Camden Arts Centre, Arkwright Road, London NW3 6DG

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The Artist Interview:
A review of ‘Francis Bacon Opera’ by Stephen Crowe.
Mythologies are a tricky game to play when representing the ideology of ‘the artist interview’ - the difficult and exotic dialogue between interviewer and interviewee. Stephen Crowe’s ‘Francis Bacon Opera’ attempts to conduct this investigation by taking the artist interview one-step further; reflecting on the 1986 ‘South Bank Show’ interview between Melvyn Bragg and the artist Francis Bacon. The original interview, very much alive and well, viewed online, has become an emotive eponymous representation of Bragg and Bacon’s intimate tête-à-tête. The fear of over representation sidling alongside the desperate teasing out of nuances as the artist tries to explain why he not only practices, but why he dares to do what he does best.
Pivoting on the luxury of closeness established as Bragg and Bacon meander the storeroom of the Tate, bars, restaurants and Bacon’s own artist studio. Bacon relishes in this moment of personal erudite glory, expanding and collapsing the viewers and Bragg’s pre-determined thoughts of Bacon’s relationship to the canvas and himself; ‘the layout I think is rather good, but it’s just the rest of it I don’t like it at all, wish I’d just burnt it…’
The opera unpacks at its core the mise en scène of the relationship, questioning how best to conduct an artist interview and toying with the happenstance of the situation, the preconditions, the hindsight and the challenge itself.
Whilst the ‘South Bank Show’ stuns with its montage effects and visuals, ‘Francis Bacon Opera’ strips down the connection to its purest of effects, words and physical expressions. The truth of the opera is that its timely bathos is even more accessible. The script is an almost exact copy of the original discussion: Crowe enabling the audience to glide from scene to scene as per the drawn out boozy love affair. The dual is one of mutual courtship, ‘Francis Bacon Opera’ is a lesson in the inability to get to the bottom of the matter, something which any artist interview cherishes and boasts as both theoretical goal and mythological beast un-tamed.
The dim hole of the blank mouth stretching lifeless across the canvas is something Bacon recognises as an on-going challenge, the unruly attitude of the artist who will not be cornered or prescribed. Bacon acts as both bull and toreador to Bragg’s red flag. Crowe seems all too aware of this, the subtle sledge hammer that exudes from Bacon’s labyrinthine flirtation with the truth. ‘I’m much more pleased when they really dislike them…’ eye-watering moments of near-clarity and reflection as Bacon is time and time again faced with his own creations, remorsefully toying with Bragg. The words flow as much as the vino but only by creating more questions.
It is this awakening which reminds the viewer of the tempestuous inability of the interviewer, the opera does more to continue the discussion from the original recording, Bragg is no longer plinthed as the victim to the absurdist conflation of Bacon’s answers and non-answers deforming and reforming. This memory to the events of 1986 expresses the foreboding dramaturgic effect to emphasis the remarkable and unusual connection made between both men. If Bragg had wanted to find his Bacon then this opera continues that search as unyieldingly satirical, the finality of ‘I’m just a painter’ - the answer to nothing.
Sophie Risner
‘Francis Bacon Opera’ will be performing at the Edinburgh festival between 19 - 27 of August, 2012
C Too, Venue 4
St. Columba’s
By The Castle
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