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Bachardy, Don (b. 1934)  
 
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Much of the public attention garnered by American painter and draftsman Don Bachardy has been the result of his long relationship with the late novelist and memoirist Christopher Isherwood. But Bachardy is an accomplished artist in his own right, and his talent has earned him considerable success on his own, as evidenced by his frequent solo exhibits, inclusion in many museum collections, and numerous reproductions and collections of his work.

Nonetheless, Bachardy has forthrightly acknowledged that the encouragement and support of Isherwood--the most frequent subject of his drawings and paintings--helped him gain the confidence to become a full-time artist. Moreover, Isherwood's distinguished reputation as a writer and his contacts in the film industry gained Bachardy access to many of the celebrities whom he was to draw.

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Born in Los Angeles on May 18, 1934, Bachardy began drawing as a child. By his early teenage years, he was specializing in portraits rendered in ink and acrylics. Bachardy attributes his interest in looking at people to his childhood obsession with movies, a passion carried into his adult life. The close-ups of screen actors upon which he gazed as an impressionable child are at least partially responsible for his lifelong interest in portraiture.

Bachardy was only eighteen years old when he met Isherwood, who was thirty years his senior. The discrepancy in their ages shocked many of their friends; but in his memoir My Guru and His Disciple (1980), Isherwood observes that "I myself didn't feel guilty about it, but I did feel awed by the emotional intensity of our relationship, right from its beginning; the strange sense of a fated, mutual discovery. I knew that, this time, I had really committed myself."

In another memoir, Christopher and His Kind (1976), Isherwood describes Bachardy as "the ideal companion to whom you can reveal yourself totally and yet be loved for what you are, not what you pretend to be."

Bachardy was a student of languages and theater arts at UCLA when he met Isherwood in 1952 and began a relationship that lasted until Isherwood's death in 1986. The novelist was Bachardy's first live model, and his initial sitting in 1953 marked the beginning of a series of portraits that, to Bachardy, "encompass[es] the full range of my work as an artist and . . . represent[s] my best effort."

Bachardy was still drawing Isherwood--along with several of Isherwood's friends, many of them celebrities--when he enrolled at the Chouinard Art Institute in 1956. In 1961 he began study at London's Slade School of Art; that same year heralded his first solo exhibition, held at the Redfern Gallery in London.

Bachardy's drawings and paintings are included in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian, the National Portrait Gallery in London, Princeton University, the Fogg Art Museum of Harvard University, and the University of California at Los Angeles, among many others.

His published works include October (with Isherwood. 1980), One Hundred Drawings (1983), and Drawings of the Male Nude (1985), all published by Twelvetrees Press, along with a collection called 70 X 1 (Illuminati, 1983) and Last Drawings of Christopher Isherwood (Faber and Faber, 1990).

Bachardy also collaborated with Isherwood on a television script, Frankenstein: The True Story (1973) and on a dramatization of Isherwood's 1967 novel A Meeting by the River, which failed on Broadway in 1979.

Most recently, University of Wisconsin Press published Bachardy's book Stars in My Eyes (2000), a richly illustrated account of numerous sittings with various actors, writers, composers, and directors that Bachardy and Isherwood knew. The book's prose is culled from a journal Bachardy kept at Isherwood's urging, and validates the novelist's precept that art is often a record of the artist's own experiences, even when the focus is on the subject.

The fascinating comments on the sitters also vividly attest that Bachardy's acuity of observation and insight is by no means limited to his drawings, as when he shrewdly remarks of Peter Pears, "With his long, beaky face, he's like a hefty egret. His cold, blue, passionless bird-eyes are the darkest spots in their surrounding expanse of pink. His big clumsy hands are fleshy, like hunks of swollen pink dough."

Always preferring to draw live models rather than work from photographs, which dilutes the artmaking experience for him, Bachardy insists to this day upon completing every portrait in a single sitting. He describes a sitting as a "true collaboration" in which he receives energy from his subject.

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A portrait of Don Bachardy by Stathis Orphanos.
  
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