JOANNE MCCARTHY: Bringing home the Bacon

WELCOME to another episode in our occasional series, art appreciation for dead pot plants, in which we’ll explore Francis Bacon’s painting of a pole-dancing Tony Abbott dwarf with the curator of the NSW Art Gallery’s Francis Bacon exhibition.

But first, how to embarrass yourself in an arty setting. In earlier episodes we’ve established that when it comes to appreciating art, I’m good at mowing lawns and taking out the garbage bins on a Thursday night.

‘‘Do you still have big-eyed cat prints on your lounge room wall?’’ asked my art teacher friend recently during a discussion about art, life, and whether she would take me to a gallery with her.

‘‘No. I’ve moved on from my big-eyed cat period. I’m working on sad-eyed puppies as part of my childhood pets retrospective,’’ I said.

I wasn’t allowed on the gallery trip.

When the Newcastle Herald was asked to nominate a journalist to go on an arty Sydney sojourn a couple of weeks ago, only one name was considered.

Editor: ‘‘Is McCarthy still writing about art?’’

Features editor: ‘‘Yep.’’

Editor: ‘‘Are we still getting complaints from arty people?’’

Features editor: ‘‘Yep.’’

Editor: ‘‘Let her go. If she does anything weird we’ll just call it performance art.’’

Which is how I ended up embarrassing myself at  the ultra-arty QT Hotel.  It started – like most lounge-lolling incidents – innocently enough.

I walked into a guest lounge to read a book.

Now if you want to read a book in a normal, non-arty hotel guest sitting room, your biggest problem is avoiding boring fellow guests who talk about real estate or how the education system has failed their gifted and talented kids.

But if you’re a big-eyed cat print person in an exclusive arty hotel guest sitting room, boring fellow guests with annoying kids are the least of your considerations.

In a sitting room where too much art was barely enough, even the staff were art.

TVs on the wall played black and white footage of things like the end of World War II, beauty pageants from the 1950s and what looked like Princess Grace’s wedding.

There were mirrors everywhere, and backlit cabinets filled with extraordinary glass things. No surface was left un-arted. Chairs were brilliantly coloured, spectacularly shaped, and in clusters around beautiful tables.

A woman entered to take my drink order. With flaming orange hair cut in an angular bob, violent red lips and a dramatic black floaty outfit I can’t even describe, she was art. And when she left the room it was just me and the bespoke lounges.

 I’ve got nothing against bespoke lounges (and before we go any further let me just say I hear you, and the word ‘‘bespoke’’ should be banished to the same place we send people who talk about their gifted and talented kids) but I don’t know how to negotiate them.

So I approached one of the particularly bespoke-looking QT lounges cautiously.

It was round, quilted, velvet and blue, the colour of the sea  – I’m trying to be descriptively arty here – about knee-height, and with no back or arm-rests.

I didn’t know if I was supposed to sit on it, or put my feet on it, or arrange myself in an artistic manner and look languorous.

So I reclined, first on one elbow, and then another, and thought about how I was going to read a book in that position.

And if you recline on a backless, armless, round bespoke lounge your legs are left to dangle rather unartistically, which is why I started to loll after a minute or so with my legs on the lounge as well.

And it was at that point some people came in to find a 52-year-old woman draped across a blue velvet lounge in a public area looking weird, and not the least bit like performance art.

So I got up and went back to my beautiful art-filled room to loll on my comfortable bed in unartistic peace.

But the arty environment must have had some impact because the following day I helped the soon-to-retire, respected art expert Tony Bond – curator of the Francis Bacon exhibition – to look at Bacon’s painting Portrait of a Dwarf (The Dwarf) 1975 in a whole new light.

‘‘Doesn’t that look like Tony Abbott to you?’’ I asked Bond after tracking him down to point out the Tony Abbott-like features of Bacon’s dwarf which looks like it is pole dancing.

Bond looked at the fleshy lips, the sharp cheekbones, the receding hairline and hooded almond eyes. Then he went to say something, and stopped, and looked again.

‘‘No, I hadn’t actually, but now that you mention it, I can see that it does,’’ he said, in what I would like to note was a surprised voice.

And so the big-eyed cat picture lover and the art expert talked about finding the pollie in the pile of Bacon. 


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