Bacon’s reaction on being asked by Daniel Farson whether he was happy to have won a place on the Olympus of art was one of sincere indifference. He cared nothing for the tinsel of fame, still less for posterity, and often remarked that we are nothing at all once we are dead. He did not believe in God, morality or love but described himself nevertheless as an optimist. An optimist of nothingness living on the feelings of the moment. Life is so senseless that you may as well make something extraordinary of it. This Nietzschean paradox also guides an approach to painting marked by the ability to take advantage of the creative accident, as when he threw paint at random onto the canvas to see what would come out of it.
Like a tightrope walker poised between abstraction and figuration, Bacon combined intentional fortuity with the calculation of a gambler. He went against the tide of artistic fashion, which embraced abstract art in that period. He sought to paint the tragic beauty of life, and if he distorted the human figure it was only in order to extract a greater and more violent truth.
A similar intent seems to animate this book, vivid personal recollection rather than official biography, which unearths material collected firsthand during a friendship that began in a club in Soho in 1951 and lasted over forty years.
Farson’s is a stark, unvarnished portrait of an artist of extremes, capable of great love and fierce hatred, immense magnanimity and pitiless slander. Between a bottle of champagne and a caustic comment, we follow his madcap forays between the gutter and the Ritz, which always ended up in Soho, the bohemian quarter of London, the second home – if not the first – of writers and artists who drowned their talent in alcohol. Bacon’s descent into the homosexual underworld was paralleled by his irresistible artistic ascent. The works marked by the explosion of a raging sexuality were to go down in history as masterpieces, but whenever he was asked what he did, he would say that he was just an old queer.