A R T I S T S
THE IRISHMAN WITH A RICH TOUCH
Francis Bacon by Reginald Gray
National Portrait Gallery London
Reginald Gray had a tremendous and adventurous life after spending his youth in Dublin and studying art in London. He notably lived almost like a tramp in Rouen in the early 1960s and took to drinking probably just for the sake of proving he was a true Irishman. Still, what saved him was his capacity to tackle problems in a positive way, his huge talent as a painter, his incredible charm and a rare penchant for women who counted much on his life.
I first met him in 1965 when he was working at night as a copy boy for the New York Times International Edition in Paris while I was painstakingly trying to become a journalist. I discovered that during his days off he was producing intriguing and well-painted Renaissance-like striking portraits of many of the girls he had seduced. I did not know then that he had been a close friend of Francis Bacon in London and that the course of his career could have swerved towards success if he had decided to remain there. However, this handsome fellow had been affected by the virus of freedom like many of his fellow countrymen who had joined the IRA.
Reginald could have been one of them but had a strong leaning for sheer individuality that made him like a wild horse roaming from one city to another searching for something he himself could not really apprehend. I just had celebrated my 20th birthday at that time while Reginald had already turned 35. Though much older than me, he behaved like a careless youngster living in a 8 square-meter room in Saint-Germain-des-Prés perched on the first floor of an 18th century building, the window of which was at the level of double-deck buses from where passengers would gasp when seeing him make love to a girl in his bed during any hot summer morning.
Reginald could not stay in the same place for a long time. After the Paris offices of the New York Times were closed in 1967, he became a photographer for Vogue and lived with a Vietnamese girl whose pet when she was a child was a terrifying tiger. They had a son together but Reggie, as I called him, could not stay long with one woman. He thus resumed his adventurous life and then made a film based on a story on the French resistance which eventually was a flop. Reginald always continued to paint however without seeking the glory he deserved because he could not adapt to normal life nor play the role of a courtesan in the art circles.
I lost track of him for sometime until I visited one day the National Portrait Gallery in London to discover thatthe portrait he did of Bacon was hanging there, a fact that he himself did not know. I managed to find his telephone number in Paris, where he had bought in Montparnasse a tiny cave-like small apartment designed by a crazy hungarian sculptor named Laszlo Szabo, and informed him that he was much more famous than he thought.
Laura Parker-Bowles, daughter of Camilla Parker-Bowles
Watercolour by Reginald Gray (for sale)
Reginald was elated about such recognition and that gave him some renewed courage and spirit to pursue his long quest as a painter. He made another film in 1996 in Ireland, this time based on a story of two IRA members escaping from the terrorist movement after they had fallen in love together and in which I played the part of a drunken painter, probably in reference to himself, but this movie was never released due to financial problems.
Now, sharing his life between London and Paris and seemingly tamed for good by his new 40-year old female companion, Reginald has become a much sought portrait painter among members of the British high society. Sill much alert at 75, the Irishman with a rich touch has wisely decided to seduce art amateurs after having thrown away his Casanova attires for good.
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