I picked this book up a few days ago not thinking it would hold much of interest as I have read a lot on Bacon and other artists of that time and I have not painted for a few years now but I tore through it in three days and I would highly recommend it for artists and those interested in art, especially painting. It reminded me of the years when I was struggling to paint, to find out why I was painting, what painting was and how to do it. In those years I read David Sylvester’s interviews with Francis Bacon who, perhaps because he was self-taught, is very easy to understand. Only in reading Gayford’s book do I realise how Bacon’s insistence on working to a standard became central to my own practice. Finding that knife edge between paralyzing self-criticism and constructive critique is a continuous but crucial struggle, a struggle that is sometimes dodged these days by aspiring artists in our culture of positivity, of ‘everyone is an artist’, of ‘it is what it is’. Failure is surely part of the artistic process but that shouldn’t stop us from striving to be as good as we can.
Bacon’s work has come to seem a little musty to me, airless as if he painted himself into a corner at the end but then again the airlessness was part of the point and he is unique and I believe both accessible and important to the non-artist. I still love his work. Freud’s work?Not so much and Hockney? Though I have never understood his enduring popularity, Gayford’s book makes me want to read more about him.
What I also like about this book is that though its pages are dominated by male artists, as was the case in reality, Gayford has made an obvious effort to include female artists too, some of whom I have not heard of, including one Pauline Boty who died at the age of 28. Gillian Ayres who only became feted late in life is here too as is Bridget Riley. While I find revisionist history, in being eager to include women, can sometimes elevate artists who might not have deserved a place in the canon (Mainie Jellett!), in this case the artists deserve to be brought to public consciousness.
This is a fantastic overview of important decades both in painting and in London life and I would well recommend it.
Modernists & Mavericks ~ Bacon, Freud, Hockney and the London Painters by Martin Gayford, London: Thames & Hudson, 2019.