modo di essere “sociali” è quello di essere stati testimoni fedeli della propria inquietudine e della propria ansia di verità.
Oggi, con il nuovo Millennio, l’arte tende a scansare questa grande sfida lanciata da Bacon e Giacometti. Magari siamo davanti ad un’arte “socialmente corretta”, ma è un’arte svuotata dalla sua capacità di rischiare, di esporsi per comunicare all’uomo la tensione di una condizione o di un’attesa.
Se poi si vuole parlare nello specifico di Cattelan, dirò - consapevole di trovare poco consenso - che questo artista, in fondo, è molto più serio di quanto la vulgata mediatica non voglia fare apparire. La sua rappresentazione del Papa colpito dal meteorite, solo, nell’immenso spazio delle Cariatidi, abbarbicato al pastorale con la Croce, è un’immagine dirompente
Art Daily | Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Untitled (Crouching Figures), c.1952 Francis Bacon
of Francis Bacon has generously placed an important painting by the
artist on loan to The
Courtauld Gallery. Untitled
(Crouching Figures), c.1952, went on display from yesterday and will
initially be presented alongside Honoré Daumier’s Don Quixote and Sancho
Panza, c.1870, in recognition of Bacon’s admiration for Daumier’s
When James Thrall Soby, curator at The
Untitled (Crouching Figures) is one of Bacon’s most important works from the early 1950s, a period when he was emerging as the leading British painter of his generation. It is one of a group of works in which nude figures are paired in sexually charged homoerotic compositions. In the post-war world of the 1950s, Bacon’s revelation through his paintings of the potentially destructive potential of human desire resonated particularly strongly.
Miguel de Cervantes’s great 17th century novel tells the story of the farcical Don Quixote who sets out on a series of illusory chivalrous quests, mounted on his emaciated horse Rocinante and accompanied by the witness squire Sancho Panza. Bacon scholar Martin Harrison, who first recognised the importance of Fischer’s correspondence with Soby, has written of Daumier’s Don Quixote: “To gaze at this great painting is comparable to experiencing a slightly scaled-down Bacon of the 1950s”, pointing out how the subdued palette and loose brushwork of Daumier’s painting is echoed in Bacon’s work. Bacon may have also have felt an affinity for Daumier’s bleak representation of the tragicomic figures from Cervantes’s novel.
Master Painters Side by Side for the First Time in the
With the series ‘Conversation Piece’, the
Francis Bacon (1909 – 1992) was extremely indebted to tradition; as he formulated it himself: ‘in the long run art cannot cut loose from its tradition, but only renew it in a way which will be compelling to a contemporary sensibility.’ In this connection, he also repeatedly acknowledged having a strong affinity with Michelangelo. Bacon particularly admired the Italian master’s nudes: ‘the fleshy figure, coiled around his own axis as if he were about to hurl a discus.’ This description could equally apply to the two works by Cornelis van Haarlem.
Tension and drama
In the painting From Muybridge The Human Figure in Motion: Woman Emptying a Bowl of Water / Paralytic Child Walking on All Fours (1965; on loan from the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam) the contorted, misshapen figures infuse the composition with enormous tension and drama. The way in which the paint twists and turns gives the painting a sense of plasticity and movement. The human body has a fleshy fullness and assumes an expressive pose that lend it a distinct sculptural quality. This is also seen in the work of Cornelis van Haarlem.
Le Figaro 14/09/2010
Black and white photograph of Francis Bacon, 1967. John Deakin
L'endroit est incroyable. Au cœur de la même Galerie municipale d'art
moderne, l'atelier du peintre irlandais Francis Bacon apparaît dans une
salle tel qu'il fut au 7, Reece Mews (
Paul McCartney and David Bailey are fans and friends; Francis Bacon chose him to look after his estate; and later this month the Pope will bless his work. Meet Brian Clarke, the world's grooviest stained-glass artist.
By David Jenkins | The Daily Telegraph | 08 September 2010
Pyramid of Peace,
a stained-glass window in one corner of the former ballroom that
occupies the first floor of Brian Clarke’s west
It’s by Clarke and, as the 57 year-old talks about it, his rich Lancashire accent throbbing with enthusiasm, he sings a hymn to the glory of light and of stained glass as a medium: how the blue becomes transparent, the red goes on fire and the white becomes incandescent at 6pm each day, just 30 summer days a year. It’s how ‘stained glass is always kinetic’ that he adores, the ‘liquid element’ of glass that he loves, the ‘transillumination’ he reveres.
Beneath the glass is an ice-blue, geometric, double-sided sofa designed for him by his old friend Zaha Hadid to complement the window, a window she calls ‘fluid and stunning’; on the other walls are a huge lead on sheet lead representation of his even older friend Paul McCartney’s hands – ‘I was drawing his face for a record cover or something and he started playing air guitar, and I drew that, so it’s a sort of portrait of Paul’; a Warhol of Jackie Kennedy – ‘you felt, when you were with Andy, that you were with an artist. He was Narcissus looking into the pool and telling us our reflection was all right’; and a Francis Bacon – ‘I said to Francis once: “You know Francis, some of the things you’re doing could translate into stained glass in a tremendously interesting way, and you’d have the benefit of transmitted colour rather than reflected colour. Have you ever thought of doing any stained glass?” And Francis said [Clarke adopts a camp and bitchy voice]: “No, dear – and I’ve not done any macramé either.”’
Clarke honks with laughter, his broad, large-eared face creased with amusement and shakes his head. ‘He was such a b-----d.’ (Clarke is chairman of the Bacon Estate; so, he says, ‘a lot of people in the art world are, you know, very, very keen to be my friend’).
For all his famous friends and success as a painter, it’s for his stained glass that Clarke is best known. He has, he says, done ‘more stained glass than anyone, probably ever’, and it’s found in settings as diverse as the Pyramid of Peace in Kazakhstan, the Pfizer building in New York, the Holocaust memorial in Darmstadt and the lobby of the Apax Group in Jermyn Street – the last a shimmering mix of deep blues, greens and carnation reds that is, Hadid says, like a ‘window to the outside world, very controlled, very strong’.
now, though, Clarke is having an ecclesiastical moment, having fled the
overpowering shadow of church architecture 25 years ago: last weekend,
in Linköping Cathedral, Sweden, three of his windows are being unveiled
in a medieval church that has never before had stained glass in it
(‘They went on a tour of Europe, the bishop and his mates and advisers
from Swedish Heritage, to look at contemporary stained glass. And they
saw a Cistercian Convent I’d done in
‘I’d said it wasn’t really my bag: I’m definitely not holy. But the Papal Nuncio is a genuinely cool guy, he really is; he’s everything you want in an archbishop. It’s a small work, but I’m very, very pleased with it – it’s a winner.’
As he tells me this we’re sitting in the kitchen of his house, eating chicken wrapped in bacon, couscous and salad. He’s wearing a pink shirt, khaki-coloured jeans and no shoes; glinting in his right earlobe is a gold cross. The house has been home to many artists from the late Victorian era onward, though Clarke bought it from the singer Leo Sayer (‘we found one of his clown outfits in the attic’) after his then dealer – the ultra-hip and very dangerous Robert Fraser – found it and told him: ‘If you don’t buy it, I’ll regard it as a personal insult.’
Ever ready with an anecdote and dauntingly erudite, Clarke is very affable company. ‘He’s good fun,’ cackles David Bailey, another good friend, ‘though not as funny as me – he hasn’t got my vicious cockney tongue.’ And it’s true: there’s a Lancastrian warmth to Clarke that helps explain why he’s so liked by so many.
of working-class parents, Clarke was born in the cotton-spinning town of
he won a scholarship to the
he says, an idyllic existence, but the capital beckoned and in 1978 he
Clarke was, John McEwen wrote in the Spectator, ‘the most Sixties character to have emerged in the London art scene since the Sixties’, and, Clarke says, his Finsbury Square studio became ‘a hub of activity and of what today, I suppose, is called glamour’. Bailey became a friend (‘I learnt a lot about light from Bailey’), and Bacon’s lover, John Edwards, and then the McCartneys.
An electrifying period, then? ‘Oh yeah. I was the kid, I was the young one. And if I’d thought about it long enough, I couldn’t possibly have dealt with Francis, for example, because I would have been in awe. But I wasn’t, because I thought I was as good as he was: I was full of the arrogance of inexperience. And I wasn’t impressed, you know – by then I’d become friends with Paul [McCartney], close friends with Paul and Linda, and after Paul and Linda it’s difficult to be impressed, really.
‘They took it all so easily, so matter-of-factly – they were so unimpressed themselves. They were very supportive: they bought paintings from me, commissioned me to do stained glass projects for their home, stage sets. Paul really gets art: he gets it very quick, very sharp. And I was working ferociously.’
As McEwen put it when a show of Clarke’s paintings reopened Fraser’s gallery in 1983: ‘A year for Clarke is an age for most of us. His energy is both undeniable and commendably against the English grain.’
But there’s something very English in the singer and actor Richard Strange’s memory of that opening: Clarke’s mother was the guest of honour at an event littered with stars. And, Strange says, Mrs Clarke saw a familiar face across the room and said: ‘“Ooh Brian, you’ve got to introduce me.” So Brian took her across the room, saying: “Excuse me, Andy, excuse me, Mick, I’ve got to introduce my mum to someone.” And they come up to Paul McCartney and Brian says: “Now, mum, I’d like to introduce you to…’ and she interrupts him and says, “Oh Brian, Derek Nimmo needs no introduction.’”
Another important friend made at this time was Norman Foster, with whom Clarke later worked extensively. ‘We shared enthusiasms,’ Clarke says. ‘One of them is light. And the early period of our friendship – by which I mean the first 15 years or so – was just ricocheting from one thrilling moment to another. We’d see each other three or four times a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner, with telephone calls in between. It was all about discovery, new things; we developed new technologies.’
Clarke developed techniques that involve the bonding of glazed colours to architectural ‘float’ glass, often doing this in multiple layers that create an oscillating visual effect; a method that allows colour to be applied to large areas of glass without the familiar dividing lead strap work. Colour, in Clarke’s case, that’s radiantly life affirming.
Many of Clarke’s best friends are architects – Hadid, Foster, Peter Cook, the late Jan Kaplicky – and it is, Hadid says, ‘very rare to have someone who’s an artist who knows about architecture’.
Still, Clarke says: ‘I’ve done things I consider among my best work and they’re in buildings I think should be pulled down, quite frankly. But I can’t do that any more, because it’s lipstick on a gorilla. I can only really do my best when it’s in harmonious tandem.’
harmony is what he enjoys about working with architects. ‘Artists work
on the principle that they have a direct line to God. Well, very often
that direct line has bad reception. And what was so thrilling about
It was that savage poet of violence, Francis Bacon who threw a spanner in Clarke’s works. ‘Francis quite liked talking about dying and how he was leaving everything to John – he kind of boasted about it. And John would say: “I don’t know what I’m going to do, Francis; I don’t know how I’ll manage all this.” And Francis would say: “Oh, Brian’ll help you.”
‘It was like that. And then it became that; I’d made a solemn promise I would. And John was as close a friend as I’ve ever had – he had great intuition; he could spot a phoney across a crowded pub. And Francis had been dead about three years and John came for help; he said to me: “I don’t understand these papers.”’
Clarke was, he says, in the middle of ‘an incredibly productive and exciting period of my life’. Still, at Edwards’s request, the High Court made Clarke sole executor of the Bacon Estate and he took up legal cudgels against Bacon’s old gallery, the Marlborough.
He assumed the matter would be over in months; six years later, litigation was still going on – at one stage, Clarke had 20 lawyers working for him. ‘It was horrible. It nearly killed me. If I could rewind the clock, that would be something I would definitely not want to be involved with.’
While the case was going on, ‘we moved Francis’s studio [from Reece Mews, Kensington] to Dublin and that helped me, because it showed some good could come out of this s---, as well as angst and anger and money – the money got bigger and bigger’. No surprise, really: as Clarke notes: ‘Francis used to say: “What people like about my paintings are the noughts.”’
Edwards died before the case was over, leaving Clarke his sole executor. He is chairman of the Bacon Trust, but he’s keen to resign. Meanwhile, a catalogue raisonné is in preparation, works are loaned and gifted, grants given. And ‘there’s one big pay off: I’ve been so close to Francis’s work now, at such an intimate level, with access to great masterpieces on a daily basis’.
studio was famously squalid and chaotic. Clarke’s – on an industrial
estate in north-west
Over here are the stairs down which Dennis Hopper fell on a visit to the studio; over there an oil on canvas study for a portrait of Andy Warhol. Here are drawings Clarke is making of paint tubes and of chocolate caramel sweet wrappers – ‘I’ve eaten thousands of them.’ Here’s the Fleur de Lys glass he did for Linda McCartney. Here’s multiple evidence of the ‘great hand’ and ‘fine line’ both Hadid and Doris Saatchi Lockhart praise. Here are the skulls that preoccupy him.
here’s a large-scale proposal he’s preparing for a stained-glass
He pauses. ‘Stained glass – I’m more excited about it than I’ve ever been. It can transform the way you feel when you enter a building in the way nothing else can.’
Milan Kundera's exhumed essays cast a spell with their insights into creativity, writes Geoff Dyer
Geoff Dyer | The Observer | Sunday 2 August 2010
Milan Kundera, Czech born writer who has lived in exile in
It is a tribute to Kundera's ability to weave his essayistic spell that my interest was undiminished by the fact that I am either wholly ignorant of many of the composers and writers discussed (Iannis Xenakis, Marek Bienczyk, Gudbergur Bergsson) correct or am familiar with them only through Kundera's earlier books. In any case, Kundera's subjects are mirrors, offering variously distorted reflections on his own work and situation. As he says with reference to a remark by Francis Bacon about Beckett: "When one artist is talking about another, he is always talking (indirectly, in a roundabout way) of himself, and that is what's valuable in his judgment."
book kicks off with a particularly outrageous example as he reflects on
and reprints a piece from the 1970s. In 1972, in an apartment in
"Unconscionable" though this desire was, Kundera cannot disavow it; it forms the basis of his understanding of "the brutal gesture" – the "hand movement that roughs up another person's face in hopes of finding, in it and behind it, something that is hidden there" – of Francis Bacon's art. This may not be art history as understood by Kenneth Clark but it shoves us into a horrible confrontation with Bacon's art. The standard art-critical habit is to comment on the horror without conveying it so that we look and listen quite comfortably.
Memory and forgetting, exile, identity and the power of art as a safeguard against the erosion of history and our own humanity: these are the themes that dominate this excellent collection of essays in which
Writing about the art of Francis Bacon, Kundera praises Bacon’s ‘clearsighted, sorrowful gaze trying to penetrate to the essential’.
Yet that description could just as easily apply to Kundera’s own writing here, whether he is celebrating the music of Janácek or delighting in the comic marker laid down by Rabelais.
At one point, Kundera bemoans the demands of contemporary fashion (cultural ‘blacklists’) in a world where the importance of art is becoming diminished.
Book review: ‘Encounter’ by
Compelling essays by someone who writes of authors, composers and artists from whom he continues to learn.
By Michael S. Roth, Special to the
"Up to what degree of distortion does an individual still remain himself?"
Milan Kundera asks this question in writing about the painter Francis Bacon, one of many cultural figures he addresses in his commanding, compelling new collection of essays, "Encounter." It's a question that resonates throughout the book. To what degree can we be distorted by violence and fear — in short, by history — and still be ourselves? Kundera sees this distortion everywhere, a distortion that art engages. As the author looks at contemporary culture, his skepticism curdles into pessimism. In a world increasingly disinterested in art, when do we cross the border and forget what art has taught us about being human? Would we even realize that we crossed that border?
“Bacons Finsternis”: Immer dem Maler nach
von Florian Asamer, Die Presse, 31.07.2010
Im Kunstgeschichte-Krimi "Bacons Finsternis" sucht und findet ein verlassener Ehemann Trost und jede Menge Abenteuer in den Bildern des Leinwandapokalyptikers Francis Bacon.
Auch dieser Griechenland-Urlaub endet, wie Griechenland-Urlaube eben enden: bei Meerblick und Wein in der Taverne. Zum Nachtisch erfährt Arthur Valentin von seiner geliebten Frau Isabel allerdings, dass mit dem Urlaub auch ihre Ehe vorbei sein wird.
Zurück in Wien stürzt Arthur, der ein Antiquariat betreibt, nach dem Auszug von Isabel ins Bodenlose. Er verlässt die ehemals gemeinsame Wohnung kaum mehr, überlässt die Arbeit im Antiquariat zur Gänze seiner Partnerin Maia und hängt rosaroten Erinnerungen an seine Ehejahre nach.
Monaten der Verzweiflung führt ihn eine Laune ins
Fesselnde Bacon-Interpretationen. Inzwischen ist Arthur eine Art Bacon-Spezialist geworden. Er liest sich quer durch die Arbeiten zu dem Jahrhundertmaler und versinkt in vielen biografischen Details und Zitaten des homosexuellen Künstlers (der ideale Liebhaber?, „der Nietzsche des Football-Teams“). So bringt Wilfried Steiner dem Leser auch die Geschichte der Beziehung zu George Dyer, die Rolle der Isabel Rawsthorne und vor allem Bacons Freundschaft zu Malerkollegen Lucian Freud, dem Enkel von Sigmund Freud, näher.
Dabei glänzt das Buch mit detaillierten Schilderungen – nein, fesselnden Interpretationen vieler Bacon-Gemälde, die dazu einladen, sie gleich noch einmal zu lesen, diesmal mit einem Bacon-Katalog in der Hand. Vor allem mit der seitenlangen Beschreibung des Triptychons „Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion“ gelingt es Steiner, den Leser in tiefe Beunruhigung zu versetzen.
Tate Modern in
Wilfried Steiner, der als künstlerischer Leiter am Linzer Posthof arbeitet, verbindet in seinem Roman drei Stränge: eine anschauliche kunstgeschichtliche Reise durch das Leben von Francis Bacon, die tragisch-ironische Schilderungen eines gebrochenen Verlassenen, der über die Trennung von seiner großen Liebe nicht hinwegkommen will, und schließlich einen Kunstdiebstahl in Rififi-Manier. „Bacons Finsternis“ verdankt seinen unbestreitbaren Reiz wohl gerade dem Kontrast zwischen der in jeder Hinsicht schweren Bacon-Kost und einer etwas leicht geratenen Krimihandlung.
Wilfried Steiner, Bacons Finsternis, Deuticke Verlag, 286 Seiten, 20,50 Euro.
Wilfried Steiners zweiter Roman
Ruth Halle, ORF, o6/08/2010
Ist es ein Krimi, eine intelligente Kunstgeschichte rund um den Maler Francis Bacon oder ein Liebesroman? Wilfried Steiners soeben erschienenes Buch "Bacons Finsternis" ist von allem etwas und lässt sich dennoch nur schwer kategorisieren.
Der Linzer Schriftsteller stellt in seinem bei Deuticke publizierten Buch die faszinierende Figur des radikalen Francis Bacon in den Mittelpunkt und umkreist den irischen Maler mit einer sehr komplexen und auch humorvollen fiktiven Handlung.
Ein Ehepaar verbringt einen harmonischen Urlaub auf Kreta
und genießt den letzten Abend auf der griechischen Insel in einer
Taverne. Für Steiners Protagonisten Arthur Valentin nimmt der Abend
allerdings eine völlig unerwartete Wendung. Beinahe nebenbei erfährt
Arthur Valentin nach 15-jähriger Beziehung von seiner Ehefrau, dass dies
der letzte gemeinsame Urlaub gewesen sein soll.
Selbtmitleidig vergräbt sich Arthur in seinen Schmerz und überlässt seiner Geschäftspartnerin die Führung seines Antiquariats. Es sollte ausgerechnet der irische Maler Farncis Bacon werden, der Arthur Trost spenden wird. Der 1992 verstorbene Maler warf gleichsam Kreaturen ohne Sinn und Aussicht auf Erlösung auf die Leinwand.
Steiners linkischer Protagonist, den er überzeugend zeichnet und mit erquickender Selbstironie ausstattet, besucht eine Bacon-Ausstellung und ist von der Kraft und Energie Bacons begeistert - eine Begeisterung die Romanfigur und Autor teilen.
die Faszination für Francis Bacon erweist sich in Steiners Roman
keineswegs als probate Beziehungstherapie: Während Arthur der
Beschaulichkeit und Innigkeit seiner Ehe nachtrauert, setzen sich die
Ereignisse temporeich und von Steiner stakkato-artig erzählt in Gang.
Arthur reist den Bildern Bacons quer durch Europa nach, und vermeint aus den Gesprächsfetzen zwischen seiner Exfrau und einem Kunden die Ankündigung eines Kunstraubs herauszuhören.
"Bacons Finsternis", den zweiten Roman des Linzer Autors
Wilfried Steiner, einordnen zu wollen, erscheint schwierig: Er ist
sowohl eine teils humoristisch erzählte Liebesgeschichte, ein rasant und
klug erzählter Krimi, als auch eine aufschlussreiche, gut recherchierte
Abhandlung über das Leben und Werk Bacons.
Der 50-jährige Linzer Autor Wilfrid Steiner hat mit "Bacons Finsternis" sein siebentes Buch und zugleich seinen zweiten Roman vorgelegt. Sieben Jahre hat der künstlerische Leiter des Linzer Posthofs an diesem Buch geschrieben.
Wie auch schon in seinem ersten Roman "Der Weg nach Xanadu", in dessen Mittelpunkt der englische Romantiker Samuel Taylor Coleridge stand, fasziniert ihn auch hier wieder das Ausloten der vorstellbaren Grenzen, die Faszination des Denkbaren.
Textfassung: Ruth Halle
Trauma, Tragedy, Therapy
The Arts and Human Suffering
by Stephen K. Levine
Jessica Kingsley, 2009
Review by Marko Zlomislic, Ph.D.
Metapsycholog, Volume 14, Issue 32, Aug 10th 2010
Levine would have us "embrace our own chaos". However, what does this exactly mean? He writes, "Since we are chaotic, we can face the chaos of trauma without feeling that we must expel it from our being". Is it not the other way around? Since we are not chaotic, we have such difficulty with trauma. If chaos were the essence of our Heideggerian ground, then there would be no problem in dealing with trauma. Trauma would be just another form of chaos that we already are. The experience of trauma says otherwise.
Levine asks, "What kind of art is adequate to the experience of trauma? To me, the answer is the art of the terrible, the grotesque, and the ugly". Here Levine cites the paintings of Francis Bacon. Bacon's work had a huge impact on me. I thought, yes, this is it. I must take his work further into ugliness and darkness. Therefore, I painted a la Bacon and then I had an epiphany.
What I was painting was only giving strength to death, darkness and chaos. I then began to paint landscapes and I think this is when I began to heal. Ten years after my traumatic event, I realize that art cannot save us from anything. Art is not salvific. It is not a salve or ointment. Returning to life is the grace that saves.
Wokingham Times - 3 Aug 2010
Thatching work on a cottage once occupied by painter Francis Bacon led to a lesson in fighting thatch fires.
Wokingham fire crews passing Long Cottage in Davis Street, Hurst, took the opportunity to quiz master thatcher James McCormack on how thatch roofs are constructed so they would have a better idea of how to fight a future thatch blaze.
Mr McCormack, of Country Thatching based in Wokingham, told firefighters about the types of reed and straw used in thatching and explained how twisted hazel spares are used to fix bundles of wheat reed to the original thatch.
The impromptu lesson proved so popular a further five teams from fire stations around Wokingham went along to quiz Mr McCormack, who has been a thatcher for 21 years.
He is currently working on Long Cottage which is believed to date back to 1629 and has featured in a BBC film about 20th century painter Mr Bacon.
The owners of the cottage would like to hear from anyone with details about the history of the cottage.
Gagosian Gallery is pleased to present the exhibition Crossing the Channel: Friendships and Connections in
This exhibition spans the period from 1946-the year that the international borders reopened--to 1965, when the Tate Gallery presented Giacometti's retrospective. During this time, the web of friendships and alliances between artists, patrons and collectors from
The eldest of the three artists, Giacometti was, to some extent, the trio's imaginative lynchpin. With Watson's assistance, Freud travelled to
Bacon and Freud became close friends around 1943. Each chose to paint only their most intimate friends, although Bacon worked exclusively from photographs while Freud painted from live models. Freud's portrait of his future wife Lady Caroline Blackwood, Girl in Bed (1952) was one of the many paintings that travelled with him between
Muriel Belcher, its owner-manager, would sit for hours on a stool, just inside the door, and when it opened would stretch out a claw-like arm, draw in the person entering, inspect him and decide whether he could stay.
She was fat and horrible to look at, but not disagreeable if you were in her good books. Muriel would allow the artist Francis Bacon unlimited credit, and at one time his champagne bill stood at more than £2,000, an immense sum in those days.
The Colony Room was unique in that ravenous queers, ferocious lesbians and perfectly normal sex maniacs mixed in friendly promiscuity.
She had a talent for creating an atmosphere in which gifted and famous, but lonely, people could be happy.
The place had only one loo, used by both men and women, and I remember around the time of the Profumo scandal finding it locked when I tried the door. A female voice within said prissily: 'It's occupied.' So I waited.
Francis Bacon, drunk and bursting, arrived. I said: 'There's a woman inside.' And he shouted: 'Come out of there, you bitch!' Then he began to kick the door. Eventually, the door opened and a beautiful woman emerged, nose in the air.
It was the ravishingly beautiful Christine Keeler, the call girl responsible for Profumo's downfall.
She did not look at us, but strode back to the bar. All she said was: 'Men!' A lifetime of experience went with that one contemptuous word.
An abridged extract from Brief Lives: An Intimate And Very Personal Portrait Of The 20th Century, by Paul Johnson, to be published by Hutchinson on June 3 at £20.
Francis Bacon: In Camera is at Compton Verney Warwickshire, (comptonverney.org.uk) until June 20. Open 11am-5pm, Tuesday-Sunday; admission £8 (concessions available).
Fondation Beyeler, Riehen,
By Tom Lubbock, The Independent, Friday, 30 April 2010
Sand Dune 1983 Francis Bacon
W H Auden's lines make a clear announcement. "To me Art's subject is the human clay/ And landscape but a background to a torso". It's a manifesto. Humanity, he wants to say, is the primary thing in Art. Everything else takes second place. Or so it seems.
But the words he chooses are not so sure. The human clay? They could let our imaginations run, taking us into stranger regions of flesh and matter and flux. Auden envisages a little moulding, a little baking, producing a safe and separate figure, and that's all.
Clay, though, is a very malleable and transformative medium. It is wet. It squashes. It has no limits. It comes from the earth and can be pressed back into the earth. And so the distinction that Auden strictly draws between a torso and a landscape is only relative. Body and ground can easily merge.
Look at paintings. Landscapes and nudes often lie down together. The rolling hills and the curving limbs can join in harmony, or fuse into something even closer. There is view of a coast by Degas, for example, where the shapes of the grassy terrain are also clearly the emerging forms of a naked woman on her back. And this Degas is probably an inspiration to a painting made almost a century later. Here the medium is a different stuff: human sand.
Francis Bacon's Sand Dune isn't exactly landscape. It is a heap and a slide of sand, an extract of the outside, perhaps from the seaside, perhaps from a builder's site, but now it's been taken inside, and put on stage. The scene has various stagey devices often used by the artist: a glass chamber, a hanging light bulb, a pointing arrow, a disc of blue spotlight on the floor, a dark suggestion of a shadow or a leak.
On this stage, the volume of sand has a weird physical presence. It is partly contained within the tank, and partly spilling out and through the sides of the tank, and most of it seems to be viewed as if in a 3D magnifying case, so when it appears outside (at the right) it visually shrinks. The bright blue screen at the back is sky, another extract of outdoors, or a screen projection.
But the sand dune itself is obviously the protagonist. You could call it a thing. You could call it stuff. It's certainly the subject. And unlike many of Bacon's subjects, bodies or heads, this one retains its integrity. Its form is not radically distorted or disrupted or dematerialised. This dune is a solid, continuous mass.
It is sand; but of course not only sand. It is also flesh, a pure flesh. This flesh has no rigidity, no internal structure, no tension, no action. It is simply a contour of skin, containing soft blob. It lies, lolls in itself, it has sinkings and swellings, it rolls in indolence, melding into a single flow. It might be the fattest person in the world, who has lost all parts.
Or rather, not quite. It is like pure flesh but it also has hints of a creature within it too. An anatomy exists, just about. There are buttocks rising, a bending left knee sticks out at the front, a right thigh is stretched out, even a shoulder and an elbow become visible. As you look more closely, this figure appears, face down, stirring like mounds from the sand, like somebody covered in sand, or made loosely from sand.
Ambiguities arise. This mass is uncertain between anatomy and sheer flesh, uncertain between flesh and various other substances, which could be powder or liquid or pulp. Sand itself is well-chosen and imagined. It's an intermediate stuff that can be dry and pulverised, or a running, pourable fluid, or a quite compacted, malleable paste, like clay.
Sand Dune is in metamorphosis, in a calm hysteria. It's an entity that can come half alive, and enjoy feelings. It can be picked up by the shovelful. It can be stroked and smoothed. It can cascade. It can be dispersed and lose all sense of limits. At different points around the dune, these different sensations come to the fore. There are even moments when it seems like dust in air.
And then at the crest of the dune there is something like a tuft of rough grass, or a crop of hair. It comes to the vestigial beginning of a head – a final intimation of the human about to break the surface.
About the artist
Francis Bacon (1909-92) used to be a nightmare visionary. His Screaming
Popes and Crucifixions were horror shows. But this
A museum in southern
BBC News, Friday, 23 April 2010
The museum has continued to display the painting throughout proceedings
loaned to the museum of the Van Gogh Foundation in
Edwards, a long-time companion of the painter, was Bacon's main heir.
"The painting was not given as a gift, nor was there any promise of a
gift," the court in
The Van Gogh Foundation, which had said it had evidence proving that Bacon had gifted the painting, said it was "in shock" at the ruling, but that it would now "bury the hatchet" with the heirs. Lawyer Bernard Jouanneau said the foundation may appeal but that it would give the painting back in the meantime.
work was Bacon's homage to Van Gogh's The Painter On The Road To
Tarascon, a self-portrait painted near
The court in
The disputed work, based on Van Gogh's 1888 self-portrait, The
Painter On The Road To Tarascon, has been hanging in
She had claimed he had expressed his desire to leave it to her Van Gogh foundation in letters and in person.
The foundation first borrowed it for an exhibition from July 1988 to May 1989, when Bacon asked for it back. It borrowed it a second time in May 1991, and a contract showed it was due to be returned in July 1996.
Besides, under French law, it went on, "there is no such thing as a permanent loan which the lender can never put an end to".
Bacon died in 1992 and his partner John Edwards inherited his estate.
When Mr Edwards died in 2003, it was handed over to a four-person trust
based on the Channel
This trust had been demanding the return of the painting since 2006.
Currently on display, it must be taken down in the next ten days, and the foundation faces a fine of 1,000 euros (£866) for each day its return is delayed.
Court orders French museum to return Francis Bacon painting
RFI, Thursday 22nd March 2010
has ordered a French museum to return a Francis Bacon painting to the
painter’s heirs. On Thursday an appeals court in
Irish-born painter’s picture was a tribute to an earlier self-portrait
by Vincent Van Gogh and had been loaned to the museum in southern
However it was never returned and this latest ruling overturns an earlier decision which stated that the painting could stay with the museum, which claimed Bacon meant to give it as a work to keep.
“The painting was not given as a gift, nor was there any promise of a gift,” the court said in its ruling.
“We will now bury the hatched,” said the foundation’s director Mary Gruber. She said she was in a state of “shock”, and while the foundation’s lawyer said a further appeal was possible, it would, for the moment, give the painting back.
who died in 1992, cited Vincent Van Gogh as one of his great influences,
and a “Homage to Van Gogh” was a version of the Expressionist’s The
Painter on the Road to Tarascon which was originally painted near
Bacon's homage to Van Gogh, now the subject of a court dispute. It is said to be worth £13 million.
He quoted his letters as inspiration saying it was the artist's job to create "lies that are truer than the literal truth".
But the late Irish painter's eagerness to do all he could to celebrate his hero has left behind a bitter dispute between the estates of the two men.
The heirs of Francis Bacon and The Vincent Van Gogh Foundation are embroiled in a legal battle for a £13 million Bacon painting that both claim is theirs.
A court will rule today on whether Homage to Van Gogh, Arles,
painted in 1985, should be handed back to the Bacon estate or remain in
The row centres on a claim that Bacon promised the work to the foundation a few years before his death in 1992.
He painted the disputed work at the behest of Yolande Clergue, a curator
who wanted to create a foundation to exhibit works inspired by Van Gogh
for the 100th anniversary of his stay in
Bacon's 1960 homage to Van Gogh and the Dutch master's self-portrait
The tableau was based on Van Gogh's 1888 self-portrait, The Painter On The Road To Tarascon, showing the artist in straw hat, carrying his easel and paints, and casting an ominous shadow.
Bacon never saw Van Gogh's original – destroyed when Dresden was firebombed in 1945 – and had to make do with photographs of the "haunting' work, from which he produced as series of paintings. His 1985 work shows the painter from waist down, blending into his shadow.
Bacon's estate was left to his partner John Edwards when he died in
2003, it was handed over to a four-person trust based on the Channel
Bacon's paintings fetch astronomical sums, with his nightmarish Triptych, 1976, sold to Roman Abramovich in 2008 for £56 million – a record for an auctioned work of contemporary art at the time.
His "heirs" are now demanding the Van Gogh Foundation hand over the painting, which they argue has merely been on a long-term loan.
The foundation has refused, arguing that Bacon had implied in letters
that he wanted the painting to stay in
Bernard Jouanno, the Van Gogh foundation's lawyer, said the painting itself – the circular sandy form referring to Arles bullfighting ring and the red the torreador's cape – was enough evidence it was destined to stay in the town, he said.
The "sudden" interest by John Edward's "friends" for the work may have had something to do with its "sudden rise in market value – between 12 and 18 million euros," he added.
"These so-called heirs are nothing of the sort. A trust in
However, Michel Pitron, the lawyer for the Estate of Francis Bacon, dismissed the claims.
"Our argument is simple: there was a loan contract, which came to an end; I am asking for the painting back, full stop!" he said. "There is no such thing as an indefinite loan in French law."
Both parties can take today's appeal ruling at a court in
Lost letters reveal millionaire artist's early struggle
Dalya Alberge, The Observer, Sunday 18 April 2010
Francis Bacon at the Tate, 1985. Photograph: Ray Roberts
He is one of the 20th century's greatest artists, whose paintings change hands for more than £40m, but Francis Bacon’s early struggle to sell his paintings became so desperate that he threatened to become a cook or a valet, according to unpublished letters that have just come to light.
Bacon, a self-taught artist, was 40 before he gained proper recognition. The letters, dating from the 1940s, reveal that he was frequently reduced to begging for handouts from his dealer, his debts no doubt aggravated by his addiction to gambling.
"Is it possible to make me a small advance?" he implores in one. "I am quite broke, and canvas and paints are terribly expensive."
In another he laments: "If I can't sell anything or haven't anything to sell, I will get a job as a valet or cook."
The correspondence, contained in the archives of the Lefevre Gallery in
In one letter, Bacon reveals his battle to afford basic art tools: "If you know of anyone who will take the risk and supply me with paints, canvas, and the minimum of vittles, think of me. I might make them money."
Bacon, who died in 1992, believed his pictures deserved either the National Gallery or the dustbin, and he often dumped or slashed his own works.
Study for Man with Microphones in 1946 was among paintings that no one wanted to buy. Bacon painted over it. The letters also list numerous other works which no longer exist.
Many of the letters convey his desperation to exhibit his work. In one passage the artist wrote: "I shall have a group of 3 large paintings… Is there any chance of your having an exhibition in the autumn…? They want to be hung together in a series as they are a sort of Crucifixion… I think they are the most formal things I have done and the colour is a sort of intense blue violet. I think they are better than what I have done up to now…
"If you think there is a chance of your being able to show them, as I really need the money desperately … I want £750 for the set. It is not a quarter of what is has cost me with gambling etc; if you think you can get more, it would be tremendously welcome."
The paintings are thought not to have survived.
Richard Shone, editor of The Burlington Magazine, which will publish the letters in May, said: "One day a really comprehensive biography of Bacon will be written and these letters will be indispensable."
By Alastair Sooke, The Daily Telegraph, 17 April 2010
Francis Bacon on the Orient Express, 1965 John Deakin
‘He could be vicious,” says Maggie O’Farrell, her eyes glinting with anarchic glee. “I would love to have witnessed it.”
The bestselling British novelist is sitting in a corner of the French House in Soho. She is talking about one of the bar’s most infamous regulars during the Fifties and Sixties: the witty photographer John Deakin, once described by the jazz singer George Melly as “a vicious little drunk of such inventive malice and implacable bitchiness that it’s surprising he didn’t choke on his own venom”.
In the early Sixties, Francis Bacon commissioned Deakin to take photographs of his friends and lovers, which the artist then used as aides-mémoires for his paintings. Deakin’s close-cropped mug shot of Bacon, taken in August 1952, has become the quintessential portrait of the artist, who died in 1992. A talented but devious and unreliable photographer, who loved gossip and pink gin and was twice fired from Vogue magazine, Deakin documented many of his acquaintances among post-war Soho’s barflies and bohemians.
His pictures from this period, many of which were haphazardly stored in cardboard boxes under his bed and only discovered after his death in 1972, have inspired O’Farrell’s fifth novel, The Hand That First Held Mine, which will be published later this month.
“The starting point was an exhibition of Deakin’s photographs that I saw in Edinburgh,” O’Farrell tells me, while turning the pages of the catalogue that accompanied the show, which opened at the Dean Gallery in 2002. “I didn’t know much about the art scene in Soho in the Fifties, but I was really struck by it, and the atmosphere of the novel fell into place.”
Decorating the bar behind her are scores of black-and-white photographs depicting some of the frequently inebriated figures who knew Deakin, including Bacon who wears a belted black leather jacket.
What did she like about Deakin’s photographs? “Portraiture today can be so constructed,” she says. “Think of [the American portrait photographer] Annie Leibovitz, whose work is imaginative and exciting, but so theatrical, with the clothes, the make-up, the airbrushing. Deakin was the opposite. There’s nothing constructed about his photographs. They look like he couldn’t be bothered to think them through. That’s mesmerising.”
The characters whom Deakin captured with his camera fascinated O’Farrell, who returned several times to the exhibition and bought lots of postcards, which she put up around her study. Slowly the structure of her novel crystallised: The Hand That First Held Mine weaves together two stories, one set in the present day, the other in post-war London.
The heroine of the latter strand is a headstrong young woman called Alexandra, who is desperate for her life “to turn from blurred monochrome into glorious Technicolor”. One summer in the mid-Fifties, after meeting a hedonistic art critic with whom she later falls in love, Alexandra runs away from her childhood home in Devon and heads to London, where she calls herself “Lexie” and works for a magazine in Soho.
She spends her evenings in the French House, then a dissolute pub called the York Minster, as well as Bacon’s favourite haunt, the Colony Room, a riotously uninhibited drinking club run by a dragonish landlady called Muriel Belcher. “I started reading about this bohemian scene in Soho and imagining what it would have been like to arrive there and meet these interesting people who defied convention,” O’Farrell says. “An artistic world burned very brightly in this grid of streets for a decade or so. But now it has vanished. The Colony Room has gone. The only place that’s really left is the French House.”
Even this, though, has changed. As we talk, the “hordes of whores and sailors” who throng its “fetid interior” in O’Farrell’s novel are nowhere to be seen. “I still hope the sailors might come around the corner,” O’Farrell says, with a laugh. “I suppose I’m drawn to the romance of things that have vanished. That’s what fascinates me about living in cities. Everywhere you go, you’re constantly bumping into the past.”
While O’Farrell was inspired by post-war London, she wanted to avoid writing about the past in a nostalgic manner. “I don’t think that everything in the past was great and that modern life is awful – not at all,” she says. “In the Fifties, children were dying of diphtheria and polio. Yes, there was less traffic on the streets, but it was quite normal to beat your child with a leather belt. There are laws against that now. Life moves on, doesn’t it?”
But what about Deakin? Now the book is finished, will O’Farrell move on from her obsession with his work? She shakes her head. “I’m not going to take down my Deakin pictures – not yet, anyway.”
To pay tribute to him, O’Farrell gave Deakin a walk-on part in her new novel. At one point the photographer appears in the Colony Room, where an acquaintance asks if he might spare “a bob or two” to buy her a drink. Deakin turns and curls his lip:
“‘Fuck off,’ he drawled. ‘Buy your own.’”
“One of my editors was worried that this insulted Deakin’s memory,” O’Farrell says. “But I honestly think that’s what he would have said.”
Alastair Sooke is a commissioning editor on the Telegraph Arts pages
The Hand That First Held Mine is published by Headline Review on April 29 (£16.99)
272 pages, 260 colour plates ISBN: 978-3-86521-946-6 Price UK £35.00 US $58.00 EC €39.00
A show that promises discovery of the private artist finds a man simply in thrall to the photograph
Thankfully, this country-house exhibition is not Francis Bacon on Camera – yet another show of black-and-white headshots of the troubled painter – although there are a handful of him on holiday in Athens, in front of a photographer's shop in Soho, or posing in his leather jacket, as was his wont.
No, this is Francis Bacon: In Camera, which translates from the Latin as "in chamber" or "in private". Of course, we already know much of what the notoriously boozy bohemian did behind closed doors, precisely because there was invariably a camera lens pointing at him, recording his every mood and love.
Over and above his friends, models and relationships, photography was Bacon's primary painterly muse. Indeed, so many newspaper scraps, crumpled photos and magazine cuttings have been excavated from the mounds of detritus left on the floor of his old Kensington studio, that scholars have been piecing together, almost frame by frame, the specific photographic references for each painting.
In many ways, the studio was his "camera" – a private chamber of experimentation – where he allowed no one to observe or document him while painting (not even his sitters were allowed to watch after the 1963 triple portrait of Henrietta Moraes, included in this display). Yet Bacon's famously cluttered workspace in Reece Mews is now also his most public bequest, left to us not only in imagery – more of those posed portraits by Cecil Beaton, Henri Cartier-Bresson and others – but in the physical remnants of the studio, now installed permanently at the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, from where much of this show's fascinatingly decrepit stuff has come.
What, then, is this exhibition about? Francis Bacon and his Chamber of Secrets, or Bacon the Photo-copier? In Dublin, this show was titled A Terrible Beauty, which gets us no nearer the truth. It's hard to be clear-eyed about an artist who was so full of his own myth. Better to dive headlong into the material and see which Bacon emerges.
Among the 1,500 photos found in the hoard of paint pots, slashed canvases, postcards and records, a key source was always going to be the early motion-capture stills of Eadweard Muybridge, whom Bacon rated on a par with Michelangelo for his treatment of the human body.
It's never a bad time to look at Muybridge (he'll be getting the full museum treatment later this year at Tate Britain) and the pages ripped from his book, The Human Figure in Motion, were pored over obsessively by Bacon, who spattered them with paint as he placed these wrestling, shadowboxing or exercising nudes centre-stage in his paintings. The sweeping leg in one unfinished work, (Figure with Raised Arm, 1949) suggests that Bacon might have been searching for something in-between Muybridge's sequential snaps that not even the Victorian's rapid shutter could catch: an image, not of motion, but in perpetual motion.
Previously I'd assumed that Bacon's smeared, mangled faces, with their sliding jaws and torqued cheeks, were his approximations of a photographic blur – reproducing the moment when a head swivels or waggles too vigorously to be stilled. Yet these disfigurements (seen in portraits of Moraes, as well as Bacon's lovers John Edwards and Peter Lacy) seem to follow almost precisely the creases, crops, folds and crumples that Bacon, perhaps accidentally, perhaps not, inflicted on his photos, often underfoot on the studio floor.
There's still more of the man and his myth to contend with in the scores of macho bullfighting, footballing and wildlife shots that made their way into other paintings. But even if no fresh view of Bacon surfaces from this soup of influence, then at least he is gradually being seen in a less dazzling, more illuminating light than before. His skewed vision had to come from somewhere – it wasn't an accident of his subconscious as he often claimed. In fact, Bacon eventually began to cannibalise his own images, deconstructing his face from photos, and repainting versions of previous works once they'd been photographed. He, like the child or tribesman who first sees the fixative settle their image for ever, was simply in thrall to the photograph. That was his dirty little secret.
Compton Verney, Warwickshire, to 20 June (01926 645500)
By Robin Blake, The Financial Times, April 3 2010
"I believe in a deeply ordered chaos,” Francis Bacon once said in a television interview, making an apparently mischievous remark about his own studio, in which he was standing. Visitors to the reconstructed studio at the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, with the encroaching heaps of detritus that accumulated over half the artist’s lifetime, will readily appreciate Bacon’s affinity for deep chaos. But what, if anything, might “ordered chaos” mean as a description of his work? Francis Bacon: In Camera, an exhibition that has transferred from the Hugh Lane to Compton Verney, Warwickshire’s beautiful country house art gallery, throws a few shafts of light on the question.
The exhibition curated by Martin Harrison and Antonia Harrison reveals Bacon’s creative starting-points by showing a selection from the vast number of photographs that he collected. Many were taken by photographer friends – notably John Deakin, his fellow denizen of Soho’s Colony Club, and the wildlife photographer Peter Beard – but he also culled a huge number from published sources.
These relics have been sifted from the confused mess of papers, rags, painting detritus, books, newspapers and magazines found in the studio, and carefully themed, mounted and framed in serried collections. Such careful, even artful presentation is as different as can be from the conditions under which Bacon himself kept the items. Their creased, yellowed, fragmentary and paint-stained state makes them look more like archeological finds. The Hugh Lane Gallery’s archive is really not Bacon’s, but a posthumous invention.
Yet it is a useful one because the “ordered chaos” of Bacon’s actual painting demands more serious attention, and a study of his photographic sources is a part of that effort. Bacon used them directly – often cut, torn through, folded or amalgamated – as models. He rarely made preparatory studies, and he neither drew nor painted from life. If he wanted to make a self-portrait, or a portrait of his boyfriend George Dyer or friend Isabel Rawsthorne, he would start from a photograph Deakin had taken, often at Bacon’s request.
At other times he used news photographs, advertisements, film stills and fine art reproductions. None of his many versions of the portrait of Pope Innocent X were from studies he made from Velázquez’s painting; all were sourced from photographs in books. Of the nine volumes on Velázquez found at the studio after Bacon’s death in 1992, illustrations of the seated pope had been ripped from eight of them. Some are on display here, as is the source of the papal mouth in mid-scream, a close-up that Bacon found in a book of stills from Eisenstein’s film Battleship Potemkin.
There are no “screaming pope” paintings in this exhibition, but it does give a few opportunities to look from a source to a particular canvas. One room exemplifies Bacon’s reliance on reproductions of Michelangelo’s drawings, and on the sequential photographs made by the Victorian Edweard Muybridge to illustrate human and animal movement. A large canvas, untitled and unfinished, is shown of a nude male in a throwing attitude. The adjoining walls are hung with figure drawings by Michelangelo, torn by Bacon from fine art books, and with scores of Muybridge sequences of nude men and women walking, running, turning, reaching, bending. Eventually, we locate the particular one of these that is related to the painting, from a sequence entitled Man Heaving a 75lb Rock. But we can also easily see the other element, the similarity of the half-finished form to isolated Michelangelesque sketches of limbs and torsos.
The critic Norbert Lynton once floated the idea that Bacon might be seen as a modernist Vermeer depicting ordinary human activity behind the closed doors of the home. If this is true of some of his work, it is a simple step to see how it relates to the history of photography in Bacon’s lifetime. The box camera turned photography into the most accessible form of image-making. Photographs were a news medium but they were even more an art of the familiar and the mundane, and a handy means of ordering memory. Deakin was a Vogue photographer but his style was a refinement of the domestic snapper – which is why he was of such use to Bacon. It may be surprising to discover how domestic photography could inspire an artist celebrated for his distortion of figures and forms, but not when you look more deeply.
The deformity of his figures are of a kind that, in nature, might result from random mutations in the genetic pattern. Bacon was not interested in representing people with actual deformities, like Velázquez’s dwarves or the freaks photographed by Diane Arbus. His business, I think, was to visualise the mutations in all of us, the ways in which the randomness of experience tugs and rubs and twists our perfection out of shape. Bacon seeks to convey, too, the uncontrollable manipulations of the unconscious mind and the existential disruption that results from irrational choices – all of which are brought about by the distorting action of chaos on ordered patterns. And meanwhile, around these displays of distorted Baconian imagery are the most carefully ordered compositions. Order and chaos always either contend or blend in Bacon: his remark in that television interview was less flippant than it seemed.
Francis Bacon: In Camera, Compton Verney, Warwickshire, until June 20.
Exhibition Francis Bacon in Camera
By Richard Dorment, The Daily Telegraph, 29 March 2010
Though he was primarily a painter of the human figure, Francis Bacon never drew from the nude, rarely worked from life, and painted directly onto the canvas without first making preliminary studies or using preparatory drawings. But however strange the ectoplsamic and ambiguously gendered creatures in his paintings appear to be, they don’t look wholly imaginary — at least not in the way that those in Symbolist and Surrealist paintings often do. This is because Bacon’s starting point for any new canvas was usually a photograph or a detail of a photograph he’d found in a book or magazine.
Once he selected an image, he’d refer back to the photo as he worked, using it as a spur to his imagination - or perhaps more accurately, as a means to access his unconscious. Francis Bacon: In Camera shows photos, film stills, magazines, and books found in Bacon’s studio after his death side by side with Bacon’s paintings to demonstrate the fundamental role photography played in his working method. The show, at Compton Verney in Warwickshire, isn’t large, but what it has to say poses a new set of questions about how Bacon worked and how that affect’s the viewer’s response to his pictures.
From 1949, the year of his first London exhibition, Bacon was using Eadweard Muybridge’s sequential photographs of human and animal figures in motion as a primary visual source for his paintings. In this he was hardly original, since the influence of the stop-action photos Muybridge took in the 1870s and '80s is detectable in the work of Degas, Picasso and Duchamp. But Bacon’s engagement with the Muybridge photos was visceral in a way that is true of no other artist. Since he had not studied anatomy and had never drawn from the live model, he pored over them, scrutinising them intently and isolating certain details by 'framing’ or circling them with crayon.
This is immediately apparent in the appalling condition of the ones we see in this show, where virtually every photo is mutilated, torn, folded, and spattered with paint.
Bacon’s unfinished Figure with Raised Arm (1949) is based on Muybridge’s photo of a nude athlete seen in profile. Sketchily painted in grisaille over raw canvas, the figure raises one arm as he strides across an empty stage against a drawn curtain. We might be looking at a Greek Kouras figure, except that the transparent right leg and the dragged striations of paint are used to create a blurred effect not unlike a doubly-exposed photograph.
Figure with Raised Arm 1949
What Bacon adds to the original pose (and the classical sculpture it reminded him of) is a splatter of paint that gushes from the head like the spume of blood or spittle after a blow to the head. Here is an early example of how in Bacon’s work a single passage of smeared paint indicating extreme physical violence becomes the entire source of a picture’s visual power.
Then, too, the photos of young men wrestling certainly had a voyeuristic charge for Bacon. In those picture in which he shows two figures it is hard to make out what is happening because the implicit violence of the wrestling hold is elided with a sexual act. An example in this show is an untitled canvas of 1989 in which two indistinct figures inspired by Muybridge’s photo are so entwined that they appear to be copulating.
A triptych with three heads of Isabel Rawsthorne was painted not from life but from John Deakin’s photos of the sitter that have been torn, creased, folded and crumpled. Seeing the photos and the pictures side by side we realise that no matter how he distorts a face, Bacon was able to capture remarkable likenesses of his subjects. Usually critics attribute the otherwise inexplicable folds, cuts and mutilations in these faces to Bacon’s study of photos soldiers hideously mutilated during the First World War.
But the portraits in this show make us realise that such distortions may also reflect the physical state of the photos on which they are based.
And sometimes the level of violence to which a photo has been subjected can only be described as pathological. One, which shows the head of Bacon’s lover George Dyer, has been ripped to shreds, crumpled and crushed by hand, then repaired with adhesive tape, and attached to a large brown envelope with a safety pin through Dyer’s cheek so that end result looks like a cubist collage. It isn’t Dyer in the flesh Bacon was painting, but his mutilated photo. By constant reference back to it Bacon was able to maintain some crucial connection to the anger and violence that (I can only conjecture) fuelled his creative process.
Bacon’s sadism took many forms. He based several of his best known pictures on a photograph of Dyer wearing only his underpants, seated on a chair with one leg crossed over the other. After Dyer’s suicide Bacon continued to use the pose, simply substituting the face of his new lover John Edward for Dyer’s — as though the two men were interchangeable. The effect is like looking at a double exposure in which one figure is superimposed over another without entirely obliterating the first.
Having made his point about photography’s importance for Bacon, the curator Martin Harrison doesn’t belabour it. The second half of the show is filled with works by Bacon including some particularly good early pictures like the wonderful Half Length Figure in Sea of 1957. But by the time we come to these paintings, we’ve learned too much about Bacon’s working methods to see them as mere imaginings. Even when we don’t know the visual source for the image, we can be sure that it can be found is a photo, and that Bacon had engaged with at such a profound emotional level it had become part of his consciousness, a piece of who he was.
No artist's studio rivals Francis Bacon's in terms of sheer iconic pungency. The artist's furious hurricanes of creativity were writ large upon its walls, scattered across its floors in a sea of paint pots, brushes, discarded canvases and much-abused source and reference materials, all of which seemed to bespeak Bacon's chaotically rigorous processes: bodybuilding snaps, reproductions of Muybridge time-lapse sequences, photo-booth self-portraits, magazine cuttings, tattered monographs, medical textbooks with images of unusual and often horrific wounds and diseases, and countless photos of friends such as Lucian Freud, John Deakin, Isabel Rawsthorne, Muriel Belcher and George Dyer, from which the artist built his portraits of them. Bacon's exceptional eloquence on the subject of his painting process, taken in combination with the iconicity and visual impact of his studio (now preserved at the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery at the Dublin City Gallery), enables his admirers to envisage something of how his paintings were made. In celebration of the centenary of Bacon's birth, and chiming with an exhibition at the Dublin City Gallery, A Terrible Beauty excavates Bacon's studio to reveal the methods, materials and processes through which Bacon arrived at his paintings. Drawing on the Hugh Lane's vast archive of materials, it gathers new scholarship and insights from Rebecca Daniels, Barbara Dawson, Marcel Fincke, Martin Harrison, Jessica O'Donnell, Joanna Shepard and Logan Sisley, and is a major publication for Bacon fans and scholars alike.
Irish-born English painter Francis Bacon (1909-1992) created work that remains unmatched in raw force and vitality, and he is widely considered one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century. Critic Ronald Jones has described his themes as the howling subjects with which Bacon struggled - Existentialism, Abstract Expressionism and the primal drama of a world newly acquainted with the Bomb. Bacon was preoccupied with probing the isolation and terror of the human condition, which he chiefly conveyed through a laboured distortion of the human body. As Sam Hunter - who penned one of the first major essays on Bacon in 1950 - writes in his introductory essay to this volume, what has become increasingly clear with the test of time...is the clarity, durability and powerful authority of his visual discourse. This concise monograph presents an in-depth survey of Bacon's entire oeuvre.
British artist Francis Bacon is one of the greatest painters of the twentieth century. His canvases of the 1940s bore witness to the traumatized psychology of the time and bestowed upon him a prominence that did not diminish in the course of his 50-year career. Recent auction sales have confirmed his works as some of the most sought-after of the Modern era.
ISBN: 9783869300276 Pages: 208 Publisher: Steidl Publishing
A new exhibition seeks to shed new light on Francis Bacon's working practises and expose the fallacy of the artist's own myth. Matilda Battersby reports.
The Independent, Wednesday, 24 March 2010
John Deakin, Photograph of George Dyer, Collection: Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane.
“I can dream all day long and ideas for paintings just fall into my mind like slides,” Francis Bacon once said. The self-promulgated idea that the Irish-born figurative artist’s wonderfully twisted and subversive imagery appeared fully formed in his mind, not demanding high levels of planning, drawing and experimentation, provides an interesting mythical basis for Bacon’s genius.
But a new exhibition of torn papers and photographs, manipulated film and other archival material harvested from Bacon’s studio, seeks to some way dispel this myth, by revealing the practise-runs, thought processes and scrawlings behind some of Bacon’s best work.
Co-curators Martin Harrison and Antonia Harrison have placed the scavenged studio artefacts alongside well known Bacon oil paintings, including five works never shown before in the UK, to demonstrate the root of some of his ideas, exhibited at the Compton Verney gallery in Warwickshire from this Saturday.
“No one ever saw Bacon work. But our research reveals a very different man from the public persona, which demands we unlearn what we think we know about him,” Martin Harrison said.
The notion that Bacon was only a spontaneous creative whose work emerged effortlessly and straight into paint, is rendered “unsafe” by the exhibition, the researchers claim. Bacon’s “collusion” in such ideas has been well documented, as is his devotion to other artists who often bypassed the drawing process, such as Picasso and Chaim Soutine.
Bacon said of himself that he “never knew what to paint,” yet pages of lists from a notebook taken from his studio in Reece Mews, South Kensington stand testament to his careful planning. As do the influences of other artists, particularly Velazquez, and even filmmakers like Buñuel and Resnais, according to the Harrisons.
“There’s a real risk that the myth of Bacon – albeit one in which the artist colluded- is all we will hand on to future generations. Yet the paintings are still by far the most important thing – it is only by reaching into those that we will ask the right questions and do justice to Bacon’s real genius,” Martin Harrison said.
Francis Bacon: In Camera is at Compton Verney gallery from 27 March until 20 June 2010. Admission is £8 Adults, £6 Concessions, £2 Children, £18 Family.
Francis Bacon: In Cinema.
Francis Bacon: In Cinema. This exhibition will focus on Bacon's source material and working methods, and will examine Bacon's work in relation to film and photography. It includes oil paintings, film footage, stills and archival material from Bacon's studio. From 27th March - 20th June. At Compton Verney, Warwickshire CV35 9HZ. 01926 645 500
Head in Grey 1955 Francis Bacon
The first programme was in January 1978. I led with Paul McCartney because I wanted to show that I was serious. My aim on The South Bank Show was to include the “popular” arts and make them an accepted part of the arts world. There were critics who thought that by doing this we had fatally undermined any claim to be an arts programme – even though in that first season I also included Harold Pinter, Ingmar Bergman, the RSC, David Hockney, the ballet Mayerling.
The show brought together two aspects of my own life. The working-class background, which at that time had little access to ballet, opera, great galleries and classical concerts; and the traditional arts, to which I had access later at Oxford University. The arts establishment in 1978 had little truck with popular culture and even less inclination to treasure it. That’s changed substantially over the past 30 years and The South Bank Show has been part of that changing.
The process of selection was often little more than a stab in the dark. There are insights into the instincts, thoughts and craft of artists of immense and perhaps enduring talent – even, in a few cases, touching genius. These are spots in a time of their lives, like painted portraits — a few sittings. The honesty and the seriousness with which they talk about their work is, I think, impressive, often exhilarating.
Though far from all the South Bank shows were interview-based, many were. I think that a good way to discover what artists are up to is to ask them. A “talking head” can be the best of television. If there’s trust and if the preparation and research have been good, the results can reveal truths. What matters is not the personality of the interviewer nor the questions, much, but the quality of the reply. There are many ways to interview people, but for the sort of programmes our team set out to do, collaboration was the key. Now and then they were nervous. The objective was to help make the meeting a place where they felt they could talk to the best of themselves.
I began in television as a researcher, then a director, and thought then and now that in any portrait of an artist the interviewer’s job is to help gather material. I did not want to be a critic. There are plenty of those in print. Our job was to put together a portrait. I would be part of it but, as far as possible, outside it.
My conviction was and is that the viewers can make up their own minds about the subject. Our job is to provide the fullest evidence we can for them to come to their decision.
When Francis Bacon and I appeared on The South Bank Show and for a few minutes we were caught in a state of naked inebriation it provided, I think, a true insight into Francis as a man and as a painter.
We were at Mario’s in Kensington after a long lunch, alone except for a film crew which dissolved before our blurry eyes as bottle succeeded bottle. Michelangelo, Francis proclaimed, had made the greatest drawings of nude flesh that existed. "Michelangelo gave the greatest male voluptuousness to the body." The way he expressed the word ‘voluptuous’ warmed by much strong red Italian wine was vintage.
"It’s a great word," I said, through the haze, "voluptuousness – we ought to live in a state of voluptuousness."
"Yes," said Francis, and repeated the word once more and then I suggested he was not interested in fantasy.
"Fantasy? No, I’m not interested. I’m interested in reality." He glared at me, his face afire. "There you are," he said, "Melvyn Bragg. Real. How do you render that in another art?"
"Why do you want to?" Off-camera, my voice seemed to call up from an open tomb."
"I want to be able" – each word perfectly clear despite the alcoholic breath on it – "to make in another medium the reality of an image that excites me."
Once more from afar, my voice. "But why do you want to, Francis, why do you want to?’
At which he got to his feet, a redoubtable effort, picked up the bottle and steadily filled my glass once again. "Because I want to. 'Cos I happen to be a painter. That’s all." The wine almost reached the brim. "Cheerio,’ he said and did not waste a drop.
Francis was born in Dublin of English parents in 1909. His father was a breeder and trainer of horses. Tales from the stables of violent equine beasts and randy stable boys have been called up as the making of the man. In 1914 his father moved to London to work in the War Office and early life was split between the two cities. Francis was asthmatic and had no regular schooling. He went on to become a designer and his work first hit print in the early thirties. He painted and in 1933 his first Crucifixion was included in Herbert Read’s Art Now. His first exhibition failed and he took to gambling, which became a lifelong habit, at times an addiction. In the early forties he destroyed most of his paintings and there was no reason for anyone to think this young decorator would ever make his mark.
But in 1944 he produced his Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. The snarling, distorted bodies of almost mythical beasts struck a post-war nerve and both reflected and helped to form the zeitgeist. In one bound he was launched and although it took time to build his great reputation, there seemed to be an inevitability. When we did this film in 1985 he could be called ‘the greatest living painter in the world’.
We filmed in a vast empty storeroom of the Tate in which we had set up a screen, brought in a projector and invited Francis to comment on his own and others’ work.
We showed him one of his paintings of a distorted female body splayed on a bed and nailed to the ground with a syringe. "You've said that you de-form and re-form reality in your paintings," I said.
"I would say there was some de-formation there, wouldn’t you?" he laid on, a touch heavily. "I don’t think you’ve seen a human body quite like that. They said, 'Why a hypodermic syringe? Is she supposed to be a drug addict?' I just wanted to impale her on the bed. I couldn’t use a nail."
At times Francis talked as if he were nervous, almost hesitant, but always, when he wanted to say what mattered emotionally to him, he would pause, physically steady himself, look directly at me and be emphatically clear. "I try to make concentrations of images."
Van Gogh’s The Night Café. I read from van Gogh’s notes: "The café is a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad or commit a crime." He wrote: "There’s a bar, a billiard table, lights, chairs, one or two figures, violent colours. It’s one of the ugliest paintings I've done."
"I love it," said Francis. "One of the inventions is the way he’s done the lights." Around each bare light bulb are concentric circles of yellow. "He’s made the light turn around the bulb. Without that the painting wouldn’t have that extreme intensity."
"He called the painting ugly. Some people have called your paintings ugly."
"I’m genuinely pleased those sort of people don’t like them. If they really hate them it means there might be something there."
A couple of days earlier, we had filmed in the mews flat in which Francis lived. We stood. There were no chairs.
"When you come to a blank canvas, do you have any idea in your head of what you want to do before you start?"
Often, when talking, Francis fidgeted with things, or looked away – slyly? Nervously? Seeking a way to pull together his concentration. But then he would plant his feet, stare and carefully deliver.
"I have an overall idea. It’s in the working that it develops. It’s a very difficult problem. I’m a figurative painter. You can’t any longer make illustrations better than a camera.’ He begins to stumble in his sentences. ‘I thought you might ask me that. I thought about it very clearly this morning and wrote it down. Now I can’t remember. Can I use it?"
Blushing a little, he unzips a pocket and takes out a scrap of paper and reads. "Not illustration of reality but to create images which are a concentration of reality and a shorthand for sensation." He smiles. He tucks the note away.
"Any drawings beforehand?"
"No. If I drew it I’d just be making an illustration of the drawing."
"You like to let your unconscious take over?"
"I like to think so. There’s this deep sea of unconsciousness and I do think I can draw from it."
"At the same time you like to see things deeply ordered?"
"Yes. I believe in a deeply ordered chaos in my work. I work very quickly."
"How do you do it?"
"Until the images come through you’re not in control. When they come up you have to control them."
"So you come up with an overall image which you don’t want to define except by working towards it?"
"Yes . . . no . . . yes, that’s exactly how it is."
And then we went for lunch around the corner, to Mario’s. A corner table by the window.
"Some people say your paintings are too full of horror."
"What horror could I make that would compete with what goes on every single day? If you read the newspapers or look at the television, what could I do to compete with that except that I’ve tried to re-create it?"
"So you paint the real world?"
"Yes! Between birth and death has always been the violence of life. I paint images of sensation. What is life but sensation?"
"Do you think anything exists outside 'the moment'?"
"No. I believe in nothing. We are born and we die and there’s nothing else."
And after that, in that late afternoon, we heaved over to the Colony Room Club (Members Only) in Soho. There were occasional overheard sentences. "They’ve been giving him a really bad time. He likes being given a really bad time. There’s a lot of men like that."
His £50 notes crossed the bar and bottles of champagne were shuttled back.
"People come in here and lose their inhibitions," he said, a little superfluously as a crimson-faced old friend yelled out, "Can I have a £50 note or two, Francis? No? Oh. I thought you and I were doing a bit of whooooring together."
Somehow he found the space to stand in front of a mirror and comb his hair. Then I heard him, loudly, "I never use make-up! Keep your make-up for yourself, you old cow!" He came across. "I am not one of those made-up poofs. It’s very old-fashioned, you know."
The roar of the Colony was growing in my ears like a mighty tide, rising and crashing with a powerful but queasy rhythm.
"Are you surprised at your success?"
"Yes. I never thought I’d sell at all. I always thought I’d have to take some other job. That’s luck."
Yet again he raised his glass. Yet again I did likewise. But whereas he would go on to Charlie Chester’s Casino, with John, to play roulette – "they say it’s the silliest game," he said, "but when you win . . ." – I managed, who knows how, to navigate a passage back to north London, contentedly, and slept.
The South Bank Show Revisited, a season of classic interviews, starts next Sunday March 28 on ITV1
Harry Bellet | Le Monde | 15.03.10
Michelangelo's astonishing 'presentation drawings', lessons in art technique for a young aristocrat he adored, tell pagan stories about men and love. The exhibition at the Courtauld is the most important ever devoted to them, writes James Hall
James Hall, The Guardian, Saturday 6 March 2010
One of the most common complaints made about today's artists is their apparent inability to draw. In matters of art, no question is more decisive, more majestically final, than: "But can he/she draw?" In a melodramatic hatchet job on Francis Bacon, Picasso biographer John Richardson recently claimed that Bacon's "graphic ineptitude" was his Achilles heel: "Tragically, he failed to teach himself to draw."
Yet Michelangelo's attack on Venetian painting points to a serious flaw in the argument. One can compile an extremely impressive list of great (and mostly unliterary) artists who got by nicely without bothering unduly with drawing. They displayed not so much graphic ineptitude as indifference. Giorgione, Titian, Caravaggio, Hals, Velázquez and Vermeer seem to have painted directly on to the canvas, just incising or brushing in a few outlines. Indeed, drawing as a major artform has been in spasmodic but continuous decline since the 17th century: most drawings by great artists after about 1850, including Manet, Cézanne, Picasso and Matisse, are barely worth exhibiting and are of interest only to specialist scholars. Bacon represents the rule rather than the exception.
Michelangelo's Dream is at the Courtauld Gallery, London WC2 (020 7848 2526) until 16 May.
by Sarah Bull, Huddersfield Daily Examiner, February 26, 2010
THERE are now two places in which to view one of the most prized images in the Kirklees Permanent Collection.
Figure Study II, by Francis Bacon, the most valuable painting in the collection, was originally a gift to the old Batley Town Council from the Contemporary Art Society back in 1952.
Lately, there has been a minor campaign from Batley to have the painting shown there, with those involved including Mike Wood, MP, Allan Thompson and Clr Mary Harkin.
But Robert Hall, senior curator for visual arts in Kirklees, had to explain that the security and environmental conditions needed for the painting meant it could not be seen there.
So, a photographic replica – just over half-size – has been made and this is now displayed in Batley Library (not in the art gallery there, which has changing exhibitions).
Mr Hall said the original painting, currently on show at Huddersfield, was a strong image and much in demand.
Last year was Bacon’s centenary and the painting was shown at the Tate, Milan, Madrid and New York. Figure Study II, painted during the 1940s, is a colourful, dramatic, but strange painting.
Daniel Farson, in his book Gallery, calling it the most spectacular painting in Huddersfield, says: “The flatness of the title conceals an act of mysterious violence.
“An apparently naked figure, loosely-draped by a herringbone overcoat, mounted by an umbrella, leans over a palm, his mouth wide-open with a scream. The background is the colour of blood. What has happened? There is no telling.”
Though spectacular and acclaimed by critics, the gift of the painting, was not appreciated by all the people in Batley.
To quote Daniel Farson again “Apparently, the painting was so disliked locally (so the artist himself has told me) that motions were put forward to the council to sell it.
“These were defeated at the time by the Director of Batley Art Gallery, Ronald Gelsthorpe, who believed in the painting’s importance, and thanks to his perseverance, it now hangs to greater advantage in Huddersfield.”
So what will the present population of Batley think of the photographic replica they have got now?
Time will tell, of course, but bearing in mind its history, there’s a touch of irony about.
El Economista, Eco Diario, L. R. G. | 19/02/2010
Un visitante de ARCO, observando el autorretrato de Francis Bacon en un 'stand' de la Feria.
Hay tendencias de todo tipo, desde las vanguardias más representativas del siglo XX hasta las obras más rupturistas distribuidas a lo largo de las 218 galerías que exponen desde el pasado miércoles las obras de alrededor de 3.000 artistas en los stands de Arco 2010, la feria de arte contemporáneo que acoge Ifema (Madrid). Se trata de una variedad que cubrirá las expectativas de pequeños y grandes inversores y, especialmente, de las instituciones, fondos de inversión y corporaciones.
El programa general de galerías es el lugar perfecto para encontrar obras maestras del arte contemporáneo y de vanguardia. Pero, por encima de todas las obras expuestas hay tres que destacan especialmente, en lo que al capítulo de cotizaciones se refiere. La que cuelga la etiqueta con el precio más alto es un autorretrato de Francis Bacon que el pintor irlandés realizó en 1987. Está a la venta por 1,6millones de euros, lo que la convierte en la obra más cara de cuantas se pueden contemplar en la feria.
SVD, Svenska Dagbladet, 19 februari 2010
Förra året skulle Francis Bacon ha fyllt hundra år och Dublin hyllar fram till den 7 mars sin son med en utställning där inget dammkorn lämnats åt slumpen. I motsats till sin förebild Picasso var Bacon inte beroende av levande modeller. Mellan honom och världen låg i stället ett filter av fotografier, filmer och reproduktioner av målningar ur konsthistorieböcker: Poussin, Velázquez och Goya.
Bilden av Bacon som oberoende av flyktiga intryck från massmedier och populärkultur avlivades redan 1952 av Sam Hunter i en essä om Francis Bacon och skräckens anatomi, men få var beredda att lyssna. Action painting och abstrakt expressionism dominerade scenen och publiken ville ha en konstnär som öste ur sitt inre. Bacon bidrog knappast själv till att kasta ljus över sitt arbete. Brutal utlevelse var ledstjärnan och vaksamt lade han ut dimridåer för att dölja att han likt vilken dödlig konstnär som helst fuskade genom att använda teckningar som förlagor.
I Francis Bacon: A Terrible Beauty på Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane presenteras ett rikt arbetsmaterial och ett antal sällan visade men inte särskilt märkvärdiga målningar. Men någonstans på vägen tappar galleriet fokus i sin redovisningsiver och vilja att kartlägga Bacons oeuvre. Riktigt problematiskt blir det i en sal där sönderskurna målningar presenteras – dukar som Bacon själv mönstrat ut, men som här inger känslan av en medveten konstnärlig handling.
Det är ett tveksamt förhållningssätt att lyfta upp kasserade målningar och ofärdiga alster till verkshöjd. Inte minst mot bakgrund av att Bacon var mycket självkritisk och knappt släppte någon över tröskeln till ateljén. Det tycks som om de förstörda dukarna är tänkta att kompensera bristen på riktigt bra verk i utställningen.
Som ett besynnerligt akvarium framstår rekonstruktionen av den legendariska Londonateljén på 7 Reece Mews. Genom tjockt skyddsglas möter jag en tät djungel av intorkade penslar, tidskrifter, mattor, böcker och målartrasor.
Efter Bacons död hoppades många att Tate Britains egensinnige chef Nicholas Serota skulle inse värdet av att bevara ateljén i sin ursprungliga miljö. Officiellt heter det att museet aldrig fick någon förfrågan. Troligare är att Serota vid denna tid var fullt upptagen med sitt imperiebygge. Avknoppningen av Tate pågick som bäst och Tate Modern med inriktning på samtidskonst invigdes 1998, samma år som Bacons ateljé med 7500 skrubbade och katalogiserade föremål flyttade till Irland.
Även om Bacon föddes i Dublin så var det i London han hörde hemma och utvecklades som konstnär. Flytten av ateljén är säregen, men ändå blir jag alltmer övertygad om att det var ett korrekt beslut. Mytbildningen var nära att överskugga Bacons verk redan under hans livstid. När ateljén så rycktes loss ur sin ursprungliga omgivning kapades de sentimentala banden. Ateljén i Dublin blir aldrig en kultplats.
Huddersfield Daily Examiner, February 16, 2010
Figure Study II 1945 - 1946 Francis Bacon
A PAINTING by Francis Bacon has been copied – so it can go on show in Kirklees. The original of Figure Study II is considered too valuable to be put on public show.
It remains locked in secure storage by Kirklees Council’s cultural staff who will not say how much it is worth. But now a reproduction of the work has been commissioned and it will go on show later this week.
The painting, Figure Study II by Bacon, one of the 20th century's most influential artists, was presented to Batley Art Gallery by the Contemporary Art Society in 1952. Over the years the issue of displaying the important work in Batley has surfaced from time to time.
The reasons the painting has not been able to be displayed are numerous but primarily related to security and the impact on insurance, due to the painting’s value. There are also fears about possible damage when it is being moved and transported.
Whenever Kirklees Galleries lend the work, and it is often in demand, they need to be sure that the borrowers can meet certain security, insurance, transport and environmental conditions.
Now the work has been copied and the resulting reproduction will be formally unveiled at Batley Art Gallery on Friday at 10.30 am in front of Spen Valley MP Mike Wood and local dignitaries.
Art experts claim the work is an important early painting by Bacon, as he destroyed much of his work from the period of 1935 to 1944.
It shows a coat motif, from which a deformed, screaming figure – perhaps lurking under the coat – emerges.
Previously unseen images of wrestlers made in Bacon's studio demonstrate the artist's love of the visceral, writes Peter Conrad
The Observer, Sunday 14 February 2010
"Who were the flabby butchers in the stained, straining pants?"
The wrestling session commissioned by Francis Bacon. Michael Hoppen Gallery
Two bodies in a bare, drab room, experimentally trying all the things they can do to each other, from grappling, groping sex to choke holds and karate chops: here is a privileged, confidential glimpse of Francis secret theatre, never seen before. It comes from a pile of contact sheets given by Bacon to an electrician who worked in his south Kensington studio; the collection was acquired by the dealer Michael Hoppen, who will be showing it at the art fair in Maastricht next month.
Nothing is known about this long session of polymorphous play. Who were the flabby butchers in the stained, straining pants, obliged to wear swimming caps that make them look like medical orderlies kitted out for surgery? Where was the room, which might be called clinical if only the sheet on the floor were cleaner and smoother? And who gave the orders, sitting behind the anonymous photographer and directing the two men as they showed off wrestling holds? That presumably was Bacon: he commissioned the photographs, and used a felt pen to mark the images he fancied, sketching a red cage around the hired thugs.
Bacon admired photographer Eadweard Muybridge's studies of bodies in motion, which treat the physique as an apparatus with elegantly calibrated, agile parts. But his own version of those athletic displays is perverse, an exercise in abstracting the body by force. Picasso would have appreciated the frames in which the two men, wrestling or perhaps sexually coupling, merge into a monstrous quadruped with a pair of arses, one trailing dislocated arm, and no head.
They have come together to cause each other pain: a wrestling bout is the spectacle of physical agony, accompanied by grunts, groans, cries of excruciation. Unlike boxing, wrestling has no neatly aimed knock-out blows, no strict sporting etiquette. Here the coup de grâce is delivered with an elbow or the back of a hand, after which one man shoulders the other and carts him off like dead meat. Bacon was a connoisseur of abattoirs, and all that's missing in these photographs is blood, although the scrap of tape on the corner looks like the trace of some intimate, dried-up fluid. Or does this stand for the imprint of Bacon's thumb, gripping the page and depositing an equivalent to the smudges left on the floorcloth by the soles of the wrestlers' dirty feet?
Like Greek tragedy, it is all a performance, as the men demonstrate when they forget their feud and start to jump and skip or dive into a non-existent pool. Opposed moods chase each other across the page like black and white, the two extremes of the photographic spectrum. Brutality at the top left changes to friskiness at the bottom right. But the change happens imperceptibly: sex often looks, and almost always sounds, like murder.
The detail that intrigues me most is the light socket halfway up the wall. It seems quaintly foreign, which suggests that the photographs may have been taken in Paris or New York, where Bacon spent time in the 1970s. Apart from any clue it might give about time and place, it functions, like every object in a Bacon painting, as a memento mori. In this impromptu gymnasium, energetic life goes through its paces, and soon enough confronts death; the light that floods the scene is raw and harsh, but the current can be turned off in an instant. Then perhaps an image will materialise in that dark, empty square at the centre. Some photographs – the nastiest, the most cruelly truthful – have to be looked at with your eyes closed.
The contact sheets will be shown for the first time at the European Fine Art Fair, Maastricht, Friday 12 March to Sunday 21 March
By Vernon Silver and Anabela Reis, Bloomberg, February 04, 2010
Francis Bacon’s 1983 Oedipus and the Sphinx, after Ingres
Feb. 4 (Bloomberg) - On a December afternoon in 2007, billionaire Jose Berardo walked into the attorney general’s 18th-century headquarters in Lisbon to rat out executives at the Portuguese bank on which he had staked his fortune.
In a sun-filled gallery, Berardo examines the 1808 painting Oedipus and the Sphinx by French master Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres that’s on loan from the Louvre in Paris. The painting is being installed next to the work that it inspired, Francis Bacon’s 1983 Oedipus and the Sphinx, after Ingres. Berardo owns the Bacon painting.
“You know who used to own this one? Stallone!” Berardo shouts, referring to actor Sylvester Stallone. Berardo recounts how he ran into Stallone and told him, “I’ve got your Bacon!”
The museum is located in a state-owned cultural complex - the result of a deal Berardo cut with the Ministry of Culture in 2006. The government agreed to house part of his collection and took a 10-year option to buy 862 paintings and sculptures for 316 million euros, based on a Christie’s valuation in 2006.
Making a programme with the artist Francis Bacon involved another day's drinking. 'I'd known Francis for more than 20 years. In 1985, I spent a day with him for a programme and it turned into a pub crawl.
'This was an alcoholic waterfall. Francis and I pretended to have lunch and did the interview. We ate nothing, but we drank on.
'We got very drunk. It showed. We slurred. Once or twice we all but stopped. We went in to a gambling club next to some blurred drinking hellhole.
At some time I found my way home, my liver leaping up to my ribs like a salmon swimming against the stream.'
At this week's final South Bank Show award lunch, Melvyn was touched by a filmed tribute from the Prince of Wales in which he described the 'more or less' sober questioning of a drunken Francis Bacon while the production team guffawed.
Bragg may yet take his show to a different channel if another broadcaster can afford to bankroll it.
'I'm proud of the show because it changed the nation's view of what constitutes art. Once, the arts were opera, ballet, classical music and everything else deemed highbrow.
'It was my idea for high culture and popular culture to be treated equally.
'There is some brilliant pop music and some very poor classical music. And why shouldn't comedy be treated as seriously as drama?
'But it is all art and we are all in this together, and through The South Bank Show people have come to realise this.'
• The South Bank Show Awards is on ITV1 on Sunday at 10.15pm.
Francis Bacon; valid retrospective or academic voyeurism?
The most recent exhibition of Francis Bacon’s work features his rejected pieces, and is presented as much as an insight to the man as an artistic endeavour.
Trinity News, 27 January 2010
The hundredth anniversary of Francis Bacon’s birth was celebrated last year. By all accounts he displays the virtues recommended to tortured artists. His highly prized angst is considered a prerequisite for depicting the so-called ‘modern condition’. Whatever the catalyst was for his art, the results are clear. Bacon was one of the highest selling painters of his time. Born in Dublin at 63 Lower Baggot Street, his life was all cliché. His father, a military man, disapproved of his son’s foray into art, leading to a predictably strained relationship. Such friction lead Bacon to Europe where he could ply his intended trade free from the untoward influences of convention. Or so say the critics. There are two schools of art criticism, one is interesting while the other is not. The first method attempts to find value in the art work while assessing the technical merits (if any) of the piece. The second method aims at an unnecessary archaeology of the artist’s life and thought. The artists are usually dead, before these critics feel free to extrapolate wildly and attribute significance as they please.
A Terrible beauty is the title of the Francis Bacon exhibit currently in the Hugh Lane gallery. The exhibit is an exercise in exploitation. Everything ranging from rejected works to refuse is on display if Bacon so much as touched it. His library, paints and studio are displayed so that each voyeur may garner a sufficient degree of empathy for the man, and his interests. The Egyptians buried their dead with much fanfare, but no one could say that they profited for it. Civilisation has marched on somewhat since then, we still have fanfare, but now we’re also willing to profit from our famous dead. Walking through the Hugh Lane you gain a considerable education, but it’s an odd process somewhat like tearing through your sister’s diary. What you find is of no particular use. Bacon was well known for masochistic tendencies, with highly destructive and violent relationships with his partners and muses for his disturbing works.
His revulsion at his own homosexuality, something he was open about all his life is equally well known. One of his defining relationships was with a George Dyer, thirty years his junior, who he claimed to have met when he had burgled his apartment, Dyer, a colourful personality himself, committed suicide just before Bacon’s biggest retrospective in Paris, just one instance of tragedy in his life.
Bacon’s exhibition is the visual narration of a plausible life story. Scrap books, photos and random notes are interspersed between a collection of sketches, paintings and slashed paintings. The main themes to note are progression and influence. Seeds of the final results can be seen in earlier endeavours. The ‘slashed paintings’ are failures by another name. They usually evince the same sparse background of the complete works with a hole where the central image was supposed to reside. The desecration of all the paintings displays a violent and brutal editorial hand. So the decision to display them seems counter-intuitive. This posthumous abuse is no better than the gratuitous airing of dirty laundry. But for all the flaws to be found in the exhibit there are some positive points - namely, the paintings.
Bacon paints his scenes in a strangely figurative style on un-primed canvas. This method enforces a difficult constraint upon the painter, by which mistakes become difficult to alter, and so must be incorporated in the image. This engenders some strange effects. There is an obvious disconnect between his images and reality but at the same time, he paints hugely evocative expressions of the human form. Contorted at bizarre angles or at rest, there is always a degree of isolation to the figures depicted. As a result, one cannot look on with indifference, and what strikes one as figurative nonetheless communicates a literal truth.
It is by this principle of empathy that Bacon’s paintings communicate the sense of the situation depicted. The miserable and wretched examples of humanity in Bacon’s painting serve a cathartic effect. The appreciation of such paintings follows primarily from the knowledge that such is not my lot. The miserable nudity of the human body seems so defenceless and brittle under Bacon’s brush that the survival of our species strikes one anew as an amazing miracle. The recognition of the suffering or loneliness seems to be instinctive, such that I do not feel able to dismiss such scenes of misery as melodramatic extensions of the existentialist ‘epiphany’.
The clear emotive success achieved by Bacon’s stark depictions makes the trip to the Hugh Lane worth it, but bear in mind that while it may give a degree of insight into what was, as with many a creative mind, a troubled existence, however, as with much of todays art criticism, it should be taken with a pinch (or four) of salt.
La Fábrica publica por primera vez el conjunto de recortes que inundaba el estudio del artista
Reúne libro el archivo disperso que inspiraba a Francis Bacon
Archivos privados contiene 160 fotografías, armazón sobre el que construyó su vocabulario pictórico
Tras su muerte, el experto Brian Clarke tuvo acceso al material y logró recopilarlo
Armando G. Tejeda, Corresponsal, Periódico La Jornada, México, Domingo 24 de enero de 2010
Madrid, 23 de enero. Francis Bacon, el pintor irlandés de autocrítica severa y desesperanzada, el artista que reflexionó sobre su tiempo con varias y profundas heridas a cuestas, tenía en su estudio miles, quizá decenas de miles de hojas, restos de hojas o material orgánico que formaban, en su conjunto, su principal fuente de inspiración.
Quienes conocieron el estudio de Bacon en Londres –muy pocas personas– confirmaron lo que se sabía en los mentideros artísticos de la época sobre la ingente cantidad de recortes y más recortes que inundaban su sala. Esas imágenes las fue recolectando a lo largo de su vida y se convirtieron en sus compañeras, en sus fuentes de inspiración, en objetos tocados por su mano singular e inspirada que, fruto de la alquimia de los artistas, se convertían en otra cosa. En imágenes con vida propia.
A la muerte de Bacon, en Madrid en 1992, su heredero y compañero sentimental John Edwards abrió el archivo personal a un experto en la obra del artista, Brian Clarke, quien descubrió un universo de imágenes que explicaban a su vez no sólo la evolución estética del propio Bacon, sino también el origen de muchos de sus cuadros más célebres y de su empeño infranqueable ante el último día de su vida de crear el cuadro perfecto.
Ese material se publica por primera vez en el libro Francis Bacon: archivos privados, de la editorial La Fábrica, y que supone el primer trabajo de recopilación exhaustiva con los documentos, papeles, imágenes y recortes que formaron parte de ese archivo disperso en su estudio. De ese caos, que al visitante neófito posiblemente le hacía pensar que Bacon, además de genio y de ser una de las personalidades más atormentadas de su época, sufría el síndrome de Diógenes.
El libro contiene 160 fotografías en los que se hace un repaso de los temas centrales de su pintura; el cuerpo humano; los trabajos con animales; los paisajes; los cuadros de artistas que marcaron su estética, como Diego de Velázquez, y su postura al límite de lo caricaturesco. Es, en definitiva, el armazón sobre el que trabajaba este artista para confeccionar su propio método y vocabulario pictórico.
Para el visitante neófito posiblemente el caos del estudio de Bacon le hace pensar en que, además de ser un genio, sufría el síndrome de Diógenes. En la imagen, el artista en su estudio en 1984. Foto Bruce Bernard
Las intervenciones de Bacon convertían un vulgar o anodino anuncio publicitario en pieza satírica o doliente sobre sus obsesiones, como la muerte, el paso del tiempo, siempre implacable y severo, los rostros deformados por el trasluz de su verdadera naturaleza, el misterio del proceso creativo y su desgaste hasta el límite de la resistencia en algunos artistas, como él mismo.
“Imperio del collage”
El propio Bacon reflexionaba así sobre los collages o la manipulación de las imágenes: “El Imperio del collage se extiende mucho más allá de las artes plásticas. Es aquí donde empieza el verdadero efecto del collage: su misterio, su poder… su dimensión en el campo conceptual”. Acercarse, en definitiva, al lado sensorial de los objetos. Pero también del movimiento de los animales y de los hombres, que fueron fuente de inspiración y de afirmación. En este sentido, Bacon ahondó en el carácter primitivo de las cosas y de los animales, a la manera de una de sus máximas de cabecera, en este caso de Bataille: “Si… esa matemática verdad militar se contrasta con el orificio excremental del simio… el universo que parecía amenazado por el esplendor humano en forma lamentablemente imperativa no recibe otra respuesta que la descarga ininteligible de una carcajada”.
Bárbara Dawson, directora de la galería municipal de Dublín The Hugh Lane, donde se resguarda el archivo personal de Bacon, señaló sobre el carácter de algunos materiales. Su transformación en un ser frágil y anciano, y su camino hacia la decrepitud trajo otros significados. Este proceso de mutación fue importante para Bacon. Los significados se hacen así más misteriosos cuando se convierten en el sedimento fértil de su práctica pictórica. Es decir, sus obras cambian constantemente, como las figuras de un mazo de cartas que se baraja. Esta conexión surrealista, a lo cadáver exquisito, produjo en Bacon una fascinación imperecedera, pero en todo el material que se revela ahora continúa constituyendo un misterio y una fascinación visceral.
Media Part, 10 Janvier 2010
"Paris, le 1er décembre 1981
Merci d'avoir précisé à mon intention - via Eddy Batache - la façon dont vous concevez le réalisme. Pour moi aussi, il est évident que c'est à travers notre subjectivité que nous saisissons le réel et qu'il résulte de cela que non seulement nous ne pouvons jamais être tout à fait "objectifs" mais que - ce qui va plus loin - il serait d'autant plus absurde de nous efforcer de l'être que le fait qu'il y a lieu de transcrire est la perception que nous avons de la chose et non la chose elle-même.
Quant à l'expressionnisme, ce qu'il y a en lui d'irritant, c'est son côté caricatural : accentuer superficiellement certains traits de la chose pour aboutir à un "effet", au lieu d'essayer - propos plus difficile - d'essayer (raturé) d'en donner, en profondeur, une traduction aussi vivante que possible.
Quant à la possibilité d'être réaliste en traitant un thème tragique ou mythologique, je crois que nous pouvons l'être en rendant pleinement compte de notre réaction à ce thème sans chercher à en établir l'illustration. Toutefois, j'avoue que ce point-là en particulier reste pour moi très obscur!
Bien que tout cela soit abominablement compliqué, j'espère parvenir à m'en sortir en prenant pour fil conducteur une réflexion approfondie sur vos oeuvres et sur ce que vous dites de votre travail.
Affectueusement à vous, et à bientôt, je le souhaite.
Excusez mon écriture pas très bonne, ainsi que mes ratures... Mais ce que je vous dis là me tient trop à coeur pour que je puisse vous le dire avec calme !"
Michel Leiris, Francis Bacon ou la brutalité du fait, suivi de cinq lettres inédites de Michel Leiris à Francis Bacon sur le réalisme, L'école des lettres, Seuil, 1995.
A terrible beauty, saturated in pain
CULTURE SHOCK: The Francis Bacon ‘slashed paintings’ exhibit at the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin puts the artist’s turmoil directly in our view, writes FINTAN O'TOOLE
The Irish Times - Saturday, January 9, 2010
WHEN YOU put them up on a gallery wall, objects acquire meaning. This is certainly true of the slashed paintings, destroyed by their creator Francis Bacon, and now on display as part of the Hugh Lane Gallery’s intriguing A Terrible Beauty exhibition. In themselves, the torn canvasses may be no more significant than the contents of a writer’s waste-paper basket. They are the detritus of the creative process, efforts that failed to meet the artist’s standards. Yet placed in the context both of his more achieved works and of the contents of his studio, the violence with which some of the canvasses have been attacked becomes highly suggestive.
Bacon, as the art historian John Richardson suggests in the current issue of the New York Review of Books, has strong impulses towards both sadism and masochism. During his childhood in Ireland, he turned up at a fancy dress party hosted by his parents at Cannycourt dressed as a flapper. When his father discovered him wearing his mother’s underclothes, he delivered a violent beating.
Subsequently, Bacon came to associate sexual pleasure with cruelty, even with extreme violence. One of his lovers, Peter Lacy, who appears in the Hugh Lane exhibition both in Bacon’s awestruck portrait and in photographs of a suave, handsome man in early middle-age, inspired some of Bacon’s most important works. He also, according to Richardson, “hurled Bacon through a plate glass window. His face was so damaged that his right eye had to be sewn back into place. Bacon loved Lacy even more”.
Conversely, another of Bacon’s most important muses, George Dyer, was subjected to psychological torment and goading. On the day of Bacon’s ascension into the firmament of modern art greatness, with the opening of his exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971, Dyer’s third attempt to take his own life proved to be fatal.
If all of this places Bacon closer to the casebook of Sigmund Freud than to the studio of his own friend and contemporary Lucien Freud, it is not necessary to be a brilliant psychoanalyst to get some sense of what was going on. The need to punish or be punished was clearly rooted in shame. Tellingly, Bacon, openly gay throughout his life, had no interest in the gay rights movement. Richardson recalls him remarking, a propos of moves to decriminalise homosexuality in England, that “they should bring back hanging for buggery”. Guilt – and the consequent connection to violence – was too strongly intertwined with sex to be dispensed with.
Richardson sees these cruel relationships as central to Bacon’s work, to the point of arguing that there is a direct link between them and the quality of his art. When Bacon settled with John Edwards in a relationship “less fraught for being platonic, seemingly free of sadomasochistic overtones”, his work, Richardson claims, “lost its sting and failed to thrill”.
It is hard not be uneasy about all of this. From an aesthetic point of view, it is unpleasantly reductive to make such direct connections between the work and the life. As Richardson himself points out, there is a danger of making Bacon “a kind of Michael Jackson of art – an anomalous weirdo of divine power”. From a moral standpoint, there is an obvious discomfort in the notion that Bacon’s art was better when he was involved in violent relationships than when he was not. And yet, even without necessarily going all the way with Richardson, it is hard to gainsay the obvious ways in which his best paintings are indeed related to his sadomasochistic desires.
Paradoxically perhaps, it is pain that humanises Bacon’s art. There is a studied coldness to his images of the naked body isolated in a space that Richardson memorably calls “a photographer’s studio in Hell”. The studio materials that are now on view at the Hugh Lane give us the sense of a lurid, almost voyeuristic interest in violence, death and disease. The sources he used include deliberately sensational and explicit depictions of terrible brutality, such as the French propaganda publication The True Aspects of the Algerian Revolution, showing the aftermaths of murders. He does not seem to have been greatly interested in the people shown in these images, merely in the strange dispositions of their bodies.
And yet when he places his formalised versions of these images within the abstract spaces of his canvasses, something truly strange happens. Instead of becoming more distant, more removed from their sources in the real horrors of the 20th century, they become almost unbearably real. They are saturated with pain itself – not a metaphysical angst but a visceral bodily agony. They almost literally scream out from the frame.
And just as the paintings become the bearers of pain, they also seem to inflict it. Bacon brings into painting what Antonin Artaud had brought into drama – a theatre of cruelty. What Artaud meant by that phrase was not, of course, physical violence, but the psychic shock that he felt the audience needed. He imagined theatre as a ritual power aimed at shattering the facade of daily illusions and stripping reality down to its essence.
Even if Bacon’s art has its roots in an actual, rather than a metaphysical cruelty, the important thing about it is that it transcends those origins.
It reaches for a shock value that has nothing to do with the lurid sadism that may hover around it. It is the shock of the human body from whose depiction all trace of both classical ideals and romantic heroism has been stripped. Contorted in an agony or an ecstasy that are indistinguishable from each other, it becomes again shockingly beautiful. In the complicity that great art enforces we, too, end up deriving pleasure from this pain.
ES MI MUNDO
Su padre no podía ni verlo: cuando estaba cerca, lo corría a latigazos. Le gustaba vestirse de mujer, y tuvo una institutriz que, para “corregirlo”, lo encerraba en un cajón. Fue artista y prostituto, amante y sádico, jugador compulsivo y enfermo asmático. Pintó a su novio ladrón y suicida, invocó el crimen, derramó carnicerías y reprodujo crucifixiones. A cien años de su nacimiento, Francis Bacon sigue siendo el peor de todos.
”Ese hombre horrible que pinta asquerosos trozos de carne.” Así etiquetaba Margaret Thatcher a Francis Bacon, uno de los más geniales artistas del siglo XX. Ningún otro pintor ha representado la figura humana con tanto sentimiento: la carne desgarrada, la deformidad de los cuerpos desnudos, masculinos y poderosos, retorcidos de maneras que llevan a la anatomía a un límite entre lo animal y lo humano. Una pintura carnal y, por qué no, libidinosa, que como él mismo definía “va directo al sistema nervioso”. Una obra que permanece, cruda y desolada tanto como su biografía, ambas marcadas por heridas violentas: “Yo y la vida que he vivido acabamos inspirando más curiosidad que mi obra. A veces, cuando pienso en ello, preferiría que todo lo que se sabe de mí explotase y desapareciera al morir”, decía Bacon en 1965.
Francis Bacon nació en Dublín el 28 de octubre de 1909 en el seno de una familia puritana e inglesa. Su padre fue un riguroso ex mayor del ejército británico que se había trasladado a Irlanda para convertirse en preparador de caballos de carrera. Su infancia fue muy complicada, padecía de asma crónica y a raíz de los fuertes ataques comenzaron a suministrarle morfina a los 5 años. Debido a su enfermedad duraba poco en los colegios. El niño Francis no tenía amigos. En 1914, cuando estallaba la Primera Guerra Mundial, su padre era nombrado en el Ministerio de Guerra. Hasta 1925 pasó sus días viajando con su familia entre Inglaterra e Irlanda.
El pequeño Francis comenzaba a tomar conciencia del peligro y la violencia, no sólo por lo que ocurría en el mundo, sino por los maltratos a los que lo sometía su padre. El asma no era el único “defecto”. Francis Bacon era homosexual y su padre estaba decidido a “enderezarlo” a base de castigos físicos. Fue prácticamente entregado a una severa institutriz gótica, toda una malvada de cuentos llamada Jessie Lightfoot, que tenía por costumbre encerrarlo en un baúl. “Ese cajón fue mi origen”, recordaría años más tarde.
Era adolescente cuando el mayor Bacon ya ni siquiera soportaba tenerlo cerca, salvo para azotarlo con una fusta. De allí vendrá la fascinación del artista por pintar esos gritos, más bien aullidos que plasman no el terror sino el grito en sí. A los 16 años su padre lo expulsa del hogar cuando lo encuentra vestido con la ropa interior de su madre y durmiendo con uno de los mozos del establo. Fracasados todos los intentos correctivos, el mayor Bacon le pide a su amigo Harcourt-Smith que se lleve al joven a Berlín. Fue allí en el año 1926 donde Bacon, quien siempre tuvo una gran pasión por estudiar el movimiento del cuerpo humano, entró en contacto con el cine. Metrópolis y El Acorazado Potemkin, entre otras películas, fueron sus primeras inspiraciones. No pasó mucho tiempo hasta que el amigo de la familia metió al adolescente en su cama para luego abandonarlo a su suerte en una ciudad “violenta y sin ley”, como la definiría el propio Bacon. El joven de 17 años permaneció en Berlín, donde se entregó por completo a su gusto por los “hombres rudos”.
En 1927 se traslada a París y comienza a trabajar como decorador de interiores. Una visita a una exposición de Picasso lo decidió a ser artista: “Aquellos pierrots, desnudos, paisajes y escenarios me impresionaron mucho, y después pensé que quizá yo también podría pintar”. Instalado definitivamente en Londres, en 1928 comienza a pintar de forma autodidacta, pero sus cuadros no se vendían. De pronto se encontró viviendo con sólo tres libras por semana. En medio de esta situación descubre que resultaba atractivo a los hombres y comienza a ofrecer sus servicios como acompañante.
En 1933 pinta la primera de sus Crucifixiones y al año siguiente realiza su primera exposición junto a uno de sus amantes, el pintor cubista Roy de Maistre. La muestra no tuvo éxito. Sumido en una crisis, destruyó las imágenes del fracaso y abandonó la pintura para retomarla durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial. Esto era parte del genio iracundo de Bacon, ese hombre que trabajaba obsesivamente, para luego ir a los bares a beber y a provocar alguna pelea producto de su lengua filosa. Era el artista que llevaba una vida austera, vestido con ropas sencillas, que perdía grandes sumas de dinero en el casino y se entregaba a los romances con tipos peligrosos. Su amigo íntimo, el escritor francés Michel Leiris, le sugirió que “el masoquismo, el sadismo y casi todos los vicios, en realidad, son tan sólo maneras de sentirse más humano”. Y Bacon hizo de esta frase una ley personal.
Izquierda, Bacon besándose con John Edwards.
A mediados de los años ’40, Francis Bacon y su estilo único eran aclamados por la crítica. Su inspiración provenía de muchas fuentes: el Retrato del papa Inocencio X de Velázquez (que se convertiría en una obsesión), el mundo decadente de la posguerra y, por supuesto, sus romances.
Bacon era un personaje recurrente de los bares londinenses, en especial del Colony Room, un club de mala muerte, donde pasaba las tardes bebiendo en medio de esas paredes de color verde que más tarde serían la decoración de muchas de sus pinturas. Fue allí, en 1952, donde conoció a Peter Lacy, un ex piloto de combate que tenía una amplia colección de látigos que destrozaron la espalda del pintor y muchos de sus cuadros. “Yo nunca me había enamorado de nadie hasta entonces”, comentó Bacon más adelante. “Por supuesto, fue el desastre más total desde el comienzo.” Los dos hombres llevaron al S & M hasta el extremo. Ya habían pasado algunos años de su separación cuando Bacon se encontraba preparando una retrospectiva de su obra que se inauguró en la Tate Gallery de Londres en 1962. En ese momento se enteró de que su ex amante había sido encontrado muerto por una intoxicación de alcohol. Su cuadro Dos figuras (1953) es el testimonio más real de su relación con Lacy: un abrazo erótico y violento que muestra la oscuridad de esos dos desconocidos que se funden brutalmente.
Derecha, con George Dyer.
Dos años más tarde, en 1964, un delincuente llamado George Dyer es sorprendido por Bacon mientras intenta robar en su casa. Esa misma noche terminaron en la cama y siguieron juntos durante siete años. Pero la historia volvió a repetirse. Bacon se convirtió en un bebedor que tenía que hacer frente a las crisis de su novio, la mayoría de las cuales terminaban en intentos de suicidio. La relación terminó en 1971 cuando Dyer murió de una sobredosis de alcohol y pastillas. Al momento de su muerte, Bacon, de 61 años, se encontraba terminando de preparar su muestra, que tendría lugar en el Grand Palais de París. Los sentimientos de culpa persiguieron al artista por el resto de su vida: “Si yo me hubiera quedado con él en lugar de preocuparme por ver la exposición, él estaría aquí ahora”, diría más tarde. Francis Bacon había pintado muchos retratos de su gran amor en el pasado, destaca entre ellos George Dyer en un espejo (1968), y siguió haciéndolo después de su muerte, era su manera de recordarlo. Esta historia de amor terrible fue llevada al cine en 1998 por el director John Maybury, en la película El amor es el demonio, un título que no precisa mayores explicaciones.
Ya en la década del ’60, Bacon era un pintor de fama internacional, sus pinturas habían llegado a Nueva York y centenares de críticos y morbosos concurrían a ver esos cuadros de hombres deformes que parecían transmitir el calor de la carne. Su personalidad también apasionaba a sus seguidores. Su taller en la calle Reece Mews en Londres era famoso por el desorden: centenares de fotos, libros de anatomía, radiografías y muchos cuadros que uno pisaba al entrar. Este estudio en su totalidad fue donado a la Hugh Lane Gallery de Dublín por John Edwards, su último compañero y heredero de todos sus bienes (11 millones de libras). Con él entabló la relación más estable de su vida. Bacon había conocido a Edwards –un fotógrafo aficionado cuarenta años menor que él– en Londres en 1974 y estuvieron juntos hasta la muerte del pintor: “Es el único amigo verdadero que he tenido”, declaró en 1985. Francis Bacon murió en Madrid el 28 de abril de 1992 de un ataque cardíaco. Recordando a la institutriz de su infancia, había manifestado no querer volver nunca más a estar dentro de un cajón. Siguiendo con sus deseos, sus restos fueron incinerados y sus cenizas se esparcieron en Inglaterra.
FRANCISCO CALVO SERRALLER, El País (España) 26/12/2009