Turning A Corner in the 1930s
Francis Bacon had a studio showroom in South Kensington that was reproduced in a 1930 issue of The Studio. He was one of three designers profiled for “The 1930 Look in British Decoration,” and his interior is sparsely geometric and modern, not the lavish French Art Deco style, but much more Breuerv and Bauhaus. I asked Mark Stevens for some clarification about the motives behind Bacon’s visual leanings.
PAB: Does it make sense to you that he artistically gravitated toward the more austere modernistic aspect of the period?
MS: I think his desire was to find what was most radical or “advanced” in the period. A pared-down style probably seemed more challenging than more lush style did. Pared-down furniture was also probably easier – and less expensive – to make.
PAB: What about those white rubber curtains?
MS: Texture and touch was important to him from the first. Later, he would become a master of the flesh, with a truly tactile sense of the body. He often wore a leather jacket.
PAB: Certainly the early 1930s were a time of economic struggle in Britain, and by 1932-3, Bacon was moving away from design and into painting. Do you think that once he became acclaimed as a painter, he found his old work in the decorative arts to be an embarrassment?
MS: English society was not particularly interested in advanced continental design, and Bacon’s business was probably not very successful. Most of his customers were friends. For example, the Australian novelist Patrick White bought a desk. But I think Bacon, in his twenties, simply became more and more interested in painting as he grew older. He was already painting as a teenager in the late 1920s.
PAB: In interview after interview when he was older, Bacon consistently belittled his youthful experience as a designer. Why did he do this?
MS: Many artists like to imagine that they spring fully-formed into the world. They do not enjoy acknowledging that they were ever confused or uncertain.
PAB: The 1920s was the age when modernity shone with such new promise. Do you think this affected Bacon, even though his time as a designer was short?
MS: I doubt Bacon was ever very optimistic about the promise of modernity or that he took seriously the utopian aspirations of modernist design. But he remained interested until the end of his life in creating an environment that represents more than just a fashionable interior and, instead, embodies a powerful worldview. Today he is celebrated for establishing what may be the most chaotic and messy space ever inhabited by a sane artist. In fact, after his death, the artist’s studio – litter and all -- was placed on public view in Dublin. I’m sure that Bacon, who had an appealing sense of humor, occasionally smiled at the contrast between his mature working space and the clean, honed clarity of his youth.