By the time he died in 1992, Francis Bacon was generally acknowledged as the most important British painter of his generation, and was certainly one of the few in this century to establish an international reputation. Although his friend Daniel Farson touches on Bacon’s unhappy childhood in Ireland, THE GILDED GUTTER LIFE is essentially a personal memoir. Farson and Bacon met in 1951 in Soho, a Bohemian section of London where the worlds of art, fashion, indulgence, and petty crime converge. Bacon already had a small following as a painter and was well known as a talker, drinker, and brawler who made no secret of his involvement in London’s gay underworld. Farson clearly remains in awe of Bacon, but recounts many stories of the painter’s spectacular abusiveness under the influence of champagne, a veritable river of which seems to flow through his memoir.
Farson is art correspondent for the MAIL ON SUNDAY, and while he does not dwell at length on Bacon’s paintings, his comments are acute and to the point. Bacon was almost exclusively a figure painter, and despite the terrible distortions he introduced into his portraits, his subjects are immediately recognizable to those who knew them. According to Farson, Bacon claimed to rely on the chance brushstroke to pull a painting together—although in this context readers should remember that chance favors the bold. On a more mundane level, Bacon liked to wipe his hand across the floor of his studio—filthy to the point of legend—and apply the grime directly to his painted canvas in order to get the right effect. If one is looking for metaphors to describe this nervy painter, these two will do as well as any.