"Like an elephant’s corpse. Majestic and dead. In the way only smells can, the strange sweet air catapulted the memory back to the past. The sound of paper being torn, brushes dragged over dry canvas and the blinkered singular focus of a young man devoid of self-pity trapped in a dying body. It was all there in this miserable little room. It was as mystical as the cell of a monastic saint and as human as excrement."
Detritus is a book, artwork, and cultural record of the studio of painter Francis Bacon in the form of a series of facsimile objects and textual material. Conceived of by Clarke, and published in association with The Estate of Francis Bacon and Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, Ireland, in 2006. Produced in an edition of 25, with 1 artist's proof, each is presented as a facsimile of a leather suitcase and range of objects from Francis Bacon’s studio, the entire contents of which were donated to The Hugh Lane Gallery by John Edwards, Bacon's heir, in 1998. The studio at 7 Reece Mews was preserved, recorded and relocated in full over the course of 3 years from London to Dublin, Ireland, where it went on public view as a permanent installation in 2001. First shown at the exhibition Blood on Paper at the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London, at the Kunstsammlung NRW in Düsseldorf, and at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery, New York, in the exhibition Detritus, in 2007–8. Subsequently, Detritus has been exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the British Library, and at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, in the 2009 exhibition Artists' Books, and most recently in Iwona Blazwick's A Century of the Artist’s Studio: 1920 – 2020.
"Each book contains 76 facsimiles of items originally found in Francis Bacon’s studio and which are now held at Dublin City Gallery (The Hugh Lane Gallery), Ireland. These items include photographs, pages from magazines, sketches, tools, letters and notes written by Francis Bacon, researched and selected from 2001 to 2005 by Brian Clarke and Elena Ochoa Foster. Each facsimile was created individually by hand using special techniques to make new originals. In each suitcase there is an accompanying printed book with texts written by Brian Clarke and Martin Harrison and illustrative photographs by Christa Zauner which document each item." – Ivory Press
"On the ground floor, the old stables where Bacon kept canvas stretchers and a few old belongings, there was a rotting leather suitcase with his name and address stuck to it. I decided to remove a pile of material from the floor, using the old case to carry it and take it home to study more carefully. It was clear that this material was very interesting and I became excited by it. Everything from this pile was copied in colour, verso and recto and I began, as a sort of therapy to balance the waste and pain of the court case to plan a book of these revealing items. I had in mind a simple book, A3 in format with no text, simply and randomly reproducing the images that I had removed in the case. Later, after it had been agreed to transplant the studio in its entirety to the Hugh Lane in Dublin (Bacon’s birthplace) these items became logged in the record of the museum with the initials BC preceding the numerical identification. This indicated that they came from the studio—but via me.
I collected these images into volumes of colour photocopies and made three sets, with the originals left in the old case. I was unsure how interesting to anyone else these items might be, (difficult to imagine now since so much interest in them has been shown in recent years) and gave a set of the seven volumes of copies to David Sylvester for his comment. He was as fascinated by them as I was, particularly by the range of material and the consistency and acuity of Bacon’s ruthless editorial eye. Sylvester encouraged me to publish them in the form I had described, kindly adding that Bacon himself would have loved the result. I might still do this. However, something critical was lacking if the atmosphere of these items was to be faithfully conveyed. A book would have no smell. The tactile nature of the subjects would be lost and the confusing message hidden in the apparent randomness of material and scale would all but evaporate. The clues would in part be lost.
There is undoubtedly an absurdity in the effort that has gone into producing Detritus as an absolute and faithful facsimile of the objects as they exist. The painstaking and lengthy processes that have been employed to replicate paint drops, tears, creases, textures, ageing and smell. Life itself is absurd too. Art and the value placed upon it by society is absurd in both its transient intensity and its fickleness. The experience of spending time in Bacon’s studio and becoming familiar with the material that inspired him altered me. I have a desire to share that remarkable moment. It can, in the absence of spatial experience only be in part, but Detritus comes very close to replicating what it was like for me, examining this material for the first time after carrying it home from Reece Mews. It comes closer that any other means I am able to imagine." – Brian Clarke, in the 2006 essay Detritus.