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Art and the counterculture of the fifties and sixties

Yesterday in our art course we studied the gay British artists Francis Bacon, Robert Colquhoun, Robert MacBryde and Keith Vaughan. Our teacher is proficient in putting art in context, she will often prepare a time line of dates of key events and is knowledgeable on philosophy too.

So we began with the counter culture of the fifties and sixties which produced in Britain such a fecund creativity in music in particular but all across the arts. It was characterised by sexual and gender liberation, a drug culture, protest, youth, but had a darker more fearful side in the Cold War possibly ending in nuclear destruction.

The class became interactive and we were all soon sharing memories of That was The Week That Was presented by David Frost when he was just 23.

I brought up food – avocados were a luxury – and drink, at the local supermarket the only wines you could purchase were Blue Nun and Lambrusco.

I recalled the £50 exchange control limit and the absence of any budget airlines. It was all very stimulating.

We then considered Francis Bacon in some depth.

Although a great lover of paint and colour – especially red – he was the ultimate dark painter fascinated by putrified flesh and grotesque images. Most people could not put up one of his pictures on their wall but they fetch massive prices and the top end of the art market is all about high finance.

For a billionaire to possess a Bacon is badge of wealth and it can be tucked away our of harm’s way in a tax-free vault in some freeport.

My own view of Bacon is that he was highly adept in promoting himself. He did not talk of his paintings but his racy life style. One lover he first met as he burgled his flat. He enjoyed a thrashing. He was a prodigious talker, mostly when drunk at the Colony Club in Soho where he was a founder member.

He also bought up and back his early works and totally controlled his output. Many artists are not just showmen but astute businessmen too.

He shared a studio with another gay painter Johnny Minton who has gone out of fashion and whose work can now be acquired cheaply.

Richard Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde known collectively as the Two Roberts were lovers, Scottish painters, gay and alcoholics.

Keith Vaughan was a complex character who had difficulty in coming to terms with his sexuality.

He worked in advertising and taught at Camberwell, the Slade and Central Art Schools. Bob Tickler told me that his friend that passed away was keen admirer and had several on his walls.

All in all it was a most informative session.

As I drove back home I thought what value this course was at £84 a term including three curated trips to museums.

About Alice Mansfield

A graduate of the Slade, Alice has painted and written about art all her life. With her children now having now grown up and departed the nest, she recently took up sculpture. More Posts