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The Enduring Love & Exquisite Observations of Don Bachardy

The Enduring Love & Exquisite Observations of Don Bachardy


With his new monograph, Hollywood, Don Bachardy reveals the rigors of observing people and the creation of self.

"Working from life is the only way to catch my sitter's 'aliveness,' " writes Don Bachardy in the introduction to Hollywood, a door-stopping monograph of over 300 works and more than 40 years' worth of the artist and author's portraiture. With the term "aliveness," of course, Bachardy is encompassing humanity, pathos, and the vagaries of time.

Perhaps because his subjects sit for him as he paints, Bachardy is able to plumb their essence with a few simple, gestural lines. Within 's pages, we see a pensive Mia Farrow from 1977, a world-weary Marlene Dietrich from 1963, and two portraits of Jack Lemmon, from 1961 and 1992, which are almost identical apart from the deep lines that time has etched into the actor's face.

As with Richard Linklater's latest movie, Boyhood, there is something in these captured moments--in the "aliveness" Bachardy commits to canvas--that evokes the sweep, the injury, and the brevity of life. In a foreword, Armistead Maupin recalls sitting for Bachardy shortly after the death of his mother in 1979. "I had not yet wept for her in the way I had expected," he writes. "But when Don revealed the drawing, the pain and the loss were on flagrant display in my eyes."

Hollywood is available November 1. Bachardy signs his book at Cheim & Read on Oct. 10


Above: Patrick Swayze, February 10, 1985, from Hollywood

Out: What is a working day like now?
Don Bachardy: Oh, the last few weeks I haven't done any sittings or abstracts. It's just too distracting with this book being published.

You are self-descibed as an introvert, and yet what you have to do to arrange for famous people to pose for you, book signings and all that -- it kind of goes contrary to that.
Yes, I am, I don't think anyone ever gets over that, but I have a double nature. I have to be a masochist to force myself into these confrontations.

You are quoted as saying "I was waiting to be told who I was," before you met Chris. And yet there is this perseverance in your nature. Where does that come from?
I can't tell you. I couldn't have lived my life as I have without being driven. Part of me longs to relax with a great sigh. To forget about all that pressure and tension. I think I have found out who I am, I am somebody who identifies with other people. So doing what I do is part of my effort to identify myself.

When you started working more in color, can you say what other colorist may have inspired you?
The one artist who inspired more than anyone else was Francis Bacon. Imagine, I got to do two sittings with him! One in 1961 and one in 1970. I met him very early with Chris, because they were friends from the '40s. Chris was fascinated by him. I met him on my first trip to London when I was 21. Chris was afraid of taking me [out of the country] before I was officially an adult. He had had all that trouble getting his German boyfriend Heinz in and out of Germany. There were some snide immigration officers in England sizing up what he was doing with this young German boy, getting him into London. So Chris waited until I was 21, and even then I don't think he ever really got over that experience.

Above: Kenneth Anger, September 30, 1995, from Hollywood

In reading the diaries, Chris talks about your input on his work, titles you came up with, edits you made. It could be seen that you had a bigger influence on his work than he had directly on yours.
Yes, but I was only able to make my creations because of the support that he gave me. The belief that he proved to me was genuine. When my courage failed, he was always there to give me a pep talk. I can't give him enough credit for everything he has done. He allowed me to fashion myself according to his guidance, his standards. It was just what I needed and such a luxury. Of course, we both had to decide we were destined for each other. We were both what we wanted and what we needed.

You two were famously nonmonogamous. At the time Chris died it was also the most terrifying early years of AIDS. Do you think your open relationship enhanced your closeness? Or did it make it more difficult?
Yes, it was difficult for me, juggling. But it was worth it. I think if it hadn't been for Chris, I would have died of AIDS. But it was my relationship with him that kept me in line, as it were. It helped me avoid what otherwise would have been my excesses. But yeah, it was a tricky, demanding balancing act that the two of us did. There was so much riding on it, so much we cared about deeply, that we just had to do it as best we could.

My position with Chris was that he had had all that experience before he met me. By the time he knew me, yes, he was ready to be totally faithful [laughs]. Easy for him, because he'd had all the exploration he needed. But I hadn't and he understood that. I just insisted on it and he knew he couldn't deny me.

As they continued to roll out, did you feel exposed by the diaires? Was that difficult at all?
Oh, no, if anything, there wasn't enough about me [both laugh].

Watching your work over the years and seeing photos of you as you got older, how do you look so amazing at 80?
By working at it. I have always wanted to be as attractive as I could be. How else could I have snared Chris? [Smiles broadly.] I work out three times a week. I started going to the gym when I was 21. It's always been necessary, my physical upkeep.

You smaller guys age better -- it's really unfair, you have the genetic advantage.
I am glad I am small, I never wanted to be bigger than I am. And I do think it makes it easier being compact. I just think tall people have more, um, housekeeping.

Above: Holly Woodlawn, October 7, 1991, from Hollywood

You two had a strict no pets policy. No cats, no dogs.
We were each other's pets. We had barely been together a year, it was 1954, I got my first job working with Tony Duquette [the legendary Los Angeles designer], and his wife, Beegle, gave me a tiny little Siamese cat and Chris said "uh-uh." And he explained why. If we had an animal, so much affection between us would go to the animal. It was sensible to me, and so the very next morning I took that cat back to Beegle. And we never considered a pet again.

We slept very close together, entangled. And we believed that we communicated in the night. We often considered it and talked about it as we had had breakfast out on the deck. We always ate on the deck -- even when it was very cold we wrapped ourselves in blankets and you could see our breath. Only rain kept us off the deck. And that was one of the things we often talked about: the latest night together and what awareness we had of each other in the night.

And has there ever been a pet since?
Never. No. No. No. Even now, no.

What about any other commited relationships? Have you been involved with anyone else?
I did with Tim Hilton -- we lived here in this house for 10 years together. He is an Oregonian now.

I recall meeting him years ago when we had dinner as a group and went to the film that night.
He's a big boy, he's 6 foot 2, very fat now. But that doesn't bother me in the least. He is so much himself in that. I always knew he would be overweight, and I decided in those first days it didn't matter to me. I never encouraged him to diet or eat less in any way. He is very fat now and I have a picture he just sent to me. I think he looks adorable. He's like a big bear, I told him he's my big golden bear.

What's sex like after 80?
Let's see. Tim and I don't have sex anymore. Not by any decision. In fact, I don't have sex with anybody and haven't [since Tim]. Tim was my last. I don't miss it. Tim was just wonderful. That was exactly what I needed after Chris died. It took me a little more than a year to find him. It was great, great sex and we did everything we could think of together. Everything. I haven't missed a thing [smiling broadly]. It was just wonderful. He was as physical as I. And just as insatiable as I. And we were just at it all the time, and it was wonderful.

Laws have changed. I am legally married to my my husband now. Do you think you and Chris ever would have gotten married?
Oh no, no. We weren't against it, but what mattered to us was what was between us. We didn't need any kind of confirmation or acceptance. And he taught me that very early. In fact, he taught me anything that is of any use to me. Meeting him was just ... that's when I got born. I was just waiting for him and I didn't realize it.

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