An exhibition by painter Mackie at James Freeman Gallery looks back at some recent rows between famous artists. It is called You Were Shit in the 80s, which Mackie imagines was an insult exchanged between Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon. The great painters fell out, he claims. If this is true, then it was a blip on a beautiful relationship. They painted each other with great intensity, and the evidence of their portraits of one another suggests that Bacon and Freud were much more friends than enemies. After Bacon died and Freud’s portrait of him was stolen in Germany, Freud made a Wanted poster for it that felt like an act of mourning. So I don’t buy the idea of them hurling banal insults at one another.
Nor is the feud between David Hockney and Damien Hirst that Mackie also chronicles in his paintings really much of a clash. Hockney does not like Hirst’s work, but why would he? One is a painter, the other a conceptualist. They are chalk and cheese.
To have a real feud, artists need to have something in common – they need to be rivals, in the same space and moment, for the same prize.