Francis Bacon was the loudest, rudest, drunkest, most sought-after British artist of the 20th century. Twenty-five years after his death, his canvases regularly exceed £40million at auction...
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In his London studio, the British painter discusses his work and approach with David Sylvester, a friend and close observer of his art since the late 1940s. Central to their conversation ... See full summary »
Francis Bacon was the loudest, rudest, drunkest, most sought-after British artist of the 20th century. Twenty-five years after his death, his canvases regularly exceed £40million at auction. Bacon's appeal is rooted in his notoriety - a candid image he presented of himself as Roaring Boy, Lord of Misrule and Conveyor of Artistic Violence. This was true enough, but only part of the truth. He carefully cultivated the facade, protecting the complex and haunted man behind the myth. In this unique, compelling film, those who knew him speak freely, some for the first time, to reveal the many mysteries of Francis Bacon.Written by
One cheap way of commissioning a portrait is to supply the artist with a photograph, to save time on sittings. Bacon turned this on its head, often preferring to use a good studio shot from which to interpret certain clues to character and personality. This is typical Bacon, who turned everything on its head, just when the public was developing a mighty thirst for the experimental, after so much wartime censorship and cultural conformity. (Anything conventional was dismissed as 'decorative' in his sneering phrase.)
Much of the Bacon phenomenon can be traced back to his father's racing stable, where he enjoyed being whipped by the grooms, an experience made more painful by his chronic asthma. Countless portraits show this desperate gasping for breath. But he tells us "You are not only painting the subject, but also painting yourself as the object." And someone close to him remarks "Bacon created best when he was most disturbed, most at sea."
The violence is represented by impossibly twisted and fractured body- parts, which led to unwanted comparisons with Picasso. But there is no doubting the symbolism here - a whole lot of smashed and bleeding faces, looking like something on a butcher's slab, alternating with male posteriors in a surrendering pose, all clearly drawn from the heart of his own experience. And public reaction was equally violent. Not everyone felt comfortable with an unabashed gay masochist and gambling addict, whose boyfriends would trash hotel-rooms. But his shameless, defiant manner may have been part of the mix that took him to the top - at one point, literally the world's highest-paid artist.
Not surprisingly, the life-history takes in 1920's Berlin, a magnet for expatriate gays, and Tangier, always identified with sexual ambiguity. And then (yawn) a taste for East End rough trade, with a startling canvas of Reggie Kray, presumably worth a fortune now - if it's still in one piece, that is. (Bacon would happily destroy works he was not quite satisfied with, however much they might still fetch.)
This 80-minute BBC film gives airtime to many of his friends, who provide some revealing insights, principally Damien Hirst, Grey Gowrie and Maggi Hambling. It may be mildly interesting to note that the equally masochistic Marianne Faithfull is descended from the original Masoch, though her hippie-style comments point-up the basic shallowness of Sixties culture - a lot of so-called 'trend-setters', who were simply trend followers.
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