Reece Mews

A New Poem

Grey Gowrie

Reece Mews

Hole in the sky
open and enclosed.
Reach it by locked
door, by empty
stable, carless
garage to climb
well-nigh vertical
stair, ladder even,
shinnable only by
chauffeurs, grooms:
past lives. Come
to the Studio
in a dingy, cobbled
Kensington mews.
Just three rooms
off a minute
landing. One
shows a plump
bed by a stack
of books, a lamp
perilously perched
on top of them.
The Georgian
table has glasses
laid out; the bottle
of Krug sweetly
condensating. Thin
electric flexes
hang from ceilings
and sway a little
with footfall: bulbs,
bare naked, seen
in many paintings.
A great Louis XVI
chest houses neat,
off-duty jockey
clothes. Kitchen
doubles with bath,
less WC: the closet,
as per George Dyer’s
death in a Paris hotel,
somewhere off-stage.
The bath’s wood lid
has laundered grey
shirts laid on it
next to a workable
stove. After a few
thousand beaded
bubbles you enter
a small room, big
window, round
mirror reflecting
it plus ubiquitous
dreck: dust, debris,
tins and brushes,
scored photographs,
pinned Old Master
repros, Polaroid
self-portraits. Paint
splatters the walls
like a mad Saint
Valentine’s Day
Massacre, only
colours of splendour. 

Now, farcically,
all this primordial
chaos is re-made
in Dublin’s Kilmainham
Jail, scene of English
executions; a painter’s
childhood excitement. 

Back in London
in the champagne-
swilling 1980s,
you see in that small
room, on unprimed
canvas, a naked man
supple enough to clean
toes of his right foot
in a hand basin:
white, suspended
in the void of days.
Pink flesh of back,
soft and muscular
as a seal, he seems
to be dancing not
washing: two nods
to the way of Degas.
That curious piping,
high register voice,
clipped, punctuated,
says, “So few people
look, I find, at paintings.
How odd they want
to buy them.” You
have not been asked
for comment, are here
to look. Twenty years
and a death in Madrid
pass before you see
that tough and tender 
Nu de dos again.
Now it hangs glazed
in a gold frame. 


Francis Bacon (1909-92) lived and worked at 7 Reece Mews in South Kensington from 1961 until his death. The painting described in the poem is an imaginary one, an amalgam of two late Bacon paintings. George Dyer (1934-71), a close companion of Bacon, died in a hotel in Paris during a major Bacon retrospective in the city. He is the subject of some of Bacon’s greatest paintings. The Reece Mews studio has been meticulously recreated in the Hugh Lane Gallery in Bacon’s native city of Dublin. In the 1970s I offered Dublin’s Municipal Gallery an “acceptable” i.e. clothed full-length portrait of Peter Lacy by Bacon. They told me in effect not to insult them. 

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