CLARE SHENSTONE (born 1948)
Francis Bacon 'Piggy' no 13 (England, c.1989)
Oil and beeswax on linen
Michael Parkin Gallery, London, Clare Shenstone- Portraits of Francis Bacon, September 1998
Lynton, Clare Shenstone Portraits of Francis Bacon, Michael Parkin Gallery, 1998
Description / Expertise
Clare Shenstone’s three dimensional cloth head Janet that she exhibited for her degree show at the Royal College of Art in 1979 caught the attention of Francis Bacon as he browsed the students' work. Bacon purchased Janet and a few months later Shenstone borrowed Janet back for her first solo show at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, London. When she returned the work to Francis, he asked her if she would like to paint his portrait, and over the course of the next three years Clare Shenstone visited Francis in his Reece Mews studio and completed over fifty portraits.
As Clare Lynton explains: Shenstone stalks her subjects relentlessly through her work, trying to know them completely, their inner and outer histories and being, using all sorts of visual means to hold them and continuing her investigation as long as possible- in some instances for decades, even after the sitter has died. Sketches, more finished drawings, oil paintings; to the usual range she adds her own invention of relief heads, made with remarkable skill to extraordinarily convincing effect- to picture the individual in yet another aspect but also to enlarge, she says, the possibilities of image-making. Janet had been her first attempt at what she calls her ‘cloth heads’. She was fascinated by the Turin Shroud, the way it contains and half reveals a presence, and the urge in her was not so much to make a portrait- in this instance, of a family friend- as to see whether she could take cloth and transubstantiate it into a living image.
Amazing as is the history of this intense relationship, so is the range of the results: Shenstone’s pictorial record of the looking and thinking, her knowing him yet never quite knowing him, her awe and admiration together with the developing intimacy, the care, the pity. Francis Bacon hid himself in many a self-portrait. Lucian Freud’s portrait of him pins him down to dive beneath the skin. Clare Shenstone’s litany of portraits catches many Bacons and reflects many Shenstones- in short, it documents in unique fashion the coming together of two human beings, two painters, he in his seventies, she in her twenties, and their visual dialogue. Likenesses are not merely caught. The good portrait comes out of regard and memory as much as looking; rather than capturing a moment it embodies experience, distilled by time and the processes employed in realising it.(1)
(1) Clare Lynton, Shenstone Portraits of Francis Bacon, Michael Parkin Gallery, 1998