Richard Warren

20thc British art and poetry (mainly), plus bits of my own – "Clearly I tap to you clearly along the plumbing of the world" (W S Graham)

Two Francises

Talk of Francis Bacon (previous post) brings to mind an odd experience at the Tate Britain Bacon mega-show in 2009. One gets used to the way that staring at a Bacon starts to re-shape your reality; in particular, there are structural features of the Tate gents’ and basement café that, on an after-viewing visit, plunge you right back into Bacon-world. Well, they do me, anyway. But on this occasion, after prolonged exposure to multiple images, I found myself subject to the strong, hallucinatory conviction that all these paintings had been done by Frankie Howerd.

Which kind of makes sense. I wrote some verses about it:

Francis

Francis Bacon at Tate Britain

Our mass of meat packs out the room,
the air is rank with sexual doom,
the curtain turns a streaky sort of black.
We turn to see our own condition
glassed on canvas in reflection,
gurning at a pope who’s gawping back.

Francis

Light pulls draped in pinkish spasm,
profiles raked in ectoplasm,
alter our perceptions in their making:
handrails round the gents’ urinal,
café figures hunched and spinal –
these conspire to recreate a Bacon.

But Frankie B’s conglomerates
put me in mind of Frankie H,
a similar iconic sad old sot.
Figures in a crucifixion,
mangled spam, spilt in depiction –
Missus, no! It’s Francis. Titter ye not!

Titter ye not, indeed. Did John Deakin ever photograph Howerd? I think not, but he ought to have done. The closest I’ve found is a great photo by John Claridge, above, in which many of the tonal shapes within the facial landscape uncannily echo those in Bacon’s self portrait. More “confirmation bias”!

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