Francis Bacon: Painting and the mysterious and continuous struggle with chance
03:10 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

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
‘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


Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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…

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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…

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Francis Bacon’s women

On occasion, Francis Bacon settled outstanding restaurant or bar bills with one of his paintings. It didn’t always satisfy the creditor, as a certain 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 one of a series of photographs Bacon commissioned from Vogue snapper, Colony Room habituee and chronic alcoholic, John Deakin, who ensured he took enough 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 country house and prim 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 fucked all the grooms who had horse-whipped him, and fantasized about his father (whose purple face screams form so many Popes, or glowers from under blackened umbrellas)—and a long life of violent relationships with his lovers. 

Even so, it was the women who shaped him.
“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…

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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…

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Lucian Freud has died

Lucian Freud, one of Britain’s most distinguished and acclaimed artists, has died at the age of 88. Described as a “great realist painter,” Freud first came to prominence when he was just twenty-one, with his first highly successful one-man-show in 1944.

Freud’s early work was illustrative - doe-eyed portraits of his wife Caroline Blackwood, or his friend, Francis Bacon, which are reminiscent of the work of Stanley Spencer, and seem almost polite representations compared to his later giant nudes. Freud was greatly impressed by Bacon, and the older artist influenced Freud’s development as a painter. Freud and Bacon exhibited alongside Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff, a loose grouping of London artists,  whose work established the foundations for figurative painting for decades to come.

The critic David Sylvester named Bacon as the head, while Freud

“produced easily the best portraits painted in this country during the last decade.”

During the 1950s and early 1960s, Freud’s technique changed as he began to use impasto to create intense, almost physical assaults on his sitters. Freud said of his portraits:

“I paint people not because of what they are like, not exactly in spite of what they are like, but how they happen to be.”

The New York Times writes:

Mr. Freud, a grandson of Sigmund Freud and a brother of the British television personality Clement Freud, was already an important figure in the small London art world when, in the immediate postwar years, he embarked on a series of portraits that established him as a potent new voice in figurative art.

In paintings like “Girl With Roses” (1947-48) and “Girl With a White Dog” (1951-52), he put the pictorial language of traditional European painting in the service of an anti-romantic, confrontational style of portraiture that stripped bare the sitter’s social facade. Ordinary people — many of them his friends and intimates — stared wide-eyed from the canvas, vulnerable to the artist’s ruthless inspection.

From the late 1950s, when he began using a stiffer brush and moving paint in great swaths around the canvas, Mr. Freud’s nudes took on a new fleshiness and mass. His subjects, pushed to the limit in exhausting extended sessions, day after day, dropped their defenses and opened up. The faces showed fatigue, distress, torpor.

The flesh was mottled, lumpy and, in the case of his 1990s portraits of the performance artist Leigh Bowery and the phenomenally obese civil servant Sue Tilley, shockingly abundant.

The relationship between sitter and painter, in his work, overturned traditional portraiture. It was “nearer to the classic relationship of the 20th century: that between interrogator and interrogated,” the art critic John Russell wrote in “Private View,” his survey of the London art scene in the 1960s.

William Feaver, a British critic who organized a Freud retrospective at Tate Britain in 2002, said: “Freud has generated a life’s worth of genuinely new painting that sits obstinately across the path of those lesser painters who get by on less. He always pressed to extremes, carrying on further than one would think necessary and rarely letting anything go before it became disconcerting.”

Amongst Freud’s great late paintings were his enormous portraits of the performance artist, Leigh Bowery. Theirs was a special relationship, as Freud’s portraits of Bowery revealed the shy humanity hidden behind the make-up and costumes of a performer who invested all in concealing himself.

As Bowery discovered, sitting for Freud was a challenge, as the sitter allowed Freud “maximum observation”, as the BBC reports:

Lucian Freud’s portraits were not concerned with flattery or modesty - disturbing was one adjective applied to them - and some were said to have compelling nastiness.

His early work was the product of “maximum observation”, Freud said
Though sometimes startling, his portraits could also be beautiful and intimate. Freud had been an admirer of the artist Francis Bacon and painted a striking portrait of him.

Freud, who lived and worked in London, said his work was purely autobiographical - he painted “the people that interest me and that I care about and think about in rooms I live in and know”.

A close relationship with sitters was important to him. He painted several affectionate portraits of his mother and his daughters Bella and Esther were also models.

Sittings could last for a year and sitters were often profoundly affected by the process. One of them once said: “You are the centre of his world while he paints you. But then he moves on to someone else.”

Freud seldom accepted commissions. His work is in a number of galleries in Britain and overseas, but much of it is privately owned.

He was one of few artists to have had two retrospective exhibitions at the Hayward Gallery in London.

The following short documentary looks at Lucian Freud’s portraits through the people who have posed for him, from David Hockney to Duke of Devonshire.

Rest of documentary plus Lucian freud speaks, after the jump…

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Notes towards a portrait of Francis Bacon

In the final moments of a documentary on Francis Bacon, made by a French TV channel, the great artist turned to camera and jovially announced, in his best Franglais, that he had lost all his teeth to his lovers. That is what he was like –dramatically revealing intimate scenes from his life at the most unexpected of moments. His paintings did the same, as they were images, which unnervingly presented the “brutality of fact,” within the most intimate and commonplace of locations – a bedroom, a living room, a toilet.

I once played Francis Bacon on his deathbed, tended by nuns. It was for a drama-documentary, which examined the Bacon’s work through his asthma. The idea was to find out how much this medical condition shaped the artist’s life. For as Bacon once said to critic John Russell

“If I hadn’t been an asthmatic, I might never have gone on painting at all.”

If this was true, then arguably, it was his asthma that made him a painter, and his asthma, which induced the heart attack that killed him.

Of course, there have been other suggestions as to why Bacon became an artist: the childhood trauma of being locked in a cupboard by the family nanny, or more luridly, as writer John Richardson has claimed, it was Bacon’s masochism that inspired his work. Yet, neither of these fully explain his drive or resilience, or the influence of his strange relationship with his father had on his work.

Bacon was 82-years-old when he died in Madrid, on the 28th April 1992. In many respects, it is a surprise he lived so long.  Bacon was a prodigious drinker, had a damaged and diseased heart, lost a kidney to cancer, and once, nearly lost an eye, after being “pissed as a fart” and falling down the stairs of his favored drinking den. But Bacon had resilience, rather than seek immediate medical attention he merely pushed the offending orb back into its socket, and continued with his afternoon debauch.

Bacon was a gambler. He saw himself as open to the opportunities of chance in both life and art. He made and lost small fortunes on the spin of the roulette wheel. He was an atheist who saw no hope of an afterlife, and gave credence to “the individual’s perceived reality.” He claimed he had been “made aware of what is called the possibility of danger at a very young age,” which led him to treat life as if it were always within the shadow of death:

“If you really love life, you’re walking in the shadow of death all the time…Death is the shadow of life, and the more one is obsessed with life the more one is obsessed with death.  I’m greedy for life and I’m greedy as an artist.”

In the late 1940s, Bacon was told by his doctor he had an enlarged heart. One of his friends, Lady Caroline Blackwood, then wife to artist Lucian Freud, later recounted a tale of a dinner when Francis had joined her and Lucian, at Wheeler’s Restaurant :

“His (Francis) doctor had told him that his heart was in such a bad state that not a ventricle was functioning; he had rarely seen such a diseased organ, and he warned Francis that if he had one more drink or even became excited it could kill him.

“Having told us the bad news he waved to the waiter and ordered a bottle of champagne, and once it was finished ordered several more.  He was ebullient throughout the evening but, Lucian and I went home feeling very depressed.  He seemed doomed.  We were convinced he was going to die, aged forty.”


More on Francis Bacon and part two of his interview with David Sylvester, after the jump…

Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Classic documentary on William Burroughs

Last year, Dangerous MInd writer, Bradley Novicoff posted a link to this excellent BBC documentary on William S. Burroughs. At the time it wasn’t possible to embed Arena: Burroughs onto our site, but now it is.

Burroughs was originally made in 1983 by Howard Brookner and Alan Yentob, as part of the BBC’s art strand Arena, and repeated after Burrough’s death in 1997. It is an exceptional documentary, one that gives an intimate and revealing portrait of Burroughs, as he revisits his childhood home; discusses his up-bringing with his brother, Mortimer; his friendship with Jack Kerouac, Allen Gisnberg, and Brion Gysin; and has a reunion with artist Francis Bacon, who Burroughs knew in Tangier. Other contributors include Terry Southern, Patti Smith, and James Grauerholz.



Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
Francis Bacon’s lost painting of Lucian Freud turns up after 45 years

As Marc Campbell pointed out on DM last month, when a b&w Coke bottle by Andy Warhol sold for $35, “some things are recession proof.” Now, a painting of Lucian Freud by Francis Bacon has turned up after being kept in a private collection and not exhibited anywhere since 1965. This triptych goes on sale next month at Sotheby’s, in London, and according to the Daily Telegraph its $10m-$14m estimate “does not seem unreasonable.” Not unreasonable if you think of art as just a money-making exercise, like Warhol once said, “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.”

Three Studies for a Portrait of Lucian Freud is a powerfully rendered triptych of small, 14in x 12in portraits, and is a testament to one of the most significant artistic relationships of the 20th century.

Bacon and Freud met in 1945 through the artist Graham Sutherland and became close if competitive friends, painting each other on several occasions. At one point, they met on an almost daily basis, frequently at their favourite watering hole, the Colony Room in Soho. But their friendship cooled in the late Seventies after an argument.

Only four portraits of Freud by Bacon have been at auction in the past 20 years. The last was in 2003 when a very similar small triptych sold to Pierre Chen, chairman of the Taiwanese Yageo Foundation, for $3.8 million (£2.2 million), which was record for a Bacon painting of these dimensions.

Since then, the price of Bacon has risen dramatically, climaxing in May 2008 with the $86 million (£44 million) paid by Roman Abramovich for a large-scale triptych.
However, top-drawer paintings by Bacon have been scarce at auction during the credit crunch. Since the summer of 2008, four works of varying quality have been unsold, creating a state of uncertainty in the Bacon market, and potential sellers have been waiting for someone else to make the first move to ascertain its strength. Hopefully for Sotheby’s, that deadlock was broken last November when a late painting of a cricket player belonging to Bacon’s doctor, Paul Brass, sold for $14 million (£8.7 million), comfortably above its estimate.

Considering that two small-format self-portrait triptychs by Bacon made £14 million and more in 2008, the £7 million-£9 million estimate for this triptych of Freud does not seem unreasonable. The only thing against it is that it has recently been offered privately and not sold, but that was for a much higher sum.

Sotheby’s is not saying who is selling the portrait, which was bought directly from Bacon’s dealers, Marlborough Fine Art, in 1965, apart from indicating that it is part of a family inheritance. Trade sources, however, confirm that the painting belonged to the Geneva based collector, George Kostalitz, who died last year. A private man about whom little is on public record, Kostalitz is said to have had a close working relationship with Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s head of contemporary art.

Previously on Dangerous Minds

Warhol’s $35million Coke Bottle



Written by Paul Gallagher | Discussion