Yes, I know what day it is today. And so I planned, well…something lovely. Civility, humour, tradition, class, art, intellectual chat, genuine laughter, those funny things I value. A gallery show of Francis Bacon and tea at Dandelyon on the SouthBank (Mondrian Sea Containers) and talk, talk, talk, talk, talk with Samuel, a man who loves and appreciates beauty. And Francis Bacon. A man of passion and style, if ever there was. Ok, Mr. Bacon didn’t join us. He died in 1992. And he was super famous and would have taken tea at Claridge’s. Here are my two stories about Francis Bacon paintings.
The Hague 2001, overdue with my second child, Joseph, bored of waiting, I take myself off to the Gemeentemuseum for the Francis Bacon exhibition. Raw, violent, mesmerizing yes, but something felt off. People are staring. And then the guard approaches and says, “people feel uncomfortable that a woman so pregnant is looking at these pictures. Don’t you think it might upset the baby?” The Dutch are never shy about expressing their opinion on the behavior of others, but this seemed beyond the pale. Shocked, I state the obvious “The baby….in the womb…he can’t see,” and then leave. For the record, Joseph doesn’t make his appearance for many more days, and remains, 16 years later, as unflappable as he was in utero.
London 2008, my friend Carol’s 12 year old daughter has recently been diagnosed with cancer. It is a terrible time. Clare and I take Carol out one day, away from the hospital. The Francis Bacon exhibition at the Tate Modern. “Oh no,” says Clare, just before we go in, “I don’t think we should do this. I think we should go see some Monet gardens…” but it is too late. We are there. Before Bacon’s enormous canvases of grotesque and rage and grief and love. Carol stands and looks. For a long long time. “I completely get these. I understand how he feels,” she says. Chilling and heartbreaking. Such is the power of art. Stephanie, by the way, just celebrated her 21st birthday at Disney World. The power of medicine.
And this is the power of Francis Bacon. THE superstar of the 1980s. A man once described as raising the temperature of a room by walking into it. He was charming, could speak at length on any subject, a consummate host and seemed to always pick up the tab. He also had a very dark side. An angry alcoholic who liked men who “thrashed him within an inch of his life” men with demons like his own. Men who took their own lives, by hand or by bottle. Men who would give a punch before a kiss and keep punching. And it was this dark side, these demons, that he painted. Screaming popes in electric chairs, writhing figures in a pleasure/pain twist, his lover George Dyer in the throes of suicide. These are not images that are easy on the eye. Or the mind. Or the heart. But they move you. They haunt you. They make you feel and think. And they stay with you.
But, what, I hear you asking, does this have to do with Inauguration Day? Because it is a time to hold fast to what we love, what we value. And good art is something I value. So is humour. So I started the day by going to gym in the tackiest t-shirt I could find (thank you Miami Beach). Because we all need a laugh. Got a lot of laughs. Then on to Mayfair, Marlborough Gallery, and a series of Bacon lithographs. Wow. We couldn’t decide which one we wanted most. If only….
Next stop, tea. A cocktail tea. On the Southbank. In the beautiful Dandelyon in the Mondrian, Sea Containers. And we talked about art and religion. A lot about religion. Because it is a subject that, more than most, requires passion. And we have plenty. The afternoon slipped by. We talked and laughed and laughed and talked. And talked and talked. It is something we all need to do more of. Phones down, eyes up, hearts open. Love. Because, like Bacon’s paintings, these connections stay. On the mind. On the soul. Hold on to them. Tightly. Forever.