Art house - Life and Style - The Independent

Art house

The late Francis Bacon's South Kensington studio may suggest a life spinning wildly out of control, but, writes Beryl Bainbridge, nothing could be further from the truth. Photographs by Perry Ogden

In 1958, the painter Francis Bacon rented 7 Reece Mews, South Kensington, a converted space once used for the stabling of horses, conveniently close to both the tube station and the Victoria and Albert Museum. As his reputation grew and the prices paid for his paintings rocketed, he enthusiastically bought houses both in England and France, but never stayed in them for long. Invariably he gave them away and returned to the studio home he was to inhabit for the last 30 years of his life.

Few people were encouraged to call uninvited; a knocking upon the narrow entrance door, unless from the fist of a lover, brought a face to the window, lips furiously mouthing he wasn't at home. He painted from dawn until midday. Immensely sociable, he spent afternoons and far into the night frequenting pubs, restaurants and clubs. Out of working hours he dressed immaculately, ate well, spoke eloquently, descended into drunkenness and often engaged in violent sexual activity. His drinking accelerated rather than stalled his genius, his energy unimpaired.

His studio and living quarters were situated above an empty garage - he never owned a car - reached by a staircase so steep as to necessitate a rope handrail. God knows how many times, returning in the small hours, three sheets to the wind from his Soho wanderings, he fell up or down them. Once safely aloft, a landing led to a kitchen with a bath in it. To the left, the bedroom-cum-living room; no lamp shades or decorative rugs, no ornaments, just a single bed with a pink cover, an electric fan, a shattered looking glass, and a shelf of books, among them translations of the plays of Aeschylus and the poems of TS Eliot, a choice of reading erroneously taken by some to underline the tragic nature of the painter's own life. Bacon's studio, the pumping heart of the place, was on the right, and it was here that the supposed contradictions inherent in the occupant became blazingly apparent. The floor was heaped with an accumulation of newspaper cuttings, empty pots of pigment, bottles, paint-stained clothing, discarded brushes, torn postcards. It was not so much a carpet of mess as a volcanic eruption which had vomited outwards, spattering the walls and door with the pink and blue imprint of flowers. And everywhere, pinned up or trampled underfoot, photographs. A madman might have lived in this room, a tormented lunatic, submerged beneath the lumber of a life spinning out of control. But in fact, the reverse was the case. This clutter was merely the discarded debris from which Bacon crafted his superbly disciplined paintings.

Language has to be wrestled with in order to describe places, characters and emotions. The same can be said of painting with its reliance on colour and form. Photography, on the other hand, presents no such dilemma; it is mistakenly considered an inferior art, in that all the camera is capable of achieving is the fixing of an objective and external reality.

In 1931, when Bacon was 22 years old, Amedee Ozenfant's Foundations of Modern Art was translated into English. The text of the book was illustrated with photographs of disparate images. Already influenced by medical photography, Bacon was profoundly excited by such surreal juxtapositions. Later, he came across the photographic experiments of Edward Muybridge, whose black- and-white studies of wrestlers inspired the canvas entitled "Two Figures". Even a layman, no pun intended, while recognising in those lumps of pink flesh, one humped above the other, the superiority of paint over film, cannot fail to be conscious of the debt owed to the original image.

Memories escape if there are no walls to keep them trapped. In Bacon's case, it won't matter if Reece Mews is torn down - we have his paintings in museums and the detritus of his working life captured by the camera of Perry Ogden.

This extract is from the summer issue of `nest', an interiors magazine, pounds 7.95. Available from Mission (0171-792 4633) and Zwemmer (0171-379 7886). For subscription details call 0800 0130 011 and when operator answers dial 877 532 1277.

Suggested Topics
News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

    £35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

    Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

    £26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

    Retail Business Analyst

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

    Senior C++ Developer

    £400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week