Francis Bacon: A Brush with Violence (2017)
This programme contains some strong language. Three figures, phallic necks. There’s one with a sort of paw on what looks like a huge scrubbing brush, which is snarling. And they’re baying their anger, their pain, their distrust of life. To the people who walked into the Lefevre Gallery that day… ..that was a shock. I mean, they had never really seen anything like it. It was just after the war and people didn’t want to be disturbed. They’d been deeply disturbed already. Something breaks in that painting, in English culture. It was as if art had become feral. Those things are all in the background, they all inform the work. But you make a mistake if you explain the paintings through the war. What Bacon did was something different. So many people of my generation, that’s where they first saw an image by Francis Bacon. But nobody knew who Francis Bacon was. Just after the war, my mother had a house in South Kensington, and I was always watching what was going on outside. And I remember seeing somebody who was carrying a very large canvas. And I don’t know why I felt it – “This guy has to be Francis Bacon.” And he went into a house opposite my mother’s house, I was totally fascinated by him. And we became friends. He was like no-one else in the world. He lived in a very grand studio. Everything was torn, everything was dirty, everything was wonderful. A lot of incredibly strong cocktails, so you got plastered pretty quick. And then Nanny would appear from time to time and say, “Would anybody like something to, you know, something to smoke?” And this didn’t mean, you know, Player’s cigarettes. MATCH STRIKES AND FLARES She was his childhood nanny. I think he adored her. She was like a mother to him. Of course, the whole story is… It’s so comical, really. She slept on the kitchen table. She was totally blind. How on earth she cooked and how she knew what she was doing, I don’t know. She organised the gambling parties that he gave, that’s one of the ways he made money. After the war, the entire sort of bohemian London began to coalesce around the Gargoyle and then, of course, with the opening of The Colony Room by Muriel Belcher, that became the epicentre of the lives of most of the painters and, of course, Francis Bacon was part of that. I have no earthly idea when I first encountered Francis. I most remember him in The Colony, and Muriel said that I was the only person who was allowed in from the age of 12. Francis had an extraordinary capacity to take advantage of any situation in which he found himself and to turn it into something wonderful and magical. And so you were immediately… ..enchanted by his presence. He was like a piece of electricity coming into the room. I mean, charisma poured out of him, you couldn’t take your eyes off him, you know, he darted around like a bird, and these extraordinary eyes. Muriel offered him a £10 retainer, a week to bring in his friends, which he proceeded to do. TRANSLATION FROM FRENCH: Yes, this was the age of existentialism, this is the age when everybody thought that this could be the last, their last moments, so they were living in a very edgy kind of atmosphere. We do with our life what we can and then we die. What else can you… What else is there? And if somebody is very aware of that, perhaps… Perhaps it comes out in their work. I think he saw life as a risk. It also amused him, I think, the idea that chance played such a big role in everything. And he certainly applied that to painting. If anything ever does work, in my case… ..well, chance and what I call accident takes over. Certainly, in his painting, I mean, he would… ..gamble everything on the next brush stroke. That’s always, always going to be exciting, to see somebody in that situation and, you know, it’s like watching somebody walking the tightrope to see if they succeed or fail. For instance, that painting in the Museum of Modern Art, I first tried to do a gorilla in a cornfield. Then I tried to do a bird alighting. And then, gradually, all the marks I’d made suggested this other image, which is a totally accidental image. I’d never thought of doing an image like that ever in my life. I can remember, you know, really studying for a long time, the umbrella in the sides of beef. And I remember thinking, how’s he made that umbrella so terrifying? It’s just such an everyday object. You know, you get guttural feelings from paintings and emotional paintings, and it’s just paint. But it’s like it doesn’t feel like paint, it feels much more violent. You know, it taps into something in your unconscious, which is dark and, you know, exciting. When I met him, I could not equate just the general sort of drunken foolery that went on, which I found hugely entertaining, with these twisted horrors. This is the great central enigma about Bacon. Where did the darkness come from? You see, I was born in Ireland, and I was brought up a rabid Protestant… ..with no beliefs, of course! Neither my mother or father were Irish but, nevertheless, I was brought up in Kildare. My father was a trainer of race horses. In the last interview that Bacon ever did, he spoke of his childhood and said it was like something cold and something hard, like a block of ice. And he attributed that to his shyness, which came from being asthmatic, that he could not interact in the world in the same way that ordinary boys could. Imagine growing up in a particularly horsey outdoorsy world, and imagine that you have fragile lungs that are pulverised by any sort of dust and you basically had to gasp your way through life. This had an enormous influence on Bacon. In the paintings, I believe it does come across. It’s as though the air has been pumped out, has been sucked out of the space, and the figures are there, up against the glass, almost grasping for breath. He was growing up in Ireland. By the age of 12, what do you do when you’ve begun to have homosexual instincts? It was a deep-seated, deep-rooted problem with his father. Bacon’s father, Eddie, was a very difficult character. Francis Bacon disappointed him in a major way. It was a fairly traumatic childhood. His father got his stable boys to whip him, and I think that started one or two things off. He sometimes talked about it and he said, he said it to me privately… ..that one of his… ..difficult dynamics in his life was that he really rather hated his father but he found his father sexually attractive. Francis was a born masochist. It wasn’t something that he took up later for kicks. Francis was through and through a masochist. More interesting, of course, is that he then went into the stables and had sexual relations with the grooms. And I think the buggering in the barn was a sort of important aspect of his background. It was a very odd sort of situation. And the father couldn’t deal with it. So he wanted him out of the house… and try and get him straightened out. He went to… ..an older man whom his family, I think, thought would be a good companion for him but who turned out to be bisexual. TRANSLATION FROM FRENCH: He told it without any sense of hurt but, in fact, I think he’d been deeply, deeply wounded by this, by this rejection. Berlin was huge to him, as it became to a whole generation of homosexuals around his age. He liked the fascination, the freedom, the absolute lack of… ..authority, in a way, which was hugely influential on him. Francis experienced Berlin whilst at its most famously debauched… ..where there were these crazy bars and sadism was the flavour of the period. People have attempted to explain Francis Bacon as a revenge motif against his father. Once he left Berlin, where was his natural proclivity? It was France. He saw this as the Olympus of the art world, and Francis Bacon fell in love with Paris and Parisian art from his first trip there in 1928. And that was a constant throughout his entire life. I stayed for a short time in Paris and it was about that time, at Rosenberg’s, I saw an exhibition of Picasso. And I think, at that moment, I thought, “Well, I will try and paint, too.” Francis Bacon’s first career is a bit obscured because what he did in Paris in his famous trip, once he left Berlin, has been a subject of much mystery. He did have some connections into the design world of Paris, we know for sure. By the time he came to London, a little-known fact that we’ve discovered, he established himself in deepest Chelsea and was, for three or four years, part of a very important design and interior-decorating world. He kept quiet about all that, he never mentioned it. Decoration was one of the foulest words in his vocabulary after that. Something that was decorative, you know, particularly in art, was like non-existent. He sensed, quite early on, that he wanted more than that. Obviously, he had to make his way, you know? And of course, he made nothing from the painting but the painting soon became the obsessive thing. You know, he’s almost, like, egging himself on to be confident enough to paint. And I love those early years’ paintings. I have the 1933 early Crucifixion, the one like the Picasso Bathers. You know, I can’t believe that I own it now. The first 15, 20 years of his life and career, so little of it survives. I mean, the ratio’s about one per year. Between 1936 and 1944, there’s an eight-year gap, we have no works at all. Now, he wasn’t not painting. But Roy De Maistre, an artist who was extremely fond of Bacon, he painted a corner of Bacon’s painting studio and you see paintings stacked up in the corner…the corners of the room, with their faces showing. We can see what he was painting. They were all destroyed, all these things, we have these tantalising glimpses of in another artist’s work. There’s the legend that grew up around this, that Bacon himself fostered, was that he then just walked away from the easel and only to re-emerge, of course, in the mid-40s with his great Three Studies. Um, this is not true. One thing I feel certain about is that he really, really was painting all the time. He desperately wanted to be, by then, a great artist. He didn’t want to be mediocre. There are many strains in his earlier painting that you can trace in the development and evolution of the look that appeared in Three Studies. About 1943-44, it was then that I really started to paint. When at Lefevre we had that first exhibition with Henry Moore, Graham Sutherland, and it was then that I showed those Three Studies For Figures At The Base Of A Crucifixion, which… People were very, very violently against those things. One of the usual bitchy critics, to me, said, “Why bother to do things like that when it’s already been done by Picasso?” It was Graham Sutherland, I think, who recommended him to Erica Brausen, who was one of the brightest contemporary art dealers of the time, and when she saw his work she saw the point of it right away. She sold his painting 1946 to MoMA and that really was a very, very signal moment for Francis. He was always needing money to waste, you know, to gamble away. He was nothing but trouble to her. She just tolerated it and helped him as best she could. She was nurturing, she was devoted to him. She was a woman who really looked after him. And he went to Monaco, and it was the place where English people of his kind went and, if you wanted to gamble, it was the most glamorous place to go, still, to gamble. You could gamble in London, for goodness’ sake, to some extent. But this was much more glamorous and much more congenial, in many other ways. I mean, it wasn’t just Bacon who went to Monaco, there was this bizarre, probably ghastly, old nanny, but the one who he really loved. TRANSLATED FROM FRENCH: He was terrible about getting paintings in on time. Brausen was always writing Bacon and saying, you know, “Francis, please… “We have a show planned for next December. How’s it going?” And three months later, nothing. And his typical pattern was that he would destroy all his work until pretty near to a show when he would have to produce some paintings, finally. He was there most of the time between 1946-49, even into early 1950, and produced almost nothing. He’d been rethinking what he must do in his art. He knew he must say something. It was no use being derivative of Picasso. And he knew, in fact, his subject must be the human body and that it must come from his own life and his own experience. Part of what he had to express needed a new way of painting. The heads are astonishing. They’re so close to the animal. The animal in the man. In those images that Bacon did, it’s as if you can feel the breath of the animal on your neck. Or as if you’re going into some dark cave and you smell the animal before you see it. I mean, it’s so visceral. The animal is so close. The fact that Francis Bacon had no formal training probably freed him in a way that other people were not as free. He was not part of any movement. Francis Bacon was an outlier in a most interesting way. I think he probably did go to one or two classes and things like that. He certainly never mentioned that afterwards, and he picked up quite a lot from painter friends. Denis and Francis Bacon came from a similar background. Both were untrained as artists. So this was a link, both were self-taught. Francis Bacon was inevitably the main event in Denis’s life. Dickie and Denis were the main event in each other’s lives. Richard Chopping, known as Dickie, was his partner. Bacon could have actually been a hell of a lot of trouble to the relationship but he wasn’t, and Denis would put up with anything. Francis would equally put up with anything that Denis threw at him. And between them, this relationship went like that for many, many years. When they were partying and drinking together in Soho, they would come and drag me out, with them usually six bottles of champagne ahead of me. And it would end up with punching in the face, noses being broken in galleries, there were plates broken on people’s heads. Turned out, banned from places, the stories just go on and on and on. Do you know, I don’t care if I fuck up the whole of the film, but you can never say things as clearly in French, – as you say it in English.
– Yes, of course he can.
– Of course you can’t. Go away, darling. Avec Rembrandt, avec Michel-Ange. You know, you’re going to be cheapened. – OK.
– I’ll be cheapened.
– Very. There were a lot of things that they were using as common subject matter. They both had boxing magazines. They had magazines of runners. They used Eadweard Muybridge’s work. Denis did introduce Francis to Muybridge, arguably the most, with Picasso, the most important influence on his work. It’s a very interesting work. And the images were tremendously suggestive to me of ways I could use the human body. Francis drew badly and was very conscious of it. And I think facing up to the fact that he had never been taught drawing… And he used Muybridge’s amazing photographs of athletes in weird positions again and again, because there the limbs were dead accurate and he could use them, as it were, as sketches for a whole series of paintings… though, above all, the painting known as The Buggers. I used to go and visit Lucien Freud and Caroline Blackwood in their house. They had the painting which they always called The Buggers, which was, is, I think, officially called The Wrestlers. I just simply thought it was a wonderful painting. I think, that when you’re very young, you don’t have preconceived notions of what is shocking. You just look at things to see if they are beautiful. There is no doubt that this is Bacon and the most important lover in his life. This is their coupling. This is their moment of greatest intensity. And this is the trigger, really, of Bacon’s greatest images. It’s where everything comes together. Francis’s first major lover was Peter Lacy. He had been a Spitfire pilot. Francis was wildly in love. Bacon found him very charming. He said he was… He was amusing. And he played the piano. He sang. And Bacon saw him as somebody quite extraordinary. Other people didn’t have this very enamoured view of Peter Lacy. I remember going to a gay bar, one evening, and Peter Lacy was there. He was very, sort of, soberly dressed, very straightforward. But he turned out to be, in fact, one of the most sadistic people… ..I’ve ever come across. During the war, his nervous system was…was, basically, shot and he could become very violent. Francis was landed with a… ..sadist who was going to thrash him to bits and he hadn’t got Nanny to fall back on. When Nanny died – was it 1951? – he was heartbroken. She was his adviser, she ran his life and he had to depend on himself. They had a turbulent relationship. Lacy regularly beat Bacon up and that was something that Bacon actively encouraged and enjoyed. Peter had a house in the country and Francis went there one weekend. God knows what he’d done to him already but Peter Lacy simply threw him through a plate-glass window on the second floor, onto the garden at the back of the house. And Francis had terrible damage to one eye and to his face and so on. But this made him love Peter Lacy more, I think. And he turned these horrible, terrible things into magic, into great paintings. Peter himself was very often the subject of any male figure in the painting. He’s always there. And I think he stirred the very depths of Bacon’s being. He managed to create these very strange, eerie images, against a dark blue background. Very ghostly. Peter Lacy’s… ..power over Francis, sadistic power over Francis… And I hope it won’t shock people – it was a very positive one. It was regarded as a rather dirty habit, to go and look at the paintings of Bacon, because the whole fashion was abstract expressionism and everything American. Here was this man actually painting the human figure… ..in this quite shocking way, at that time. Bacon had a slowly growing reputation, but he was an extremely difficult artist. So it took a great deal of time for Bacon’s imagery to become popular. But bit by bit, exhibition by exhibition, collector by collector, Bacon’s reputation was being made. Peter Lacy said at this particular point, “You can come and live with me.” And Bacon said, “Well, what does living with you mean?” And Lacy said, “Well, I could chain you to the wall.” And Bacon said, “Well, the thing is, I did terribly want to paint.” And so because of that, Lacy started visiting Tangier. By that time, the relationship had broken down. Bacon felt he needed to go to another stage. He wanted to go to the very top. And there was a powerful and relatively new gallery called Marlborough Fine Art. Bacon had been considering leaving Erica and the Hanover Gallery for some time. Because he was quite overwhelmed by debts. The Marlborough Gallery, for example, had deeper pockets, could pay a kind of salary. They were like a cash flow for him. I remember going in with him to pick up a wad of cash so that he could go on, sort of, inviting everybody in sight to champagne and dinner afterwards and then go and play the tables. And the great attraction of the time for the Marlborough was what? Well, they’ve got, as they have galleries all over the world, perhaps they thought they could do something with me. Frank Lloyd, the owner, partner of Marlborough… realised that, I think, that Francis was going to be the golden goose, if they… ..marketed properly. He did need a lot of managing. And the only release for the paintings came through Valerie. She was my direct boss. Francis Bacon’s life at Marlborough revolved to a huge extent around Valerie Beston, or as he called her, Valerie from the Gallery. She was always there for him. It was as if Bacon was the love of her life. And she was, you know, completely 100% devoted, in the same way that Erica Brausen had been initially in his career. I mean, they were saying to Bacon, we will give you exhibitions at the Tate, and they absolutely delivered on their promises. You know, within three years he’d got the first Tate retrospective. There were many critics who still did not like Bacon’s work. The Tate retrospective in 1962, I think was very important for him. At that stage Peter Lacy was in Morocco. A lot of people of that time were saying that he was just, like, this very sad figure playing away at the piano, almost like paying off his alcoholic debts. Francis writes to Denis, saying, “I’ve heard that he’s falling to pieces. “Can you find out for me? “I really need to know, I can’t concentrate on anything.” Bacon is feeling pity for Peter. “I’m totally upset over Peter. “I can’t bear to see anyone suffer because of me.” I think Bacon created best when he was himself most disturbed, most at sea. Francis used to say, “I’ve used everybody in my life.” He does go into a kind of crisis. That may have been what was happening with Bacon at that time. I think that was to do with his inner need to renew his art, to not repeat himself, to stretch. He did a painting right before the 1962 Tate exhibition called, I believe it was called Three Studies for a Crucifixion. It’s an indication of where he wants to go. It’s a blood-red and black triptych. In the left-hand panel there is a paternal figure, more or less telling a smaller figure to go. I’ve always thought of that as Bacon being thrown out of the house. In the middle there is a scene, a really bloody mangled scene on a bed. It’s the most extreme expression of the horror he felt about his life, I think, and what it felt to be… ..Francis Bacon and all the horrors he’d witnessed. And he did describe the central panel as someone shot to pieces on a bed. And that’s not normal language, not just from him, but for a Bacon painting. And in this case, well, it does look like someone shot to pieces on a bed. It looks like a murder has taken place. He would almost empty himself of his darkest, bitterest thoughts on canvas and be purified. But of course he was Jekyll and Hyde and so the two sides were there in the man. I remember going to the big ’62 retrospective at the Tate… ..and I had a very nice girlfriend who was vegetarian, though she converted, under my tutelage, to meat, but she didn’t convert to Bacon. I think that was when he really came out as a superstar, in Britain anyway. And I think he saw, this was a perfect moment for him to shine and, my God, shine he did. But amongst the telegrams of congratulation, he got one from Tangier saying that his great love, Peter Lacy, had just died. Bacon was convinced it was a suicide. He talked about it as a suicide. And that Peter almost deliberately aimed for it to happen on the day his show opened. The painting of where Peter Lacy is buried was an enormously… enormously powerful painting, full of, you can’t call it love exactly, but full of… ..sort of, dark sexual obsession. The violence in Bacon’s pictures calls forth equally violent reactions. David Sylvester was one of the first critics to recognise Bacon as an important artist. Actually in your work, as a whole, there are relatively few paintings that have ostensible subjects which might be called horrific. And most of them are fairly straight subjects, figures seated in rooms and so on. And yet, people have a sense that your work as a whole is horrific. David Sylvester was enormously important in that he was the PR man for Francis. And he did a damned good job. Because he was widely listened to. He was never off the BBC, where he could, he could hear the sound of his own voice. And he was… ..perfect for Francis. I must have another drink. We might rest for a minute. Can we rest for a moment, or not, or must it go on? Bacon and Sylvester together created a manifesto of his inner life as an artist. Those interviews had a very big impact on many, especially young artists. When I was a student I completely devoured the David Sylvester interviews. It’s like I read that constantly, over and over and over again. I think that was one of the greatest things about Bacon, was those interviews. Because he… It was just a new way of being interviewed, and it was kind of so fresh and exciting and it was like, you know, playful. It was like, you know, in denial. It just made you think differently about the paintings. He was nothing if not totally controlling of the people around him and the way his work was perceived. But I think Bacon the public persona was, to some extent, a way of shielding his images. He was just, you know, finding a way to sort of avoid the questions, to keep the painting fresh, to keep you looking at the painting, to never give you answers. Francis attracted a certain amount of awe. He was quite a frightening fellow, or had been in his prime. And also a certain amount of oiling up to. So I think the cult, or the fame, was built up in the ’60s. He’s got his new studio in Reece Mews, I think it was very important to him. He felt he’d got his own space, he could really get to work and do what he wanted to say powerfully. We are in a wonderful little secret mews just off of South Ken, called Reece Mews. I first came to know it when I met Lionel Bart. His neighbour turned out to be Francis Bacon. He was very funny. He was very witty. He was very clever. But there was a kind of an underlying kind of melancholy about him. But Lionel Bart told me that in his kitchen there were loads of photographs, and he’d noticed there were rather a lot of me, you know. And Lionel said to him, “Oh, you think… You know, you like Terence?” And Francis said, “God, the two most handsomest men in the world “are Terence Stamp and Colonel Gaddafi!” I thought, “Yeah, Colonel Gaddafi would give him a good hiding,” you know? HE LAUGHS I’d just knock on his door if I was passing and if he would open the door, sometimes he’d invite me in, sometimes he wouldn’t. And sometimes when he invited me in I realised he was the middle of something. It struck me that it was a very private thing that was happening. And…he had to devote himself completely to it. As an artist, Bacon was always trying to do it a bit better, you know? You know, you’ve never arrived, there wouldn’t be much point if you’d arrived. You know, he would have stopped painting in 1962, or something, if he was satisfied. How are you going to trap reality? How are you going to trap appearance without making an illustration of it? And that is one of the great fights and one of the great excitements of being, of being a figurative artist today. It was a moment that he was beginning to look to the people that he was friends with, beginning to think about painting the people he felt he knew inside out. I mean, he had a great love of people. And a vulnerability to them. The artist doesn’t choose the subject, the subject chooses the artist. But there was his subject. I only am able to paint people or portraits of people that I know very well and I’ve looked at a great deal. And that I have analysed, and know the structure of their face. I find that the person there inhibits me. And then I use… I look at photographs. So the photographs and everything get trodden on, they get even changed into other things. And those often are in themselves extremely interesting. The presence of the person in a portrait is so fully there because he managed to empty himself of everything, so that that person could come through him and onto the canvas. Of course men were a great subject for him, and the male body. Women were also extremely important to Bacon, both personally and in terms of his art. He had a need for family and he sort of put a lot of women into that role. And he had a number of those throughout his life. IN FRENCH: You look at the women he chose to paint, they have very strong characteristics in common. Muriel had a very strong visage that was almost imperial, and it was easy for him, in a sense, to convey exactly that strength of character that she had. Isabel Rawsthrone was another, a woman of almost staggering physical presence. And Henrietta Moraes, who was curvaceous, but she was also very, very strong. I first met Henrietta Moraes across a big lunch table and it was like being opposite a Bacon painting. I mean, it was almost as if she wasn’t real because of his portraits of Henrietta. Henrietta is one of the most interesting of the Soho characters. She, like many others, could not wait to get away from her convent past and get into the life of Soho. Hen? She was amazing, she was one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever known. No wonder Francis adored her, you know? And Francis understood, you know. He was Irish, he understood how hard it is if you’ve been through that terrible sort of Catholicism thing. How dreadfully hard it is to break out of it and get free. He was never burdened by that, was he? He was never burdened by that guilt? Well, if he was, it was… I think he was a bit. Actually, I’m sorry, but I think he was. Henrietta always said to me, “Ah, yes, perhaps he doth protest too much.” I think he painted Henrietta 15 times. I mean, his work can be seen as a search for God. Although he would probably certainly deny it. His sort of frustration, if you like, with not finding God. ‘When you paint anything, you ask the same…’ You are also painting not only the subject, but you are painting yourself as well as, as the object that you’re trying to record. One time she didn’t like, was there was one of the pictures where he had a hypodermic in her arm. – It was a hypodermic syringe.
– It was a hypodermic syringe. But I wanted something to nail the image, the figure, as it were, to the…to the bed. And it looked more logical with a hypodermic syringe. I couldn’t put a nail through their arm, so it was much easier to put a hypodermic syringe. But it wasn’t an attempt suggest that the person was a drug addict? I can see what Francis was getting at, but I can also see that Henrietta didn’t want that. Henrietta herself later, looking back at it said, you know, in effect, “Oh, my God, who could have known? This is prescience, “and it’s foreshadowing what was going to happen to my life that was to come,” which was indeed much more druggy than, you know, Francis Bacon could have anticipated at the time he’d painted it. You know, we weren’t really in the same crowd. I was much younger. And I was smoking hash and taking LSD and Francis was a drinker. But then, once I had left Mick and my life kind of fell apart, really, and I was living on a wall in St Anne’s Court, on heroin. So I didn’t feel the cold. And I also had, but I didn’t know it, anorexia. And I must have been on Francis’s route from the French to Wheeler’s or something like that. And not all the time, but every now and again Francis would go past my wall and sort of pick me up and take me to Wheeler’s and feed me. And the most wonderful thing about it, apart from the food, of course, was that he never commented or judged or said anything about my strange life, you know? Me, at 22, living on a wall in Soho, with the meths drinkers and all that, you know? He never made any judgment or said a word. We had a wonderful time, we talked about absolutely everything. And that’s when I told him about my great-great-uncle Leopold, which, of course, he knew all about, and we discussed de Sade and masochism and lots of very interesting things that I didn’t realise till much later how interesting they were to Francis, of course. But I guessed something was up. He was obsessed by sex. He was plugged into all sorts of different things that most people aren’t aware of. When we were out, at certain moments he’d sort of almost walk through a wall into a different world. And disappear. And what happened then, I don’t know. The next day he’d reappear in a damaged state, you know, barely able to walk or turn his head. And there was no point in sort of saying, “Well, what happened, Francis?” Because he’d, at best, he’d just, you know, he’d just fix you with a sort of basilisk stare and say, “What do you mean?” I was fast asleep one night when the phone went and Valerie Beston said, “Paul, quickly, quickly, you’ve got to come to Reece Mews.” I’ve got there and he had a huge injury, right the way across from his left eye right the way across, right round the right eye. All the skin had been broken and he was in a terrible mess. And I said, “Francis, you need a plastic surgeon.” “No,” he said, “you sew me up now.” I said, “I’ll put some local anaesthetic in.” He said, “No, I don’t want any local anaesthetic.” That’s the only time I realised that he quite enjoyed being hurt. Francis liked the criminal side of London, you know? He liked the kind of… sordidness of London, all that kind of East End dross and knowing all those kind of people. Or wanting to know all those kind of people. George Dyer came on the scene as this tough, well-built muscular boxer-like East End thug. And I think through George he, you know, was able… George and George’s family, through all that, he got to know, you know, quite a lot of bad boys, including the Krays. Who did come knocking on his door. Cos they wanted a painting. I like painting good-looking people. Because I like their bone structure. I loathe my own. But little by little it became apparent that however sort of virile and thug-like he looked, he was actually a very nice, lost young man. George was obviously rather reticent with the whip. So, little by little, Francis became disabused because George had been, in that sense, a disappointment. He was a kind of very feeble East End thug, and he liked children and animals and cuddling. Bacon said, “Oh, I hate the billing and cooing of sex. I just like the sex.” And he wanted George to rape him and George wanted to cuddle. Francis confided just about everything to do with his relationship with George. And it seemed that the sexual relationship had a real downturn. George was suffering from erectile dysfunction. It seems to me that Francis had emasculated George, he found what he saw as the typical rough East Ender that he longed to find, and then he did that job of emasculating him. Francis did his best to make George Dyer into something. And I think he did that on canvas. Bacon was violent in the way he painted, he was sadistic in the way he took apart George with missing ears and missing jaws and missing eyes, missing everything, really. George was a bit appalled by the whole thing. He saw all of these rich people standing around sort of, you know, in this smart gallery. He said to me, you know, “I think they’re ‘orrible. “They’re really ‘orrible.” He said, “And he thinks I look like that!” George knew all the prices for the pictures. And he said, “And these people go and pay fucking thousands of pounds for ’em.” I mean, he portrays him as a kind of idiot. He has things with what looks almost like a nappy on his head or something. And dressed as a baby. I mean, need I say more? There were certainly moments when things were firing up between them. They had lovers’ tiffs. The one time when Francis phoned me and said, “You have to come round, “you have to come round right away because George has gone berserk “and all my suits are in the bath and he’s poured paint all over them “and he’s trampling up and down.” And I went round. And I couldn’t get in because the front door was barred. So I had to back the vehicle up, get up onto the roof and go through the window where I was nearly throttled by George until he realised who it was. And he had, in fact, thrown two thirds of the furniture down the staircase. Dyer is fighting, in a way… He’s just going downhill, downhill, downhill, it must have been terrible to watch. So it’s almost like a desperate attempt to get back in with Bacon and show Bacon that he is still a man. Francis was painting fewer pictures of George. He was weary of him, I think. Weary of his problems, of his drinking, of his carousing, of his unhappiness, perhaps. His better judgment told him that he needed to be shot of Dyer. Bacon began moving away from George. He looked more to Paris, at a time when other British artists were resolutely not looking to Paris. I think Bacon’s interest in France goes all the way back to 1928, on his first trip there. IN FRENCH: In 1971, getting a show at the Grand Palais was the great moment of his life. It was the turning point. Huge. The first English artist to be offered the Grand Palais. So, really, really big time. It was very important this went well. I understand that the British embassy were very worried in case a typical Bacon scene erupted and it was, you know, something terrible happened there. George, Francis, myself, Miss Beston, all had rooms in this particular hotel. Everybody else was saying, “Don’t bring George, he’ll ruin everything.” Dicky and Denis and some others with Francis had gone out and they saw the venue. And there was a big red carpet and there were the soldiers standing there. They all described to me these leather boots up to the knees and the red stripe up the soldiers’ tight trousers. And they were fairly taken by this. They said Francis was… You could see him sort of swell with pride at this. And they went back to the hotel thinking this was going to be a good evening. And Francis went up to his room. There was a stink of drugs, unwashed bodies, dirty sex, and the rent boy, the very dirty rent boy, who was in there with George. And Francis was furious. Dicky, Denis and Francis, they went drinking, they went gambling. They had a four, five, six-course meal. They hardly hurried home, knowing that George was in such a bad state. I can’t remember, exactly, the time, but it must have been sort of two o’clock in the morning. There was a knock at my door and it was Francis. And he said, could he come and spend the night in my room cos I had double… You know, two beds. Because George had brought home an Arab with smelly feet. And it was so disgusting he couldn’t stand it any longer. And in the morning he said, “Just go and see if George has got rid of the Arab.” There was no evidence of George being around, you know, the bed was in a real state of disarray. And I then checked with Miss Beston around the room, and looked in the bathroom. And George was on the toilet. Apparently Miss Beston pushed him out of the way, went in there, and did pulses and things like this and said, “No, he’s dead.” I never even thought about it being a suicide attempt. It could well have been. We thought brought about by him being so drunk and taking the wrong tablets. And so she said, “Right, I’ll take care of this.” And Terry was pushed out of the way. And down she went. And Valerie did the fixing to then make sure that the death was found two days later. I think it was a joint decision between Francis, Valerie and the hotel manager. Why was that decision made? It might have put the opening in jeopardy. It had to be sorted for Francis. It was bizarre to think that, you know, this body was going to be left in a hotel room overnight. You know, it’s a hell of a thing to decide not to report a dead body. Whether that was Bacon’s idea, you can’t be sure. You know? I mean, it looks like maybe that’s what happened, but it’s still a hell of a thing. I mean, that’s a crime. Once the Grand Palais retrospective had opened, the news began to sort of filter out, and of course it got round with all the speed of bad news. During the dinner, the whole room knew that George had committed suicide, but up until then nobody had heard. Francis himself was in the Grand Palais. I think, it was as though he wasn’t really there. He seemed totally abstracted. He was pale, but he went through with the dinner because he felt that it was better to go through with it than to cancel. So, the stories about Francis being told at the opening of his show and him being so brave and going ahead with the show, despite having been given this dramatic news, are absolute tosh. He knew that two days before. Someone may well have gone up to him and told him the story, but that was a bit of playacting. There was a picture that the French had bought, a big triptych, which actually has George sitting on a sort of beautifully painted creamy white toilet. And because the French state had just bought it, President Pompidou paused for a long time in front of that image. He had to stand there and talk about this image, knowing that George had recently died in exactly that position. IN FRENCH: And it was all… ..awful and sad. This tragic event… ..at the same time, gave him perhaps the deepest subject he was ever to have in his life. It seems a bit mad, painting portraits of dead people. After all, if their flesh has rotted away… ..once they’re dead, you have your memory of them, but… – ..you haven’t got
– them. He actually went back to Paris to absorb the memories, to relive the events. And actually stayed in the same hotel where George had killed himself. And from this sort of well of guilt and grief he dredged up these extraordinarily haunting images that are some of, I think, the most profound images in painting. When it came into the gallery… ..and I saw it for the first time… ..if Francis showed any emotion to the death, the emotion was in that painting. Everything that he felt about George was in those paintings. Maybe it was just about getting it out of his system. So, paint them, get them out the studio, and then maybe I’ll feel better. It got him recognition far beyond anything he’d ever had before. It was the turning point in sales and sort of international reputation. HE YELLS He was very much collected by very important film directors. And influenced, of course, in the actual films, Pasolini and Bertolucci. He was au courant, you know? And the power of his paintings fitted the period. And he’s a great inspiration. ‘When I made Theorem with Pasolini,’ one day, he just showed up with this book. And it was a book of Francis’s paintings. And he said, you know, “When you’re talking to the son, “you can kind of be flicking through this.” And I realised, “Oh, he knows about Francis.” It becomes self-perpetuating. Francis Bacon, who already at that time, late ’70s, was famous. I was right next door. And people would approach me to try and get a painting on the cheap without going through his gallery at Marlborough. Or to be painted by him. And I would fix little things for him, like a leaky pipe, electricity problem. Or I’d drive him somewhere. We sort of fairly quickly got over the homosexual vibes, if I put it that way. We got into that and I said, I just do not fancy men. BACON, IN FRENCH: Bacon became a quite lonely man. The ageing process is particularly hard on homosexuals. So, he was in a position of diminished physical beauty, as it were. I went a few times with Francis to the West End gay clubs. Sometimes John Edwards was there, sometimes not. John was like a son he never had. A friend. He really, really cared for John. John Edwards came into his life in a curious fashion. He ran, or helped to run, a pub in the East End. And Bacon had been there and said he’d come back with some friends. And asked John to stock in some champagne. And then Bacon didn’t turn up. John was mightily pissed off. And at some point, in The Colony Room, told him. And this amused Bacon. Within a short space of time, they became inseparable. They were… They were a team, like Laurel and Hardy. They belonged together. They just became a very unusual loving relationship. But no sex. The important thing about the Edwards relationship was that it was paternal, but it’s not always clear who is the father and who is the son. Oh, come in, John. I’m glad you came down. John, David is just asking me the most difficult question. The pictures of Edwards are often quite eroticised and quite gentle, you know. Yes, he has pieces of him that disappear, yes, he might be leaking, his form might be leaking onto the ground, but not with the kind of violence or brutality that you see in Bacon’s earlier paintings. I often think of the Tempest in Shakespeare, that there’s a sort of, almost an eerie calm in Bacon’s later work. There’s something rather beautiful and simplified. A new period, a third period of Bacon’s work, the late landscapes. Bacon only did about ten of them before he died, but that’s a discreet body of late work which is absolutely great, and some of his greatest work. He desperately wanted to be a great artist. He destroyed, right up to the end of his life, and by then every time he took a knife to a painting, he’d just thrown away £1 million, which is really admirable, I think. By 1982, he was very famous and he couldn’t just… crumple up the canvas and put it in the dustbin outside 7 Reece Mews, because people were constantly going through his dustbin, looking for Bacon scraps, OK? So he wanted them absolutely destroyed. So he would phone me up and I would go over right away and I would do it. And the only way to destroy them was with a Stanley knife, so you cut into it, cut strips. Cut all the strips and then put it in a rubbish bag and then they were taken over to the Chelsea dump. And if you gave the man a fiver, who ran the fire, he would take the bag right in front of your eyes and things would be burnt there, OK? And then I’d report back to Francis that I did this. – What did it feel like, to destroy?
– Terrible. It’s… Heart-wrenching, gutting, terrible to destroy a Francis Bacon painting. And some of them, I obviously looked at them, I thought, “Pretty good. “I would like to have one.” I didn’t, though. No. Stupid! IN FRENCH: What’s vultures in French? Francis trusted John. He would trust John with everything, from the early point. I remember John coming home and saying, “Francis told me where he keeps his money, where he keeps this, where he keeps that.” It’s quite understandable that the circle would look like this and say, “Who is he? What’s he want? “Is he trying to take advantage?” So, yes, there was definitely suspicion. I must have first met John Edwards with Francis, presumably in Muriel’s. He thought it was very funny to handcuff me to the bar. And he said he was going to place a bet. And I didn’t have any appointment or anything I was doing that day, it was a free day, so, I wasn’t worried. But it took him an hour and a half or a little more to place his bet, and so, he eventually did reappear, just when I was wondering what I would do if I was going to be there for the night. It was only one arm, so my drinking arm was free, and I was sitting drinking anyhow. The most important thing for Francis was that John had enough money to last his life. He changed his will. When you think of Francis and how complicated his life was, this will was one page long, just one page. And everything went to John Edwards if he succeeded Francis by three months. Francis always made John aware that he would inherit a lot of money. Well, Bacon said he thought about death every day of his life. And as he aged, it must have become more and more present to him, death, and as his friends died, others died… The death of Muriel… I think the fading of The Colony must have been difficult for Bacon. In the ’80s, Soho really had ended. It was pretty much running on fumes and I think that that had, you know, a very depressing influence on Bacon on top of everything else. You know, it’s – what is it? – 40 years on or something, and he would have been reminded greatly about the passing of time. Well, I’d seen Bacon around a lot, but I’d never spoken to him cos, I guess a kind of hero or something and I was quite young, but I used to see him in cafes in Soho. And if I’d been out late, I’d end up going early morning into a cafe, and sometimes he’d be having breakfast. So it was kind of odd to be in the same room as him and not speak to him but then, I just thought, what the hell would I say or whatever? In his last years, he looked very old and very tired and he must have felt very pained at that moment, you know, to see the world flashing before his eyes. John wasn’t always there for him. John was there to support him, but he wasn’t there 24/7. From day one, John had his partner, Philip. They’d been together five or six years before Francis came on the scene. And that was a no-go area. That was John’s life, Francis was totally aware of that. John Edwards was travelling a lot, he didn’t live in London, and again, I was living 20 metres away from him, so it deepened his trust in me. The opportunity came up to arrange a supper party at my place for Francis Bacon. So Frederick Ashton had already committed to come, who was the great choreographer of the time. I was left with an empty seat and I thought, “Who can I invite?” Jose Capelo was someone I used to see at first at the Royal Opera House. He was interested in art. And I phoned Jose and he leapt at the chance. And Ashton and Francis took an immediate liking to him. And Francis was rather famous, of course, for liking a certain amount of roughish trade. There was an element of relief with Jose, because Jose was firmly well-educated, professional middle class, and so was much easier to talk to. I think John would have been happy for Francis. There was no jealousy there between them. Nothing for John to worry about. John had all the keys to all the boxes. Francis Bacon and Jose Capelo shared a safety deposit box at Harrods. They both had keys. John wanted the key from Jose. Jose was very difficult to read, as far as what really drove him. And I never went further. He would clam up. They were travelling together. They would go to Venice, Madrid. Francis would come back with a big smile on his face. He was a happy man. He was in love and for Francis, that obviously meant sexually it was going well. Yes, in 1988, he’s inspired. He re-works, re-studies. It is not brutish any longer. It’s as if the monsters have been turned into silk, and they no longer are going to jump out of the frame and bite you. There is something distant. But that is kind of fascinating too, you know? I mean, to look at your earlier work, and your earlier juicy brutality, and then make it more designed, distant, behind glass – it’s another feeling. – HIRST:
– The Figure At The Base Of A Crucifixion, that’s just an unbelievable painting. I mean, I made a couple of pieces which were directly, you know, taken from Bacon paintings. Like I made a three-dimensional triptych. I saw these kind of terrifying social spaces that Bacon was painting. I remember thinking, “I wonder if I could actually make these spaces?” I got a phone call from the Saatchi Gallery and they said, “Bacon was in today and he was stood in front of your sculpture for an hour.” I was like, “An hour? No, can’t be an hour.” Around September 1990, we went up to Saatchi’s – the first time he saw Damien Hirst. He liked one piece of Damien Hirst and we came back and we were having drinks. After you’ve drunk a bottle of wine you come to things that really matter, and it’s not looking at Damien Hirst, it’s your love affair. Jose had framed it like “Francis, I want to stay your friend.” That means no more sexual relationship. And for Francis Bacon, he knew exactly what it meant, and he was devastated. So Francis, in his cups… ..told me about the relationship and those two years with Jose, and the fact that he’d given Jose four million US. and two of his paintings. I could read his pain, how gutted he was, his anguish. Well, I would say he slowly, slowly deteriorated from 1990, over the following two years, and I took him to one specialist after another and none of them could help him. He kept saying to me, “I’ve got to go to Madrid cos I want to see Jose”. IN FRENCH: Finally, Francis Bacon, one of the most highly acclaimed British painters this century has died. The painter Francis Bacon has died at the age of 82. He collapsed while on holiday in Spain. It’s thought he had a heart attack. He kept saying to me, “I’ve got to see Jose.” I said, “Francis, whatever you do, don’t go to Madrid, “because you’re not going to survive if you do.” I was really destroyed when I heard he had died. It was really very, very sad. But it was inevitable. He was reckless about his own life and other people’s lives, I think. What caused the heart attack? Was it… Did Jose and Francis have a huge row? And Francis had the heart attack and was whisked off to hospital. Francis was in a Catholic hospital being attended by Catholic nuns and Jose was not there. It’s despicable. I think that if Bacon is consistent, he has to be prepared to die at any time, to be taken advantage of at any time, for things not to work out at any time, and I think he was. He was a gambler. He understood that gamblers usually lose. The Study Of A Bull, the last painting Bacon completed, is mostly raw canvas. I don’t think that’s a question of it being unfinished in any sense. He said what he wanted to say in that top left corner of the painting. The bull seems to be shifting between two spaces. That seems like life and death. And the fact that he used dust as a medium, this is the dust to which he will return, as indeed he did in Madrid only a few months later. Whatever it is, 50 years, 75 years later, they seem even more important, more… monumental in their effect. He seems to have been perceived now almost as a kind of religious painter, as somebody who emanates out of sort of 16th-century Italian painting, because it has that degree of passion, martyrdom and torture, which is what’s so wonderful about Francis’s painting, to my mind. There’s a sort of sacred quality to them.