Very few gallerists know the work of the artists from the so-called School of London as well as Pilar Ordovas, which is probably one of the reasons why she is so unique and successful in the international art scene.
This group of artists, among them Francis Bacon (1909-1992), shared a preoccupation with figurative painting and kept it alive at a time when abstract and conceptual art were increasingly dominant. Around the same time in the 20th century, Andy Warhol (1928-1987) was revolutionising – and scandalising – the establishment as leader of the Pop Art movement, which exposed the banality of the commercial culture of the United States and propelled artists to celebrity status.
Apart from both figures being central to defining the art of their own generation, one could initially struggle to find any other common ground but in this exhibition, Pilar Ordovas shows us there were many interests that they shared, such as the use of colour, love of photography and serialisation of images.
At the core of the exhibition are seven paintings; four by Bacon and three by Warhol, the majority of which have rarely, if ever, been shown in London. These include the four panels of Self-Portrait, the first seminal self- portrait by Andy Warhol, executed between 1963 and 1964. This artwork is fundamental in his career as it was the first he produced after he started to experiment with images taken in photobooths. It has since featured as the cover image of the catalogues for the major Warhol retrospective held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Pompidou Centre, Paris, in 1989-90, and is on public view in London for the first time in over 30 years having last been shown when that retrospective travelled to the Hayward Gallery.
Andy Warhol’s seminal Self-Portrait, 1963-1964 (*), executed on acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, from a picture part of a photobooth strip.
Francis Bacon’s Four Studies for a Self-Portrait, 1967, is also based on a four-part photograph taken in a photobooth. Shown at the artist’s legendary retrospective at the Grand Palais, Paris, which opened in October 1971, and which then travelled to the Kunsthalle in Düsseldorf and the Galleria del Milione in Milan, it has only been seen once in public in the last 50 years. Another work shown at the same retrospective and based on a series of photographic portraits is the triptych Three Studies for Portrait of George Dyer (on light ground), 1964.
Although Bacon and Warhlol belonged to different art movements, they were well aware of each other’s work and both went against the dominating trend of Abstract Expresionism that had established its hegemony since the 1950s. They finally met in 1974, introduced by David Hockney, who was being thrown a party by Claude Bernard. They would meet again in New York a year later, at a luncheon organised by the socialite Lee Radziwill. Bacon had travelled there for the inauguration of his retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. At the opening, Warhol remarked upon Bacon’s radical and bold use of colour which he confessed to copying in his own portraits. On the same trip Bacon visited the Factory, Warhol’s studio, and also had his portrait taken by the American artist on his Polaroid camera. In later interviews with the art critic David Sylvester, Bacon stated his admiration for Warhol’s revolutionary serialisation of works which he found made those objects intrinsically interesting.
Left, Four Studies for a Self-Portrait, 1967 (**). Oil on canvas. Right, the painting is shown at the current Endless Variations exhibition, Ordovas Gallery.
The artists’ use of colour is also explored through Bacon’s Portrait of Henrietta Moraes, 1969, which hasn’t been seen in London for almost 30 years, and Warhol’s Five Deaths on Turquoise, 1963, a painting from the artist’s Death and Disaster series, which has never previously been shown in the UK. This theme extends to Study for Portrait of John Edwards, circa 1984, which depicts Bacon’s companion and muse on a bubblegum pink background. this painting remained in the artist’s possession until his death and has never previously been exhibited in London. The portrait explores themes of movement alongside Warhol’s Merce Cunningham, 1963 – a rarely seen work which is on view in London for the first time at Endless Variations.
Bacon and Warhol’s love of photography was also shared with Peter Beard (1938-2020), the genius American artist and wildlife photographer, with whom both had a close friendship. Bacon painted nine major portraits of Beard and used his photographs as inspiration for other works, while Warhol collaborated with Beard during the 1970s and 1980s and had a neighbouring oceanfront house in Montauk. In a way, given how close they both were to Beard, it is almost a miracle that Bacon and Warhol did not meet more often. Endless Variations includes two related works by Peter Beard (1938-2020); Andy Warhol on his Birthday, Montauk Point, Long Island, 1972/2004, and Andy Warhol on his Birthday, 1975/2005.
Photo strips of Francis Bacon, George Dyer and David Plante, Aix-en-Provence, 1966. Circa 1966-67 (***).
At this exhibition, we can also admire rarely-seen paintings, photographs and archive material related to both artists, including a range of archival and contextual materials, among which we find previously unseen photographs of Francis Bacon and George Dyer at Roland Gardens in 1967 taken by John Deakin (1912- 1972), and photo strips of Francis Bacon, George Dyer and David Plante taken in Aix-en-Provence in 1966 and subsequently mounted by Bacon onto the back cover of a book which was last shown at the artist’s retrospective in 2008-09 at Tate Britain, the Prado Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The show is accompanied by an illustrated catalogue with an essay written by Martin Harrison, a leading authority on the work of Francis Bacon and editor of the Francis Bacon catalogue raisonné.
Until 15th December 2023
25 Savile Row
London W1S 2ER
Gallery hours: Tue-Fri: 10:00-18:00; Sat: 11:00-15:00.
More information HERE.
Words: Julia Pasarón
(*) © 2023 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Licensed by DACS/Artimage, London.
(**) © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved, DACS/Artimage 2023. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd.
(***) Photo courtesy of The Estate of Francis Bacon.