Thursday, 21 January 2016

"Francis Bacon in Your Blood" by Michael Peppiatt

Michael Peppiatt has to be one of the luckiest men alive. Perhaps he was born with a horse shoe in his fist or was delivered bare arsed into a field filled with four leaf clovers?

In 1963, his penultimate year at Cambridge, Peppiatt devised an idea that would lead to a meeting that would forever define his life. He embarked upon a venture that meant him taking over an existing student magazine, the Cambridge Opinion, turning its flagging fortunes around by being its editor.

Originally the publication had focused on either scientific or political matters but Peppiatt was determined to extend its scope by including the modern art of Britain. He had only one problem. He had little knowledge of the subject as he had been studying art history. Knowing about Renaissance art, even with a passionate desire to be bold and fresh, left him scratching his head where to start. A friend of his, with one or two contacts in the London art world suggested he should first start with Francis Bacon.
The only Francis Bacon that Michael Peppiatt knew of was the long dead Elizabethan philosopher. His friend corrected his notion, informing him of the modernist artists importance, and then gave him a name - John Deakin.

Into a pub called the French House in the heart of Soho, London Peppiatt walked having been told that photographer Deakin would be there. Much to Peppiatt's amazement half of London's art scene where there including Bacon and Lucian Freud. Bacon saw Peppiatt, smiled, then invited him over with a wave of the hand. It was 1963 as the door to his future suddenly blew open.

From this point on the author, through notes and diary entries made at the time, takes us on what in reality are his memories of knowing, dinning with, drinking with and being in the company of Francis Bacon. Although this is a memoir about two thirds of the book features Bacon. Not that that is such a bad thing. Bacon was an eccentric in the true meaning of the word. His pronouncements often as funny as they could be spiteful. According to the author Bacon was a man of multiple personalities. A paradox and enigma. Incredibly kind whilst being unbelievably unpleasant. Generous with money, mean with words. Through Bacon Peppiatt met many of the so called elite of that society including Sonia Orwell, Cyril Connelly and even discovered Bacon was friends with 'Bill' Burroughs.

Peppiatt sees his relationship with Bacon as being that of father and son although freely admits Bacon, being homosexual, more than likely was sexually attracted to the young man a feeling not shared by the female loving author. It was a relationship that lasted from they day they met to the day Bacon died.

Peppiatt presents his memoirs in as honest a way as possible; brutally so at times. He doesn't paint a loving portrayal of either his experiences with Bacon, some of them were horrid, cruel even, or treat himself generously. He doesn't coat the pill but tells it as it was.

His life in France, his running of Art International was hugely entertaining as was his bizarre interview with Lucian Freud of whom I wish there had been more. The parts that heavily feature Francis Bacon provide the greatest reading of all. The artist, surely one of the greatest of the twentieth or any century, was such a large character. Far bigger than his physical presence. He cast a massive impression whenever in company even if his dialogue was repetitive. It was as though he had lines prepared for given situations which he then regurgitated.

The authors descriptive, unflinching prose is a delight to read. There is no question of his talent as a writer. He writes with a precise grace that retains his emotions yet remains elegant.

I would have liked to either have had more of Bacon or, preferably more of Peppiatt. At times this book has the feeling of being an addition to  the authors acclaimed biography of the artist rather than a memoir. I have no problem with that. Bacon had a great influence on Peppiatt. That I understand but the author's life itself perhaps should have featured more. As a man noted positively for his insightful art critiques it is a great pity more text wasn't used relating the who's and who not's he had interviewed or reviewed. Still a very good read.

Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.

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A Utility Fish Shed Blog