Sunday, 5 August 2007

The Francis Bacon Studio, The Hugh Lane, Dublin

After Bacon's death in 1992, his heir, John Edwards, wanted to donate his studio and papers to a gallery where it the studio might be re-housed and studied. Edwards approached the Tate, who apparently dithered for several years. Edwards turned around and offered it to the Hugh Lane. They did not dither. The studio was dismantled and rebuilt in Dublin with forensic precision, every item catalogued and meticulously photographed. The result is a huge digital archive of everything, books and pictures, thousands of objects that have made their way into his work in one way or another. Being an Irishman, it is very appropriate that the Studio return to the city of his birth. And going to a gallery that houses a collection bequeathed by Sir Hugh Lane that itself had some trouble finding a home seems oddly poignant and appropriate. Dublin did not make the same mistake twice, it would seem.

The Studio, at number 7 Reese Mews in South Kensington, was not just his studio but also where he lived. Perry Ogden was asked to photograph the studio before it was to be moved to Dublin. These are now on display and comprise shots not just of the studio but also of his kitchen and his bedroom and living space. I found these images very affecting I must say. There was a stunning simplicity about the space, and just a few photographs dotted around of those most important to him. There were many photographs too of his own work, and it is clear that in his living space he meditated often on his own iconic work. In his later years he became very wealthy and owned various other properties, but this was where he lived and worked for thirty years. And despite the money to complicate his life with beautiful objects and posh fixtures, he has a tiny studio with his bath in the kitchen and his bed in his living room.

There is something extremely interesting about seeing an artist's workspace. Over the past few months The Guardian have been doing a Writer's Room series in which a writer will talk a little bit about their own workspace. Bacon does refer to the mess he works in and how important that mess is. The studio has been rebuilt so that you take one step inside it, with a perspex glass door keeping you out. A couple of other peep-holes allow views of other parts of the studio. It is disconcerting too to watch the empty studio, with ripped canvases and torn bits of paper all over the floor. Like seeing a room full of potential creativity rather than seeing something Bacon meant us to see.

There are several paintings on display, a highlight being the work you can see in the photograph above, a figure that appears to be Bacon himself. It is a typical work but clearly quite unfinished. And that was one of the most moving points of the Bacon Studio. He was still working, and had more work to do.

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