Peppiatt (Art Plural: Voices of Contemporary Art, 2014, etc.) delivers “the subjective story of two lives, focusing on the complex, volatile relationship that bound [Francis] Bacon and me together over…three decades.”
The author describes Bacon as the Dr. Caligari of art, painting portraits of twisted, distorted, disfigured, and discolored bodies. Their first meeting was in 1963, when Peppiatt interviewed the “subversive” artist. The author felt as if he were being sucked in, trapped, and out of his depth with this alcoholic, sadomasochistic homosexual. He was a willing victim who spent a large part of his life preserving Bacon’s rants. Life with the artist was a succession of fine meals at top-notch restaurants followed by stops at clubs of steadily decreasing social acceptance and ending with late meals at Annabel’s. Peppiatt succeeded in remembering Bacon’s words mostly because he repeated himself so often. Champagne was followed by wine and liquor of increasing strength, as well as plenty of gambling. The author describes Bacon as “very critical and unforgiving in his opinions of other people and above all their art; very supportive but also very destructive; very vain and arrogant yet surprisingly realistic and modest.” Though Peppiatt was never sexually attached, he was a Boswell-like sounding board and a link for introductions. The young author took to the free-wheeling 1960s, exploring in France, Tangier, and Spain, always returning to Bacon. It’s likely that his ties to Bacon and his connections to the stars of the art world helped him to a wonderful career in art history and publishing, but the author is fully candid and open in his beguiling portrait of this bad boy of the art world.
Initially, one fears this may be a crass exposé of the “queer” life of the artist, but Peppiatt shows a deft hand in crafting an enthralling, delightful story of two very different men.