follow us in feedly
Photographing Demons: The ‘brutal’ photographer who rivaled Francis Bacon
10:23 am


Francis Bacon
Lucian Freud
John Deakin

Portrait of Francis Bacon.
The photographer John Deakin was usually pissed as a fart. He haunted the bars and after-hours drinking dens in and around Soho during the fifties and sixties. He cadged booze and on occasion hawked “dirty pictures” to sailors at ten-bob a throw. Most who saw this shabby character drifting through the London streets dismissed him as a bit-player, a hanger-on, part of the alcoholic detritus heaved-up on the sidewalk. To those who knew him Deakin was either loved or loathed—there was no halfway house.

Lucian Freud described Deakin as:

Like Cinderella and the Ugly Sisters at the same time.

While socialite and Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton said he was:

The second nastiest man I ever met.

Who the first was, we can only imagine. No matter the divisive response Deakin’s personality engendered, there was one thing about John Deakin everyone agreed upon—he was a genius photographer whose work was uncompromising, almost brutal in its full-frontal honesty.

As the art critic John Russell noted this fact after Deakin’s death in 1972:

When John Deakin died, there was lost a photographer who often rivaled [Francis] Bacon in his ability to make a likeness in which truth came unwrapped and unpackaged. His portraits like Bacon’s, had a dead-centred, unrhetorical quality. A complete human being was set before us, without additives.

While Deakin said of himself, that he was:

...fatally drawn to the human race, what I want to do when I photograph it is to make a revelation about it. So my sitters turn into my victims. But I would like to add that it is only those with a daemon, whose faces lend themselves to be victimized at all.

Born in Liverpool in 1912, Deakin was educated at West Kirby Grammar School, which he left at the age of sixteen to travel across Ireland and Spain. On his return to England he met up and started a relationship with gallery owner Arthur Jeffress, who bankrolled Deakin until after the Second World War when the pair split up.

Deakin started taking photographs in 1938. During the war he served as a photographer with the British Army Film Unit, documenting the Allies’ campaign at El Alamein. During one briefing given by Field Marshall Montgomery in which “Monty” warned the assembled soldiers they were vastly outnumbered by “Wommel” and his superior German tanks, Deakin could be heard anxiously asking one of his comrades, “Do you think we are on the right side?”

After the war, Deakin started his career as a photographer in earnest achieving considerable success and notoriety as a fashion photographer for Vogue. He was fired from Vogue twice: once for losing his camera equipment (which some alleged Deakin sold to pay for booze); and a second time for his “blistering” personality. He worked at various jobs—including a stint at the Observer newspaper.

Most significantly, he was regularly hired by the artist Francis Bacon to take photographs of his models—Henrietta Moraes, Isabel Rawsthorn, Lucian Freud and George Dyer. It was his “pornographic” photographs of Henrietta Moraes that Deakin hawked around Soho’s bars for beer money. Bacon said Deakin was “the best portrait photographer since Nadar and Julia Margaret Cameron.”

Though Deakin was an alcoholic, he didn’t piss his talent up against the wall. After his death, the large portfolio of photographs and negatives he left behind revealed the extent of Deakin’s talent and utter dedication to his craft. He was a genius who never received the acclaim he rightly deserved. Critic Robin Muir wrote that Deakin’s “portraits still look starkly modern, half a century on.” While his friend the writer Dan Farson considered Deakin’s place would be: one of the most disturbing photographers of the century. The expressions of his victims look suitably appalled for Deakin had no time for such niceties as “cheese” and the effect was magnified by huge contrasty blow-ups with every pore, blemish, and blood-shot eyeball exposed. In this way, he combined the instant horror of a passport photo with a shock value all his own.

In 1991, Channel 4 broadcast a documentary The Life and Unsteady Times of John Deakin which brought together all of the key players in Deakin’s life (now all sadly dead) to discuss this strange and talented photographer’s incredible career.
Francis Bacon, 1952.
Girl in a cafe, circa late 1950s.
Jeffrey Bernard, London 1950s.
Watch the documentary, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Collage Life: The Surreal and Disturbing Artwork of Ffo
10:44 am


Francis Bacon

Ffo is a Moscow-based artist who creates beautiful, strange and surreal collages from anatomical illustrations, classical art, 1950’s pop culture images and Art Nouveau prints.

What little is known about this anonymous artist comes directly from the answers given to questions asked by fans. From these we learn Ffo studied at art college for three years before turning his/her talents to creating collages.

I’m focusing on making collages cuz it’s a really great way to express yourself, for me it’s also a symbol of contemporary world – a hard mix of different people, styles, cultures, eras, like there are no borders between art and reality anymore. It’s very beautiful, multi-layered, provocative and bizarre.

Ffo describes him/herself as “a stalker” who takes “inspiration [from] almost from everything” but mainly life:

[P]eople are my main inspiration, their appearance, relationships, conversations, feelings. Allmost all my works represent my own emotions and desires and means a lot for me.

Ffo makes paper collage with Paint Tool SAI to create fabulously surreal, disturbing yet highly charged images. Once a collage is finished, it is published online at the Ffo Art blog.

There is something about Ffo’s work that makes me think of the quote Francis Bacon famously used when describing his paintings as depicting “the brutality of fact.” By which he meant reworking reality by artificial means to create a more intense, visceral and yet utterly truer vision of the world. Though by different means there is something similar going on here in Ffo’s surreal, disturbing yet strangely beautiful artworks.
See more of Ffo’s strange and surreal collages, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Stained glass windows of Aleister Crowley, Serge Gainsbourg, Johnny Cash, JG Ballard & many more

In 2010 and 2011 the English artist Neal Fox executed an utterly gorgeous series of stained-glass windows in imitation of the iconography of saints found in cathedrals all over Europe. The series included Johnny Cash, J.G. Ballard, Hunter S. Thompson, Albert Hofmann, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Serge Gainsbourg, Aleister Crowley, William S. Burroughs, Billie Holiday, and Francis Bacon.

Now, it’s perfectly possible that you will see these images and think, “Wow, those paintings in the stained-glass style are awesome.” So it’s important to emphasize that these are not paintings, Fox actually created the stained-glass windows themselves—in fact, he worked with traditional methods “at the renowned Franz Mayer of Munich manufacturer” in order to produce a dozen windows, each using leaded stained glass in a steel frame and standing 2.5 meters tall.

Put them all together in a room, as the Daniel Blau gallery in London did in 2011, and you have “an alternative church of alternative saints.” Here is what that room looked like:

The Daniel Blau show was called “Beware of the God.” Alongside the well-known provocateurs and trouble-makers like Crowley and Hawkins is a figure that might challenge even the most astute student of antiheroes, a man named John Watson. Far from the complacent invention of Arthur Conan Doyle, this John Watson is the artist’s grandfather, described by his loving grandson as a “hell raiser” and “a World War II bomber pilot, chat show host, writer and publisher, who in his post war years sought solace in Soho’s bohemian watering holes.”

Quoting the Daniel Blau exhibition notes:

As traditional church windows show the iconography of saints, through representations of events in their lives, instruments of martyrdom and iconic motifs, Fox plays with the symbolism of each character’s cult of personality; Albert Hoffman takes a psychedelic bicycle ride above the LSD molecule, J G Ballard dissects the world, surrounded by 20th Century imagery and the eroticism of the car crash, and Johnny Cash holds his inner demon in chains after a religious experience in Nickerjack cave.

You can order prints of some of these images for £150 each (about $214).


Many more after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Francis Bacon gets drunk

Toast of London: Francis Bacon and friends at the Colony Room
If you want to know about the artist Francis Bacon then there are his celebrated interviews with David Sylvester, two biographies by Michael Peppiatt (Anatomy of an Enigma, Francis Bacon: In Your Blood), a memoir by his longtime friend and boozing buddy Dan Farson (The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon) and a film Love is the Devil starring Derek Jacobi and Daniel Craig. Then there is this: Melvyn Bragg’s access all areas documentary with Bacon from 1985 that is one of the finest portraits of an artist ever committed to film.

What makes this South Bank Show documentary so utterly brilliant is the honesty and directness with which Bacon answers Bragg’s questions. He often pauses and considers his answer before committing himself to a reply. When he does, Bacon reveals his essence as an artist.

Bragg asks him how he paints:

‘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.’
‘You’ve thrown paint at the canvas?’
‘Once or twice. I couldn’t stand the sight of them so I just threw a pot of paint at them.’
‘You put yourself at risk.’
‘You have to, otherwise you’re an academician.’


‘When is a painting finished?’
‘I know instinctively when it’s finished. There it is…I’m always hoping chance will work in my favour. I don’t want to tell a story. I’ve no story to tell. I like the starkness of the image. I want it to give me a sensation. Shock, you could say. It’s a form of experience. A visual shock.’
‘What does your painting mean when you’ve finished?’
‘Nothing. Except what people want to read into it.. Nothing.’

Bragg always allows his subjects to present themselves as they want to be seen. Unlike too many other presenters, he does not interpose himself between the camera and the subject. He is the unseen hand who steers the ship through the storms, around the hidden rocks, towards its final destination. Bragg once told me in an interview (long, long ago) why he wore suits:

...basically because it’s easier if you are doing a television programme to wear the same thing all the time then you don’t get in the way over the programme. Another way to get people to forget about me and concentrate on the person I am talking to.

It’s advice worth heeding.

In 1985, when Francis Bacon was being hailed as the world’s greatest living artist and on the verge of his second Tate Gallery retrospective—a major feat in itself—Bragg interviewed Bacon at length about his life and art. At one point during the filming, while at lunch in Mario’s restaurant in Kensington, London, Bacon and Bragg became increasingly drunk. As Bragg later wrote in his book The South Bank Show: Final Cut:

There’s bound to be truth in cliches some of the time or they wouldn’t be. In vino veritas is less spouted now that there is less Latin about but still the notion persists that people when drunk tell the truth. That they also tell lies, come out with rubbish, destructive abuse, venom, hysterical hyperbole and all manner of degrading speech has not entirely impaired its claim. When Francis Bacon and myself appeared on The South Bank Show and for a few minutes were caught in a state of naked inebriation it provided, I think, a true insight into Francis as a man and as a painter. So I left it in the film.

As the wine flowed, Bragg asked Bacon if he paints the real world, to which the artist replied:

‘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.’
‘So what do you do about it?’
‘I do nothing about it. I just drift.’
‘You paint.’
‘Yes, but my own life is just going from bar to bar and drifting, that sort of thing. I’m an optimist. But I’m an optimist about nothing. I was born with that nature.’

Bacon was seventy-five when this film was made. He had enviable stamina managing a four-hour lunch at Mario’s before climbing the rickety stairs of the notorious Colony Room, where he dispensed fifty pound notes like confetti and gargled the millionaire’s mouthwash—champagne.  Throughout, Bacon is old school courteous—even when utterly pissed—and collaborates with Bragg in creating an unequaled intimate film portrait.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Palettes of Picasso, Matisse, Degas and Van Gogh are works of art unto themselves

Vincent Van Gogh
Some years ago the inventive German photographer Matthias Schaller who specializes in what he calls the “indirect portrait” was in the studio of Cy Twombly and happened to glance at the painter’s palette, smeared with pigments of various hues, but mainly a shade of red fairly close to the color of blood. It occurred to Schaller that the palette is arguably as identifiable to an artist as the artist’s work itself, even if created purely by accident. As he puts it, “The palette is an abstract landscape of the painter’s artistic production.”

Schaller has created a series of marvelous photographs of the palettes of famous artists, each of which measures at roughly 190 x 150 cm. The collection, called “Das Meisterstück” (The Masterpiece), has appeared as an exhibition and is available in book form as well—for more information write an email to

These are all utterly fascinating to gaze at; my favorites are those of Bacon and Kokoschka. They’re all pretty wonderful.

Pablo Picasso

Claude Monet

Salvador Dalí
See the palettes of Matisse, Manet, Kandinsky, Kahlo, Bacon and many more after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Why Francis Bacon destroyed his portrait of Cecil Beaton
01:41 pm


Francis Bacon
Cecil Beaton

“Selfies” by Cecil Beaton and Francis Bacon

When I was young, I always enjoyed reading tales of the meetings between artists and writers and the creative impact their association brought. Whether Van Gogh and Gauguin, Morecambe and Wise or Kerouac and Burroughs. It inspired me to imagine my own speculative tales of fruitful encounters that mixed fact and fiction. One involved Sherlock Holmes returning from his final encounter with Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls and making his way across Europe to Paris, where he chanced upon the exiled Oscar Wilde. I decided the two would team-up to investigate a series a bloody murders carried out across the city by none-other-than Jack (perhaps now Jacques?) the Ripper, who had escaped to the city from London. It could make an interesting book, the involvement of a fictional detective used as a cypher to give a biography of Wilde’s final days together with an investigation into the possible identity of the Ripper.

But one hardly has to look far for such inspirations—a three-act play could be written from the meetings between the celebrated photographer, designer and diarist Cecil Beaton and artist Francis Bacon.

In the late 1950s, Beaton asked Bacon to paint his portrait. He had liked his painting of Sainsbury, the art collector, and had always found the artist “most interesting, refreshing and utterly beguiling”.

Beaton had been good friends with Bacon for some time, first hearing of him through their mutual acquaintance, artist Graham Sutherland, who said:

‘[Bacon] seems to have a very special sense of luxury. When you go to him for a meal, it is unlike anyone else’s. It is all very casual and vague; there is no timetable; but the food is wonderful. He produces an enormous slab of the best possible Gruyère cheese covered with dewdrops, and then a vast bunch of grapes appears.’

Beaton described his first meeting with Bacon in his diary:

When I met Francis we seemed to have an immediate rapport. I was overwhelmed by his tremendous charm and understanding. Smiling and painting simultaneously, he seemed to be having such a good time. He appeared extraordinarily healthy and cherubic, apple-shiny cheeks, and the protruding lips were lubricated with an unusual amount of saliva. His hair was bleached by sun and other aids. His figure was incredibly lithe for a person of his age and occupation, wonderfully muscular and solid. I was impressed with his ‘principal boy’ legs, tightly encased in black jeans with high boots. Not a pound of extra flesh anywhere.

Of all the qualities Beaton most admired about Bacon it was his independence he liked best, “being able to live in exactly the way he wished.” He was also impressed by the artist’s “aloofness from the opinion of others.”

An arrangement was made for Bacon to paint Beaton’s portrait in 1959, at his London studio in Overstrand Mansions, Prince of Wales Drive, Battersea.

Francis started to work with great zest, excitedly running backwards and forwards to the canvas with gazelle-springing leaps—much toe bouncing. He said he how enthusiastic he was at the prospect of the portrait which he said would show me with my face in tones of pink and white. He did not seem interested in my keeping still, and so I enjoyed looking around me at the incredible mess of his studio—a converted bedroom no doubt: so unlike the beautiful, rather conventional ‘artist’s abode’ that he worked in in South Kensington when I first knew him! Here the floor was littered in a Dostoevsky shambles of discarded paints, rags, newspapers and every sort of rubbish, while the walls and window curtains were covered with streaks of black and emerald green paint.

Francis was funny in many ways, slightly wicked about pretentious friends, and his company gave me pleasure. The only slight anxiety I felt was that there might be some snag which would interrupt the sittings that were to follow. Sure enough, a telegram arrived putting me off the next appointment; indeed, for anyone less tenacious than myself, there would never have been another sitting.

Time passed, but no further mention was made of the portrait, until Beaton found an opportunity to ask Bacon “if he’d hate to go on with the painting?” A new date was settled for a return to the studio, where Beaton was placed in a kitchen chair and told to turn his his head this way, further, further, ah, yes, that’s it.

Francis started to work with energy, but he seemed to look harassed, not at all happy. I asked: ‘Would you prefer if I looked more this way?’ ‘No—it’s fine—and I think if it comes off, I’ll be able to do it quickly. The other [portrait] didn’t start off well—but this is fine.’ Would I mind his exhibiting the canvas as the Marlborough [Bacon’s dealers] were screaming at him for more pictures?

Bacon was recovering from having a tempestuous time in Tangiers, where his lover had badly beaten him, knocking out one of his teeth, “My face is an appalling mess,” he said.

Occasionally Francis would sit down on a old chair from which the entrails were hanging and which had been temporarily covered with a few French magazines and newspapers. His pose reminded me of a portrait of Degas. He curved his head sideways and looked at his canvas with a beautiful expression in his eyes. His plump, marble-like hands were covered with blue-green paint. He said he thought painting portraits was the most interesting thing he could ever hope to do: ‘If only I can do them! The important thing is to put the person down as he appears to your mind’s eye. The person must be there so that you can check up on reality—but not be lead by it, not be its slave. To get the essence without being positive about the factual shapes—that’s the difficulty. It’s so difficult that it’s almost impossible! But that’s what I’m trying to do. I think I’m closer to it than I have ever been before.’

Bacon was becoming “even more renowned” and there was an incredible demand for his work. The sittings continued, until at last one day Bacon stopped, cocked his head, looked at the portrait and said, “I’m very pleased with this portrait. I think it’s going to be all right: one of the best things I’ve done. Next time you’re here, I’ll show it to you because it doesn’t need much more work on it. When they go well, they go very quickly.”

Francis opened the door, smiled and said: ‘The portrait’s finished! I want you to sit in that chair over there and look at it.’ I walked towards Francis’s degutted chair in the corner, not glancing at the canvas on the way. I turned round square and sat to get the full effect. It was as well that I was sitting, otherwise I might have fallen backwards. In front of me was an enormous, coloured strip-cartoon of a completely bald, dreadfully aged—nay senile—businessman. The face was hardly recognizable as a face for it was disintegrating before your eyes, suffering from a severe case of elephantiasis: a swollen mass of raw meat and fatty tissues. The nose spread in many directions like a polyp but sagged finally over one cheek. The mouth looked like a painful boil about to burst. He wore a very sketchily dabbed-in suit of lavender blue. The hands were clasped and consisted of emerald green scratches that resembled claws. The dry painting of the body and hands was completely different from that of the wet, soggy head. The white background was thickly painted with a house painter’s brush. It was dragged round the outer surfaces without any intention of cleaning up the shapes. The head and shoulders were outlined in streaky wet slime.

Francis expected that I would be shocked. He was a little disconcerted. He said it gave him a certain pain to show it to me, but if I didn’t like it I needn’t buy it. The Marlborough Gallery would want it. I stammered: ‘Well—I can’t say what I think of it. It’s so utterly different from anything of yours I’ve ever seen!’

Beaton thought the picture was “of an unusual violence” painted in a manner that broke all the rules. Sensing Beaton’s horror, Bacon was typically gallant and charming offering his friend to take it and if he didn’t like to send it back. Beaton was baffled at the offer, then asked if he bought it could he sell it again? “Of course!” Bacon replied, “It’s yours to do what you want with.”

Beaton returned home “crushed, staggered and feeling quite a great sense of loss.” No sooner had he written these very words in his diary, the telephone rang.

It was Francis. In an ecstatic voice he said:
‘This is Francis, and I’ve just destroyed your portrait.’
‘But why? You said you liked it? You thought it such a good work, and that’s all that matters!’
‘No—I don’t like my friends to have something of mine they don’t like. And I often destroy my work in any case; in fact, I’ve destroyed most of the pictures for the Marlborough. Only I just wanted to let you know so that you needn’t pay me.’

It seemed little to Francis to waste all that work. He seemed jubilant at not getting paid, at not finishing a picture. He said that perhaps, one day he’d start again, or do one from memory: ‘They often turn out the best,’ he said.

Bacon’s portrait may (sadly) no longer exist, but in 1971 a photographer directed a documentary on Cecil Beaton for ATV, which due to having its embedding disabled, can be only seen here.  However, another meeting of talent, when Cecil Beaton photographed (one of his favorite sitters) Marilyn Monroe, can be seen below.

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
CIA facial recognition software identifies pic of ‘unknown woman’ as Francis Bacon in drag
11:47 am


Francis Bacon
John Deakin

Francis Bacon?
“Unknown woman, 1930s” (detail)—is this Francis Bacon in drag?
In April of this year, the British newspaper The Guardian ran a gallery of photos by John Deakin, a well-known British photographer from the postwar era who was part of the Soho circle of artists and writers centered around the Colony Room, a private drinking club, that included Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, and J.P. Donleavy. Deakin worked on and off for Vogue, but his alcoholism and tempestuous personality ruled out sustained employment. Deakin had aspirations to be a painter, like Freud and Bacon, but his most resonant work came as a photographer; he died in near-obscurity in 1972, but his reputation has blossomed since then. The Guardian ran the gallery as a tie-in to a retrospective of Deakin’s work, “John Deakin and the Lure of Soho,” at the Photographers’ Gallery in London that will be on through July 20.
John Deakin
“Unknown woman, 1930s”
The final picture of the Guardian’s gallery of 12 pictures was titled “Unknown woman, 1930s.” Commenter bullshotcrummond pointed out that a press release had identified the image as “Transvestite, 1950s.” In response, another commenter, congokid, replied, “Or is it Bacon in drag?” At this point, Paul Rousseau, collection manager of the John Deakin Archive, decided to give the image a second look. He quickly determined that congokid’s remark might have merit. “I’d never considered it before, annoyingly,” he said.

As The Guardian reported:

Searching through the archive, he was able to establish that the photo was one of a set dated 1945 (making them some of the oldest in the Deakin collection), possibly taken for Lilliput magazine, a publication with a reputation for risque photography. There were 15 images in all, and Rousseau immediately set about establishing who the models might be. “I quickly landed on his closest friends Denis Wirth-Miller and Richard (Dickie) Chopping. Denis was a painter and Dickie was semi-famous for designing the original dustjackets for the James Bond books.”

“Dickie was known to love dragging up; he was dame every year at the RCA when he became a lecturer there in 1962. And there are many references to Bacon’s interest in drag, his wearing of women’s knickers and stockings.”

Using facial recognition software developed by the CIA, Rousseau produced videos which show that the similarity between Deakin’s cross-dressing sitters and these men is, if not conclusive, then certainly startling.

The question of the identity of the photograph’s subject touches on issues of taboo and criminality of the era. Before the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, which decriminalized homosexuality in the UK, pictures of men in drag were used in prosecutions against gay men. As a results, Deakin’s vague labeling of the photo and the fact that he never published the photo in his lifetime may relate to the important ramifications that distributing it might have incurred. As the Guardian notes, “By never publishing the photos, Deakin may have posthumously undermined his reputation as the nastiest man in Soho.”
Francis Bacon
The similarity in the facial structure is compelling, to be sure, but there is a picture of a bare-chested Bacon dating from 1952 in the same Guardian gallery in which “Unknown woman, 1930s” appears. In that picture, he looks, to my eye, a good deal younger than the person in the “drag” picture, which Rousseau has dated as 1945.

There is also the question the Guardian brings up, namely that of “cleavage”:

While the face is very much like Bacon’s and the mole on the model’s chest closely matches that which can be seen in the famous picture of Bacon holding two sides of meat, it is impossible to ignore the substantial cleavage.”

“Deakin was known to fiddle about with photos using basic overpainting techniques,” says Rousseau. “Or did Bacon learn to manipulate his ‘moobs’ like that from his years in Weimar Berlin?”

Francis Bacon
Here are four brief videos by YouTube user jerseyrousseau, who is presumably Paul Rousseau, comparing “Unknown Woman, 1930” to various photographs of Bacon.

More videos after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Francis Bacon: Painting and the mysterious and continuous struggle with chance
06:10 pm


Francis Bacon
David Sylvester

Real painting for Francis Bacon was about a mysterious and continuous struggle with chance.

”Mysterious because the very substance of the paint can make such a direct assault on the nervous system; continuous because the medium is so fluid and subtle that every change that is made loses what is already there in the hope of making a fresh gain.”

Bacon believed when one talked about painting one said nothing of interest, it was all superficial. He believed it was best for a painter not to talk about painting. “If you could talk about it, why paint it?” he once said.

”The important thing for the painter is to paint, and nothing else.

“The most important thing is to look at the painting—to read the poetry, to listen to the music—not in order to understand it, or to know it but feel something.”

Yet, Bacon did talk at length about his paintings and his art. He claimed it was the Irish in him that made him so talkative. Much of what he said was recorded in a series of long interviews conducted with with the art critic, David Sylvester. These were later published as a book, and here in this documentary The LIfe of Francis Bacon they provide an exceptional background to understanding Bacon the artist and the man.

The documentary opens with Bacon’s idea of painting as a means to opening up areas of feeling, rather than merely illustration.

”A picture should be the recreation of an event, rather than an illustration of an object. But there is no tension in the picture unless there is a struggle with the object.

“I would like my pictures to look as if a human being had passed between them like a snail, leaving a trail of the human presence, a memory trace of past events, as the snail leave its slime.”

Bacon wanted to bring the sensation of life, what he termed “the brutality of fact,” directly to the viewer “without the boredom of conveyance.” To achieve this, he claimed he performed acts of violence on the canvas in a bid to make the pictures live. Bacon was a quick worker, turning paintings out in a few hours—compare this with the months Lucien Freud spent on a single canvas.

He took his ideas from everywhere—the colored plates in dentistry books; memories of his Nanny blurred with images of the slaughter on the Odessa Steps from Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin; paintings by Velázquez; his asthma, Bacon’s Popes were gasping for air, not screaming; paintings by Picasso; the sadism of his father; nudes taken by Vogue photographer John Deakin; endless photo-booth self-portraits.

Bacon painted his lovers and friends, and many self-portraits. These self-portraits became more frequent as his friends died,  many destroyed by their “gilded gutter life” of drink and excess.

”Between birth and death it’s always been the same thing, the violence of life. I always think [my paintings] are images of sensation, after all, what is life but sensation? What we feel, what happens, what happens at the moment.

“We are born and we die, and that’s it, there’s nothing else. But in between we give this purposeless existence a meaning by our drives.”

It’s rare to see as many gallery paintings by an artist in one documentary as there are contained in The Life of Francis Bacon, and it’s superbly complimented by the long extracts of Bacon’s interviews, these are read by Derek Jacobi, who memorably played Bacon in the film Love is the Devil.

Previously on Dangerous MInds
Notes towards a portrait of Francis Bacon
‘Fragments of a Portrait’: Classic documentary on Francis Bacon

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Don Bachardy on drawing Salvador Dali, Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon

A delightful short interview with renowned portrait artist Don Bachardy, in which he tells interviewer Bradford J Salamon about drawing Salvador Dali, and his friends, painters Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon.

Bachardy was the life partner of writer Christopher Isherwood. They met on Valentine’s Day of 1953, when he was but 18 and Isherwood was 30 years his senior. They were one of the first openly gay couples in Los Angeles and together until Isherwood died in 1986 of prostate cancer. A film about their lives together, Chris & Don: A Love Story, was released in 2008.

Previously on Dangerous Minds
Notes towards a portrait of Francis Bacon

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Fragments of a Portrait’: Classic documentary on Francis Bacon from 1966

Francis Bacon indulged the myths about his life. All those tales of Bacchanalia were always far more preferable to the hushed reality of his rising at 6am and working till early afternoon, while his drinking buddies slept-off hang-overs in the watery, morning light. Bacon was no slacker, but he tended to hide his industry and discipline behind endless tales of excess. As for the drinking, well, I have been told that often while out boozing Bacon would pay a visit to the gents, where he would tip the contents of his glass down a sink. Bacon preferred to watch others disintegrate, rather than fall apart himself.

That’s not to say he wasn’t reckless, no, Bacon was often in debt to casinos, and painted pictures to pay off his losses. His studies of Vincent Van Gogh in the late 1950s, were rushed out to help pay his massive gambling debts. The canvases were still wet when first exhibited, and it was claimed by Bacon’s friend and biographer, Dan Farson, that at the exhibition’s preview, as the drink flowed and the legs stumbled, some became so drunk that they leant against the canvases and left with fresh Bacon’s imprinted on the back’s of their jackets.

It’s worth pointing out that most of Bacon’s canvases are exhibited behind glass, though this may have only started after he joined the Marlborough Gallery in the 1960s. Whether true or not, it’s the kind of tale Bacon would have enjoyed. Yet, Bacon was incredibly serious about his art, which can be seen from this documentary Francis Bacon: Fragments of a Portrait, from 1966, which gives an excellent insight into Bacon’s working processes, obsessions and influences, as discussed by the artist with writer and critic, David Sylvester.

Previously on Dangerous Minds

Francis Bacon’s women

Notes towards a portrait of Francis Bacon


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Moreish: Dale Grimshaw’s powerful and visceral Art

There wasn’t anyone artistic in Dale Grimshaw’s family, it was just something to do, and learn along the way. That he had a natural talent was obvious, but he developed it through a difficult and potentially violent childhood – the experience of which informs many of his paintings.

Indeed, it was this kind of emotional power in one of his paintings (a self-portrait) that brought me to his brilliant, visceral and original work. His portrait may have seemed imperious, but his eyes revealed a vulnerability, a tremendous humanity and soul.

Originally a street artist, Dale Grimshaw is now one of Britain’s most exciting and talented young artists, and last year, his one-man show Moreish was a hit with both public and critics. I contacted Dale to ask him more about his life, his work and how he started out.

Paul Gallagher: What was the first turning point in your career as an artist?

Dale Grimshaw: Probably getting in at Middlesex University, formerly Hornsey College of Art. It meant I had to really consider the moves I was making in life. I had no support from anywhere else; just my rented flat, my belongings and myself. It meant I’d have to sell it all and move from Lancashire. It was a springboard to other things and places.

Paul Gallagher: Tell me about your childhood and first artistic ambitions?

Dale Grimshaw: There wasn’t anyone artistic, in the literal sense, in my family. I just naturally continued drawing and painting long after other kids had normally given up all that creative nonsense outside of school.

At secondary school, there wasn’t anyone that took any notice of my abilities. Little did my art teacher know that I was practicing to paint with oil paints I’d nicked from shops at home. Ironically, she was called Mrs. Oil but she would rather hit you than take any real interest. My mom saw I had talent and did her best to encourage me.

I first saw ‘The Stranglers’ written in huge letters on a bus stop wall in the late 70s. I was hooked and fascinated by the idea and mystery of graffiti. I wrote on walls, playgrounds, bus seats, textbook covers, and my own body even. Sadly at the age of 15 I tattooed my own arm with my ‘tag,’ which is still there today, as bold as ever. I hated it for decades… bad karma, anyone?’
See more of Dale Grimshaw’s work here.

All artworks copyright to Dale Grimshaw

Full interview with Dale Grimshaw, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Francis Bacon’s Last Interview, from 1991

On seeing an exhibition of Francis Bacon’s work in the summer of 1962, poet Stephen Spender wrote in his journal:

“After Bacon most other contemporary painting seems decoration, doodling, aestheticism or stupidity.”

Like much of the substance to his poetry, Spender could grasp Bacon’s importance, but was unable to explain why - thinking it more to do with “the life of disillusionment he [led] which he [faced] in its implications; perhaps it is the old English puritanism and dislike of pleasure…”

Spender maintained a friendship with Bacon throughout his life, and in August of the same year, visited Bacon at his studio, where they discussed painting.

“F. doesn’t think painting should be a record. It should be an exploration of reality which gives it a new twist. ‘What I am thinking all the time is how in painting I can slightly complicate the game. I can do very little but I think when I am optimistic that I might still live to make the game a bit more complicated.’


“F. also went some way towards expanding what he meant by the twist. He said he wanted to do some little thing which gave the image added depth and poignancy.’

Bacon’s intention was to present the ‘brutality of fact,’ to ‘give the sensation without the boredom of conveyance.’  In this his final interview from 1991, Bacon talked about his life and career, and his reasons for painting, but leaving the overview and assessment of his work to others, instead Bacon said, ‘I’ll go on until I drop.’

Presented by critic Richard Cork, this radio interview with Bacon was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s Kaleidoscope, August 17, 1991.

Bonus: Francis Bacon Interviewed by David Sylvester, March 23, 1963.

Previously on Dangerous Minds:

Notes Towards a Portrait of Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon’s Women

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Gallery of Lost Art: A century of vanished work by the likes of Freud, Kahlo & Duchamp

It is strange to think that some the most important works of art from the past 100 years have been lost, erased, destroyed, stolen, censored, or allowed to rot, and can now no longer be seen.

The Gallery of Lost Art is a virtual exhibition that reconstructs the stories behind the disappearances of some of the world’s best known and influential works of art. It’s the biggest virtual exhibition of its kind, and is curated by Jennifer Mundy, and is produced by the Tate in association with Channel 4 television. The virtual Gallery has been beautifully designed by digital studio ISO, and the site will be kept live for 12 months, before it is lost.

Amongst those currently on exhibition at the Gallery of Lost Art are:

Lucian Freud Portrait of Francis Bacon (1952)

This small painting was stolen in at exhibition in Germany on May 27th, 1988. It is considered one of Freud’s best early works, and although there was a police investigation and a hefty reward (300,000DM) the portrait has never been recovered.
Tracey Emin: Everyone I have Ever Slept With 1963-1995

Made in 1995, when Tracey Emin was still relatively unknown, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995 is a tent covered with the names of all the people Emin had slept with, including lovers, friends, family members and foetus 1, foetus 2. Inspired by an exhibition of Tibetan nomadic culture, which included examples of their tents, which are used by Tibetan monks for meditation, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995 made Emin an over-night sensation and one of the most controversial artists working in Britain at that time. The work was bought by Charles Saatchi, who kept it (along with hundreds of other art works), in a warehouse in London’s east end. In 2004, a fire destroyed this warehouse and most of Saatchi’s collection - including 40 paintings by Patrick Heron.

The Gallery of Lost Art - see the exhibition here, before it is gone.
More Lost Art from Kahlo, Sutherland and Duchamp, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Francis Bacon’s women

Francis Bacon occasionally settled outstanding food and drinks bills with one of his paintings. It didn’t always satisfy the creditor. One London restaurateur, not taken with the Irishman’s work, sold each painting on as quickly as he received them. What then would this dear gentleman make of the news that a single portrait by Bacon is expected to reach £18m at auction?

Described as “seductive and sexually charged,” the painting shows one of Bacon’s famous muses, Henrietta Moraes, slightly tipsy, lying naked on a rumpled, stained bed, in some Soho apartment. The image was based on a series of photographs Bacon commissioned from John Deakin—Vogue snapper, Colony Room habituee and chronic alcoholic. Deakin always ensured he took enough intimate photos to hock around as under-the-counter porn at ten bob a print.

Though he lived an exclusively gay lifestyle, women were central to Bacon: they were his muses, who loved, nurtured, inspired and developed his talents. Indeed, Bacon surrounded himself with strong women—almost replacements to the mother who had been callously indifferent to her son’s brutal beatings, when caught as a child dressing-up in her clothes and flirting with the stable boys.

In moments of fancy, I think Bacon had the hawk-like look of Joan Hickson’s Miss Marple, especially when all glammed-up for a night on the piss. I can imagine him solving an Agatha Christie, or board game mystery - Professor Plum, in the library, with a candle-stick - for there was the shadow of the country house and jolly maiden aunt (doling out make-up tips to younger girls, and at night reading Mrs Beeton recipes in bed) at the heart of him.

These grim childhood beatings opened Francis up to the delights of S&M: he claimed he fucked all the grooms who had horse-whipped him; said he fantasized about his father—whose purple face screams from so many Popes or glowers from under blackened umbrellas; and had a life of violent relationships with his lovers. 

Even so, it was the women who shaped him.
  image “Portrait of Henrietta Moraes” (1963)   Previously on Dangerous Minds Notes towards a portrait of Francis Bacon   More on Francis Bacon’s women, after the jump…  

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Edwardians in Color

The long summers of Edwardian England were a product of the 1920’s imagination, when those who had been children during that decade looked fondly back to a time of seeming innocence. This in part became a theme central to a generation of British artists and writers - Christopher Isherwood, W. H. Auden, Nancy Mitford, George Orwell, Francis Bacon, Evelyn Waugh - all Edwardian children, who produced work that reflected the loss of certainty and identity caused by the Great War.

These photographs of Edwardians in color capture some of the wistful nostalgia that the ubiquity of cameras and film usage helped develop during the century.
Previously on Dangerous Minds

Color Photographs of Russia from a Century Ago

Via How to be a Retronaut
More Edwardians in color, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Page 1 of 2  1 2 >