Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Artists' Studios and Francis Bacon's Reece Mews Excavation

Artists in their studios.
(Photos by Joe Fig/specific photo credit)
Let's talk about studio spaces again. Specifically, let's talk about the studio spaces at left. I tend towards the chaos and plunder of the upper image.

Throughout college, although I had to be relatively neat because I shared studio space with other students, I pretty much wore my creative inclinations everywhere I went. There was no mistaking my academic major. My daily outfit consisted of a gray rag wool sweater (which, at one point, turned the sudsy water in my mother's washer a light brown because it was so dirty), some sort of T-shirt, jeans covered with acrylic smudges, and a pair of disintegrating, paint-covered construction boots sewn together with gleaming fishing wire in places where it had become necessary. Once, someone even stopped me in the dining hall to ask if I knew that I had paint all over my right ear lobe (not in my hair, but only because my hair at the time was buzzed short). Paint on the ear lobe likely happened because I used to keep the smaller paint brush I wasn't using--but might soon need--behind my ear like a pencil.

So, yes, throughout college, I was pretty much an ambulatory mess. But at the time, painting was such a part of my identity, I didn't care if I looked like a reprobate. To me, dressing like that meant that I could always sneak into the studio and work whenever I wanted. And because I had keys, I often did. I remember my junior and senior years of college being some of the happiest times of my life because my creativity was encouraged, especially by Sandy. (Sandy sometimes created in the studio while I was there, and often, after he made gestural paintings, he'd let the acrylic dry and then use the sink's vegetable sprayer to wash away the paint that had not congealed. This made haunting residual shapes, leaving the contour of puddled pigment. If you click on his name above, it will take you to a gallery of his paintings. "Approaching Storm," "The Gift", and "Center Holds," all pictured on the site, are paintings he started while I was still a student at Juniata. Each is dated to the late 90s and early 00s, so he likely worked on them more after I graduated in 1997. In fact, "The Gift" may have previously been called "Origin of the Milky Way", but I can't be 100% sure of that. I just remember associating the painting with the birth of star systems.)

Part of Francis Bacon's Reece Mews Studio.
Moved for display to Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin
c. 2005. (Photo credit)

Anyway, a few years ago, right around the time I moved to Pittsburgh...so, end of 2005, maybe...I reviewed a book for Library Journal that discussed the movement of Francis Bacon's Reece Mews studio into a Dublin Gallery, called Hugh Lane. It was a gargantuan task...more like an excavation, since the curators recovered some 2,000 examples of Bacon's detritus. I'm talking sand, cotton, wool, discarded pastel crayons, and dust. Based on the photographs, Bacon mixed colors directly on the wall, and used that as his palette. The curators also indicated that he apparently applied paint with the plastic lids of his paint tubes because they were encrusted with pigments and discarded in strange places. Moreover, the man held on to corduroy pants and cut them into pieces so that he could press them into his paint to pattern it. Now, this is my kind of painter, although I would eventually find the piles of paper, empty paint tubes, and landslide of junk creatively debilitating. There has to be some kind of order to the chaos. But then again, maybe there was an idiosyncratic kind of order for him. 

Francis Bacon in his Reece Mews studio.
Check out the door...it's covered with paint.
Was someone cleaning their brush or fooling around?
(photo credit)
Anyway, the curators at Hugh Lane put Bacon's studio back together just the way they found it, which had to be an incredible task for those mapping the location of detritus. I wonder how many notebooks were filled with graphed entries like: "yellow ochre paint tube, A-2.5." Ay!

In the picture of Bacon's studio above, look at the fantastic 1920s/30s mirror, whose silver is flaking away. I suspect it originally went to a waterfall-style vanity, with the gorgeous curved veneer so characteristic of that period. Around the mirror, Bacon cleaned his paint brushes. How do I know this is "cleaning" and not an attempt mixing paint? Based on the repetition of strokes, it looks like he was trying to modulate the liquidity on the brush, to get the brush the right consistency for the work he was doing. Just a guess...maybe he was actually just fooling around, painting around the mirror...a gesture that began with one color and something he simply continued in the moments he was trying to figure out what to do with the rest of what he was working on. Like taking a Twix break, you know?

The same can be said of his studio door. Look at this amazing business he's standing beside. It's a delicious kind of painted mess...like a big, functional Howard Hodgkin painting.

No comments:

Post a Comment