The arts and alcohol have always gone glass in hand whether it be the artist or writer who are drunk at the moment of creation, or the viewer or reader at the point of appreciation.
Artistic depictions of drink and drinkers have been illustrated throughout the ages with alcohol as a central theme in ancient, classical and religious works – think of the treatments of the drunkenness of Noah by Bellini or Michelangelo, or of Bacchus and his confreres.
Hard drinking artists through the ages start in the 17th century with Frans Hals (1582/83-1666). An account of the time claims he “was filled to the gills every evening”.
Roughly a century later, gin was to become in England what absinthe was about to be come in France.
Were the beer and wine swilling painters of the Dutch golden age any different from the absinthe-addled wretches of 19th century Paris? No they were not.
Absinthe, known as the ‘green goddess’, haunted a nation and fuelled its art. In France during the second half of the 19th century, absinthe became known as ‘the queen of poisons’.
The modern absinthe story began in the 1830s when French troops who were fighting in Algeria used it as an anti-malarial, mixing it with wine to make it more palatable.
They brought their newfound bitter drink home with them, and it soon became popular among the artistic community.
One of the most prominent of these artists was Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who illustrated the life of the music halls, the bars, the brothels and, in particular, the Moulin Rouge.
If bohemianism was a 19th-century European invention, it was perfected in 20th-century New York. For Elaine and Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Joan Mitchell, Grace Hartigan, Franz Kline et al. If you didn’t drink heavily then you were not an artist. At the height of his fame, Pollock’s destructive acting out was a form of performance art.
Back in the UK the long association between alcohol and artistic inspiration was happening in London, where Francis Bacon (1902-1992) claimed to have been “drunk since the age of 15”. He was the founding member of the Colony Room Club in 1948, a private members club where, in the later years, Kate Moss and Sam Taylor-Wood made drinks for Damian Hirst and Tracy Emin.
When Damien Hirst was asked why the Young British Artists (YBAs) still gathered at the Colony Room Club, years after its heyday, his reply was simple: “It’s because artists like drinking.”
Shri Restaurant and Lounge manager Richie Fawcett is an artist who sits on Asia’s 50 best bars voting panel. He is hosting an invitation only ‘private view’ of his latest canvas works every Thursday in the Shri Whisky Library along with offerings of bottled and signature cocktails. Those interested can call Shri on (08) 3827 9631 and he will invite you personally if numbers allow.