reative streak: Bacon at eighty

Francis Bacon is widely regarded as one ofthe greatest living painters. Glasgow‘s Barbizon (iallery is exhibiting 22 of his lithographs and etchings. Andrew Pulver solicited opinions on the man. his work. and his social habitat.

Franccis Bacon is one of the few British painters whose international status is past challenge. Born in Dublin in 1909, he remained on the fringes of the British and Euuropean art scene during the heady interwar years: he made his first major impact with lime l-‘r'gun-s u/ l/lt’ lime or u( I'((( tilt/on in an exhibition at the l.eleb\ re ( iallery in

l 1945. His tortured. near-psychotic imagery first shocked. then struck a chord with British post-war consciousness as the atrocities and exhaUstions of total war became clear.

'I’hroughout his subsequent career Bacon remorselessly followed a solitary path. refusing to be drawn towards the cathartic abstraction of Pollock and de Kooning nor. later. the spare geometry of Nicholson or Stella. Bacon‘s painting remained steadfastly l'iguratiye. drawingon a multiplicity of key images of Western art: Velazquez‘ Innocent X. ('rm‘i/ixirm. the Nurse from liisenstein‘s l’omnkin. the stop-action photography of

reworked. transformed in Bacon's peculiarly grotesque idiom ~ lragmenled. distorted. disembotlied. Portraits and ligure

Muybridge. All these w ere drawn in.

studies were executed in the same manner. deprived ofcontext. of everyday reality, pinned in featureless geometric landscapes. By 1951 Bacon‘s wanderlust had taken him to Paris. Berlin. Monte Carlo and South Africa. He finally settled in London. though rarely staying long at one address. Nevertheless, his presence was increasingly felt. and in 1954 he was chosen, along with Ben Nicholson and Lucien Freud. to represent the UK at the Venice Bicnniale. Since then his work has developed through a series ofone-man shows. culminating in a full retrospective at the Tate in 1962. Over the years Bacon’s work has hardly developed formally ifanything it has increased in its complexity while becoming quietly more personal and reflective. Now he has reached his 80th year Bacon‘s star is undimmed. and remains one of Britain‘s most exceptional living artists.

William Feaver, Art Critic, The Observer

He was a great existential voice of anguish in the 19405 and he‘s been doing the same thing ever since. which is rather a long time. Good painters produce perhaps not more than a few great paintings in a lifetime he‘s a very important figurative painter and I think he‘s produced his great painting. and a whole load ofpaintings for selling to banks. As to whether he is part of any genuine movement. well. he was a young chancer in the Thirties connected to interior decorating. if anything. Now he's got a very copyright sort ofstyle. and anyone who took after him would only leave themselves open to charges of plagiarism. He‘s very sociable not a figure ofstark horror like everybody seems to suggest; actually. his paintings are very stylish what he likes is to say that in fact the look of fresh blood is very beautiful. rather nice to look at. In other words he likes to outrage [es bourgeois. to get tip people’s noses.

Sandra McNeilance, WASPS Studio He had a vision and a style that he developed regardless of fashion he was a figurative painter when everybody else was doing abstracts. and I admire that. He's identifiably British. With the likes ofNash. Sutherland and John Piper. who are all figurative artists. he‘s part ofa definite British school. I can‘t speak for all Scottish artists. but I think Bacon has had a great deal of influence here. because he is figurative. because of his meaty paintwork. [don‘t know if everybody will agree with this but he gives his painting a sense ofstructure that's what distinguishes British painting generally from. say. French. which is much more concerned with light. I think that's what contemporary artists have learned from him.

Jeffrey Bernard, Spectator columnist AP: Hello Mr Bernard. I‘d like to ask you about Francis Bacon.

JB: (in The Coach and Horses): I can‘t talk about him in a pub callbox. Call me this afternoon at the Groucho.

AP: Francis Bacon is an old friend of yours. Is there anything you want to tell us about him'.’

JB: No.

AP: Not at all?

18: No. Ask me a question.

AP: Where did you first meet him'.’ JB: South Kensington. When I was sixteen years old. I was taken to his studio flat. He was painting the ceiling. . . he hadjust moved in . . . like he was a decorator. He was wearing a Savile Row suit. which even in those days must have cost well overa hundred pounds. . . he was splashing paint all over himself . . . he didn‘t give adamn.

AP: Did he . . . ‘.’

JB: . . . He took me and John Minton out to lunch . . . we had oysters and champagne. . . but he wasn‘t rich then. as he is now.

AP: Did you think that he was going to be a great artist?

JB: Yes. He was exceptional and extraordinary. even then it was on the cards. . . he was such an unusual man. You see. the thing about Francis is. apart from being a painter. he‘s got an exceptional brain. Daft he is not. He‘s a clever man. He’s very well read.

AP: What do you think of his work“? JB: Oh. he‘s a great painter.

AP: Do you think he‘s made a contribution to British art‘.’

18: Undoubtedly. ldon‘t like his early paintings though.

AP: Do you have particular favourites?

18: Yes. Muriel Belcher. And the one oflIenrietta Moraes. I like his portraits verv much.

AP: Do you have any funny story or anecdote about him‘.’

18: He used to take me to lunch at Wheeler‘s every week. One day. when the place was packed with American tourists. there was a sudden silence. In the middle of the silence he blurted out ‘Now that you’ve lost your looks. what are you going to do‘." I thought it was very funny.

Ken Currie, artist

There's no doubt that he has been central to the maintenance ofa British figurative tradition but actually he‘s Irish. It‘s interesting why he‘s been claimed as British but then none of the School of London painters come from Britain anyway. I think what he's done has been monumental. a great achievement to retain that commitment to figuration for so many years.

He was the artist when I was at art school. At one point I was basically copying the guy it was impossible to tackle the figure without looking at his work. There‘s a chasm between

56 'l'he List 23 March -- 5 April 1990