Bacon (1909-1992) is known for being a self-taught “force” in modern figurative painting. His subjects often provoke unease in viewers for their gritty, fleshy looks at the human figure laid bare psychologically. Therefore, I was greatly intrigued when I learned that Bacon could be counted among those fine artists (like Raoul Dufy) who had early stints as designers during the Art Deco years.
I turned to Cullman Center scholar Mark Stevens, who is currently at work, with Annalyn Swan, on a definitive Bacon biography, to give me some insight into what effect those years might have had on Bacon.
PAB: Bacon spent most of 1927 in Paris, where he was exposed to the height of Art Deco artistic energy. When he returned to London, he started up as a furniture and rug designer. Do you think his experiences in Paris led to this development?
MS: Before Bacon went to Paris, he spent time in radical Berlin. There he would have seen the most advanced furniture and rug design, and he also came to know elegant and raffish people interested in whatever was new. In Paris, he discovered Picasso.
PAB: One of my reference books up at the Art Desk says that Bacon considered his furniture designs to be “extremely bad copies of Le Corbusier.” Other books, however, state that his furniture and rug designs were actually quite good.
MS: I wouldn’t call them either extremely bad or extremely good. Remember, he was barely twenty years old. He had no formal schooling in art or design. When considered in that light, his work is remarkably precocious. Historically, however, it just amounts to an interesting example of period design. His pieces have flair, but are not especially original.
PAB: Bacon himself called his designs unoriginal and heavily influenced by contemporary French design. However, doesn’t his work seem to reflect a variety of influences from the period, including English and German modern trends?
MS: I’m not an expert in the design of that period – yet! -- but, yes, he seems to draw upon a variety of sources. Creating a pastiche is what most young artists do.
PAB: Did his early work with interiors help him with his later paintings?
MS: In his paintings, Bacon often sets his figures in an abstract geometric space that may well recall his immersion in the edgy designs of the twenties and thirties. The furniture in some paintings is also reminiscent of his early designs.