Francis bacon

The hellraisers of Hoxton: Art, by Peter Carty, reviewed

Those one-time hellraisers the Young British Artists are today more likely to be found making noise complaints to the local council than sliding down the bannisters at the Groucho Club. But in his part-historical, part-satirical, part-autobiographical debut novel Art, Peter Carty returns to their heyday as he charts the birth of the movement that shook up the art world in the early 1990s. The setting is a now unrecognisable Hoxton and Shoreditch, devoid of puppy yoga studios and oat milk lattes. In the opening chapter, the principal characters meet in a grimy old pub to celebrate a private view at the nearby gallery, Idiot Savant. Here they discuss the most

The big picture: two books on artists and their lives

Michael Peppiatt (born 1941) explains in the introduction to his new book of essays that he has from the start of his career been attracted to the lives of artists, as much as, if not more than, their work. Accordingly, he should find a ready audience with the British, who much prefer the written word to the visual image, and who always seem to spend more time on information panels than exhibits in museums, when not in a side gallery watching documentaries about the artists’ lives. In this book Peppiatt assembles a selection of biographical studies of some of the artists whose work quickens his heart. None of it is

Shakespeare sceptics are the new literary heroes

Let’s start with the basics. Despite widespread disinformation, including in Shakespeare was a Woman and Other Heresies, there is in fact ample historical evidence from the period that a) attributes the plays and poems to William Shakespeare, b) registers the same William Shakespeare as an actor and shareholder in Lord Chamberlain’s, later King’s Men, and c) connects this William Shakespeare with the William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon. Only if you believe that all this evidence is fabricated does the authorship question become a question. And once the question is admissible, all that mass of documentation is no longer sufficient to answer it. Anti-Stratfordians operate almost entirely outside the academy of professional

The well of happiness – and despair: Queer St Ives reviewed

In the winter of 1952 the 21-year-old sculptor John Milne travelled to St Ives in Cornwall to take up a temporary job as an assistant to Barbara Hepworth. The arrangement was that he would become her pupil in exchange for helping her in the studio, but he was subsequently paid a small salary and ended up staying in her employ for two years. By this time, Milne had decided to settle in the town, which had become a thriving modernist artists’ colony, and in 1956 he acquired Trewyn House, a three-storey Victorian property next door to Hepworth’s studio. The reason a working-class boy from Eccles could afford so substantial a

Valuable reassessment of British art: Barbican’s Postwar Modern reviewed

Notoriously, the past is another country: what’s more, it’s a terrain for which the guidebooks need constantly to be rewritten. That’s one attraction of the new exhibition Postwar Modern at the Barbican. It’s a survey of what might seem all-too-familiar territory: British art in the two decades that followed VE day. Yet it succeeds in revealing numerous half-forgotten or undervalued movements and people, the good, the bad and – most intriguingly – candidates for reassessment. The decades that followed the second world war were marked by dreary austerity, perhaps explaining the tendency for the art to be coloured oatmeal, beige, grey and brown. But this was also a time of

Part-gothic horror, part-Acorn Antiques: Louise Bourgeois, at the Hayward Gallery, reviewed

Louise Bourgeois was 62 and recently widowed when she first used soft materials in her installation ‘The Destruction of the Father’ (1974). The father in question was not her American late husband Robert Goldwater, the father of her children, but her own French father Louis Bourgeois, long deceased. Set in a space evoking the interior of a digestive tract, the installation’s centrepiece was a table bearing the remains of an imagined feast at which Louise and her brother had eaten their dominating father after dismembering him and cutting off his penis. You have been warned. There is nothing soft about Bourgeois’s soft sculptures, though — on the evidence of the

Feral showstoppers and some of the greatest paintings of the 20th century: Francis Bacon at the RA reviewed

The superb new exhibition at the Royal Academy, Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, is not a retrospective. Nonetheless it is one of the most revealing presentations of this great painter’s work I have ever seen. It follows one of the most important of the chains of thought and feeling that ran through his art — animality: the beastliness in humanity, and the humanity of beasts. He was a great master of the feral. ‘Man with Dog’ (1953) depicts a creature with which it would be hazardous to tangle: a blurred, slathering smear with just a hint of Cerberus, the ancient guardian of Hades. Just below its paws is the gutter,

What did the Russians make of Francis Bacon?

The KGB might not have known much about modern art, but they knew what they liked. For instance, at what came to be called the ‘Bulldozer show’ of 15 September 1974, the Soviet secret service instructed a small militia of off-duty policemen to besiege an unofficial exhibition being staged by a group of underground artists in a field on the outskirts of Moscow. As James Birch recalls, KGB goons ‘attacked the show, using bulldozers and water cannons. Artists and onlookers were beaten up, some paintings were set on fire, other works were thrown into tipper lorries where mud was piled on top by diggers’. Surviving artworks were ‘driven off to

Sinatra, Bacon and a YouTube star: Edinburgh Fringe Festival round-up

Sinatra: Raw (Pleasance, until 15 August) takes us inside the mind of the 20th century’s greatest crooner. The performer, Richard Shelton, catches Sinatra in confessional mode in the 1970s as he looks back on his chequered career. In the early days, a promoter suggested the stage name ‘Frankie Satin’ but his tough-minded mother, Dolly, vetoed the idea. The show’s best sections investigate the harrowing details of his tangled and doomed romance with Ava Gardener. Fame and wealth never sweetened Sinatra’s prickly character. ‘Drink is my worst enemy,’ he quips, necking whisky from a tumbler. ‘But, like the Bible says, you’ve got to love your enemies.’ This show packs a surprising

Double diamond | 13 June 2019

‘It is no easier to make a good painting,’ wrote Vincent van Gogh to his brother Theo, than it is ‘to find a diamond or a pearl.’ He was quite correct. Truly marvellous pictures are extremely rare. To make one, Vincent went on, you have to ‘stake your life’ (as he, indeed, was doing). Well, there is just such a jewel of a painting — only one by my count — in Francis Bacon: Couplings, an exhibition at Gagosian, 20 Grosvenor Hill. In some cases, the title of the show is literal. Several pictures depict two naked men in a ferocious sexual tangle. As a subject, this is perhaps still

Small wonders | 21 February 2019

When Henry VIII died in 1547, he left a religiously divided country to a young iconoclast who erased a large part of its visual culture. In a brief six years the government of Edward VI effectively whitewashed over England’s native heritage of sacred art, leaving a country already reliant on foreign painters for its royal portraits bereft of an artistic identity. Artistically speaking, Tudor England was the sick man of Europe — and the signs of recovery, when they first appeared, were tiny. Nicholas Hilliard, born in the year of Henry VIII’s death, paradoxically owed his art education to his family’s Protestantism. The son of an Exeter goldsmith swept up

Remembrance of things past | 24 January 2019

An attendant at an art gallery in France once apprehended a little old vandal, or so the story goes. He had smuggled in a palette, paints and brushes under his coat and was trying to alter one of the exhibits — a picture by Pierre Bonnard. On further questioning, it turned out that the elderly vandal was none other than Bonnard himself. Though the work in question had been ‘finished’ years before, he just couldn’t leave it alone. Bonnard (1867–1947) was a master of indecision, as a glance at just about any picture in Tate Modern’s new exhibition The Colour of Memory reveals. There are no straight lines or clear

More scenes from my life with Francis Bacon

The case of Michael Peppiatt is a curious one. He first met Francis Bacon when he was an undergraduate at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and visited Bacon for a student magazine. Something clicked and Bacon became his sugar daddy, immediately and for ever, though Peppiatt has said that no sex was involved. One can see what Peppiatt got out of Bacon: not cash per se, but many opportunities for money, an entrée to the great art world, a raison d’être for his pen, as well as free entertainment on a lavish scale. This he acknowledges gratefully. But what Bacon got out of Peppiatt is never quite clear. It certainly helped that

The kings of Soho

Christopher Howse has just written a book about Soho. He drank there regularly with Michael Heath, The Spectator’s cartoon editor, in the 1980s. Last week, in the editor’s office, they remembered a vanished world. MICHAEL HEATH: I introduced you to Soho. CHRISTOPHER HOWSE: Well, I don’t know if you’re entirely to blame for that. But you taught me a thing or two. HEATH: There were such things as groupies for cartoonists in those days. There were girls hanging round you in Fleet Street waiting for you to finish the drawings for the following day and then they’d go off with the cartoonists and have meals or go to various clubs.

Faulty connections

In the mid-1940s, Frank Auerbach remarked, the arbiters of taste had decided what was going to happen in British art: Graham Sutherland was going to be the leading painter. ‘Then downstage left, picking his nose, Francis Bacon sauntered on. And the whole scene was changed.’ But how did it alter? What happened to figurative painting in London in the decades after Bacon exploded on to the scene? This is a question with which All Too Human at Tate Britain grapples. It is an old problem. When in 1976 R.B. Kitaj proposed that there was an important group of figurative artists at work here, a ‘School of London’, he defined them

Beyond Timbuktu

Every so often a monster comes along. Here’s one — but a monster of fact not fiction, over 700 pages recounting the French expedition from Dakar to Djibouti 1931–33. It doesn’t matter that this travel diary — part field study, part confessional, first published in 1934 — has arrived so late for an English readership. It comes with the additional resonance of a lost world. Michel Leiris was an exceptional man, a Parisian surrealist writer and protégé of Max Jacob. He was also close to Picasso, with whom he shared an interest in primitive art, shamanism and Mithraism; and he married a girl who was the illegitimate daughter of the

The good, the indifferent and the simply awful

‘There is only one thing worse than homosexual art,’ the painter Patrick Procktor was once heard to declare at a private view in the 1960s. ‘And that’s heterosexual art.’ It would have been intriguing to hear his views on Queer British Art at Tate Britain. All the more so since it includes several of his own works, including a fine line-drawing study of the playwright Joe Orton, completely naked except for his socks — which he kept on because he felt they were sexy — and reclining somewhat in the manner of Manet’s Olympia. In fact, many of those included might have had reservations — Oscar Wilde, for example, one

Seeing everything in black and white

Two divergent approaches to printmaking are on view in an exhibition of graphic work by Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud at Marlborough Fine Art, Albemarle Street. For the former, media that depend on line, such as etching, were of little interest, since — as his friend Freud would point out — Francis couldn’t draw very well. But, Freud would add, Bacon’s painting was so brilliant that he made you forget that limitation. Bacon’s prints were essentially reproductions of his oils, signed and numbered by the artist. The etchings Freud made in the last three decades of his life were not like that at all. Though the models for the etchings

The only way is up | 26 January 2017

Michael Andrews once noted the title of an American song on a scrap of paper: ‘Up is a Nice Place to Be.’ Then he added a comment of his own: ‘The best.’ This jotting was characteristic in more than one way. A splendid exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery, Grosvenor Hill, London, makes it clear that Andrews was — among other achievements — a supreme aerial painter. No one else has better caught the sensation of floating, to quote another song from the Sixties, up, up and away. It was also typical of Andrews that his addition to that title was only two words — but it makes a big difference.

Skinny dipping

For a 21st-century gallery, a Victorian collection can be an embarrassment. Tate Modern got around the problem by offloading its Victoriana on to Tate Britain, but York Art Gallery decided to make the best of it. As the birthplace of William Etty, York found itself lumbered with a major collection of work by a minor Victorian artist whose reputation nosedived after his death. While Etty’s statue still dominates the gallery forecourt, most of his paintings languish in the stores. For contemporary audiences, though, he has a USP. An avid frequenter of the life room, Etty acquired a mastery of flesh tones and a penchant for painting nudes that many of