This is me defiantly of the floor of the St Ives Studio, in 1962. A friend of mine hired a studio in St Ives, and I shared it with him. It was one of those big studios with long windows overlooking Porthmeor beach, below what was a rather handsome gas cylinder then, and is now the St Ives Tate. Terry Frost, who was sociable & a great help, was on one side; Patrick Heron (whom I never saw) was also nearby. Other people had worked in the studio in the recent past – Peter Lanyon and Francis Bacon among them. Up near the door there was a piece of hardboard with the beginnings of an abandoned Bacon, on the reverse, the knobbly side – it was very bad, but obviously, with that kind of dionysiac painting you throw a lot away.
One day Tony O’Malley came round for a chat or a coffee or both – friends tended to drop into the studios. After a while he told us that he was stuck, because he had nothing to paint on. We were all poor in those days. So my friend said “Well, you can have that bit of hardboard over there in the corner” “It’s a bit big for me’’said Tony, “I’m working about half that size at the moment.” We looked at one another: Tony was frail in his large overcoat, & we were apprehensive for his dicky heart. He was around fifty then, and to be truthful we didn’t expect him to last all that long. “Here,” said my friend. “I’ll cut it in half for you,” and he got a saw and sawed it across. Tony was visibly chuffed and went off with the pieces of hardboard under his arm.
The frail Tony returned triumphantly to Ireland in 1990, being elected a Saoi of Aosdana in 1999 (an exclusive award for the Arts, with members such as Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney and Brian Friel), and survived until 2003. Assuming they have also survived, somewhere in the world here are two Tony O’Malleys with half a Francis Bacon behind them