Nicola Tyson responds to the work of Francis Bacon, now on view at The Helly Nahmad Gallery, NY through June 18. Ms. Tyson will be reading from her collected letters at the Fredrich Petzel Gallery, NY, May 18.
I’m sick and tired of how often my work is compared to yours! OK, there was a stage in my student years when I got myself embroiled in an S&M relationship with your work. Well not quite...what I mean is, I was seduced into wanting to be a top to your bottom, or rather I wanted to top your painterly top, except that you weren’t really a top...except that all tops are really also bottoms, except I don’t want my bottom smacked so I must just be a top.
Anyway, I wanted to top patriarchy and that included homosexuals ‘cos they still had it better than women.
Is it OK if I call you Francis? Francis is such a sensitive sounding girlie name, whereas Bacon is of course too good to be true, considering all that meat in your work, all that raw meatyness etc, exposed light bulb, arena, dog. But you can laugh at yourself right? That’s what I like about you and your mates, bevying it up in a "concentration of camp"...your line (got to love it) down the Colony Club. Did you actually say that...or just the "you" in the movie about "you" some years ago? London drinking after-hours...ugh...back in the later, middle-bit of the last century (at least a decade before I was born, I might interject, and beginning to approach maximum intensity around the time I bobbing up and down to A Hard Da'ys
Night in my jim-jams). Ugh...people steadily eating themselves alive, eating their own livers (figuratively speaking) with half a dozen oysters, or merely a bag
of Salt and Vinegar crisps...except you...you should have donated your indestructible liver to science!
Anyway, enough of all that, back to painting 'cos that's what it's all for, all this pain - ART. Post-War Figuration to be precise with our terminology here, valiantly persisting in the face of abstraction, that Abstract Expressionism being perpetrated on us by our cousins in the New World. You stubbornly, anti-heroically persisting in representing the human condition as a side of bacon, nothing more. And for
that I commend you. Abstractionists. Bunch of sheep. Mutton. Such muttons! Plus no sense of humour, except maybe De Kooning with those "women" paintings, I guess...they couldn't be serious, right? Anyway, you could laugh in the face of death...the death of all your circle of intimates from cirrhosis etc., except the indestructible Isabel Rawsthorne, of course, whose liver should also have been donated to science. Bottoms Up! Yours especially, naughty boy!
Look Francis, what's up with those big old gold frames and all that glass? Too camp! Except nobody had a sense of humor back then and they didn't get it. How hilarious is that? Your such a last-laugh guy! You make me proud to be British! We didn't need a National Art Team, like every other country or capital city; you were enough! Sidekick Lucien Freud's early every-eyelash-every-leaf paintings were utterly faggotty by comparison...no wonder he had to ramp it up and start doing those hideously overwrought, over-labored, "straight" nudes, if you get what I
mean -- those mangled, naked bare light bulb, naked mattress, naked corpse paintings. God, I’m making it sound interesting! Plus the old fart is still alive.
I never could understand why the cool club people decided to model for him back in the nineties -- folks like Leigh Bowery. The Brits really get things round the wrong way- sometimes, arse-uppards, as we say, except strictly speaking Leigh wasn’t a Brit, but from Down Under...well, New Zealand, a little bit further down. Is it 'cos Lucien's a Freud? Like anyone goes to therapy in the U.K.?? Can’t be that.
Perversely Uncool Painting became cool again, and so British. I mean horrible redundant fucking claustrophobic painting. I remember a few years ago hearing that one of his paintings got accidentally shredded or something by UPS. All those millions of dollars, all that work, reduced to hamster bedding! Gotta Laugh! Nobody should take themselves that seriously. Right Francis? Right!
So anyway, you snuffed it and he no longer had to scrub and scrabble and fuss and scratch away at his canvases in the long shadow of your controlled accidents..."directly onto our nervous system," as you so famously explained. He, trying to achieve, with exhaustive and extended focus, what you knocked out with a hangover, before heading out to the public toilets again.
Well I wanted some of that nervous system stuff, as a student painter, but was also trying to be a feminist, a womanist, girlist...an ist, an ism, an Istism, somewhat impossible task, as Theory would have had me believe...being just a hole in Theory or Language or something -- I’ve tried to blank it out. But I plugged on, thinking I could discover and define what my nervous system was -- as separate from the Official Line on that, up to that point, ie. as defined by you and every other man. 'Cos gay men can't be trusted in this department either, liking to dress up and "express themselves" as "women," like they like to do, which is missing the point in my opinion. Know what I mean? No, I thought not. Call me a bore, but I was over drag queens last century. After the initial excitement of fleeing the nest and being involved in fringe aspects of society that would horrify my mother, I secretly decided that drag was the enemy also. God, I’m such a bore!! Listen to me! Such a Fishist! I should be flattered, right, that gay men have to colonize me in order to express themselves...maybe they invented "me" in the first place? Confused?
Back to the splendidly named Isabel Rawsthorne -- especially the "raw" and the "thorn" and even the "bell." "Is a bell necessary on a raw thorn?" Isn’t that alone
enough to shout into the bleak Existential Void, after putting down your glass of Cristal, to make it go away?! Ha HA HA, don’t...I’m going to choke!
World Class Muse and painter...she of the eyebrows and permanently surprised expression (if I may use that word for a third time, "expression" that is, without groans from some members of the audience), her stunning looks that, by accounts de jour, caused prewar Parisian restaurants to fall silent in awe as she was led to her table. Isabel was immortalized in a zillion sculptures by Giacometti, Picasso of course, Derain, you, famously and sundry others, no doubt, such was her reach...and that was just "visual artists," as we are called. What about all those writers, to whom she was indispensable company, Bataille for instance, and journalists, political activists and musicians, three of which she married and outdrank and outlived. The excellently girlie-named composer Constant Lambert, to name but one, for whose ballets she designed extraordinary sets.
Indispensable to you, Isabel drank herself to the finish line just three months before you did, after spending her final years painting away in her increasingly catpiss-smelling thatched cottage in Essex. I found some of her paintings on the web. They're good, no?
So where's the book on her, I wonder, as both her Form and her Content seem to have been somewhat important to a great many great men, plus she was a great artist. I guess some are born into oblivion, some achieve oblivion and some have oblivion thrust upon them!
Well bugger me if it isn’t cocktail hour!
Catch up with you later…
Nicola - Bradley Rubenstein
Mr. Rubenstein is a painter, story teller, and smart culture aficionado.