Michael Andrews worked slowly and meticulously as a painter, producing only a handful of finished works in any given year. In the early 1960s Andrews undertook a number of paintings on the subject of people partying, which included The Colony Room I, 1962 (Pallant House Gallery, Chichester), The deer park, 1962 (Tate, London), All night long 1963–64 (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne) and Good and bad at games, 1964–68 (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra). Biographer Lawrence Gowing has noted how in the party paintings
Andrews realized that behaviour in itself was not his real subject, so much as the personal states of which behavior is a sign. And not only states, but statuses, conditions of one’s self estimation as it is reflected in one’s inward and outward image.1Lawrence Gowing, Michael Andrews, Hayward Gallery, London and Arts Council of Great Britain, 1980, p. 16.
All night long is regarded as one of the most important and resolved paintings from the artist’s 1960s ‘party’ period.
Cinematic in conception and widescreen in scale, the three vividly ‘observed’ panels that join together to form All night long seem to capture, from today’s perspective, the smouldering atmosphere of swinging London and of John Profumo, Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies (who were at the centre of the Profumo affair scandal that erupted while Andrews was painting this work). Standing before All night long, the viewer has a sense of having been given a ringside seat before the odd combination of the louche and the respectable that typified London nightlife in the still repressive but gradually changing 1960s.
In the left background of the composition, nude figures cavort outdoors at water’s edge, a scene borrowed from a photograph of a Swedish sauna party.2Paul Moorhouse, ‘ “Strange consolation”: The art of Michael Andrews’, in William Feaver & Paul Moorhouse, Michael Andrews, Tate Publishing, London, 2001, p. 21. Forward of them are two men seated on a patio, one shirtless, who are deep in conversation that may have a sexual undercurrent; three sunbathers reclining on banana lounges; an elegantly dressed lady eating a canapé; and a man pulling a sweater over his head. The centre of the painting is set indoors, where a man nurses a hangover at a bar; an orchestra plays in the background; a woman applauds something taking place offstage; and a largish man in disheveled business attire is seen falling over, with a woman in a revealing cocktail dress coming to his rescue. To the right we see people dancing on an upper balcony or mezzanine of whatever this interior might be; a Polynesian woman playing a ukulele; and two Japanese women engaged in same-sex erotic play.3This detail has been identified as coming from a nineteenth-century Japanese photograph reproduced in the journal Verve, vol. 1, no. 3, Oct.–Dec. 1938, p. 92.
In an inspired blend of the arbitrary and the intentional, Andrews derived the majority of the figures in this painting from newspaper and magazine photographs – which, taken out of context, rescaled, and partially abstracted through their translation into paint, seem both compliant with and at ease in their new, alcoholic, nocturnal surroundings. Most of these photographic ‘models’ for All night long were reproduced, as clippings pinned to the artist’s studio walls, in the Summer 1964 edition of the journal Art and Literature.4Michael Andrews & Victor Willing, ‘Morality and the model’, Art and Literature, no. 2, Summer 1964, pp. 49–64 (the photographs are on pages 53–5). Rather than paying a Pop Art homage to the power of media and popular culture, Andrews enjoyed the somewhat impersonal distance afforded by this eschewing of the life model and adoption of a bower-bird compositional approach. In this respect his method of blending variously sourced photographic materials is akin to the fashion for ‘sampling’ in current music practice.
The art critic David Sylvester described the essence of Andrews’s party works, such as All night long as follows:
The paintings are about pleasure and sometimes about glamour, but only in the sense that a story by Scott Fitzgerald is: the play is haunted, perhaps above all by doubt. The atmosphere is sensuous and dreamy, like memories of a party which we think must have been marvellous and where we think something extraordinary happened between us and someone we hadn’t known before.5David Sylvester, ‘Michael Andrews: “Mysterious conventionality”,’ The Sunday Times, 13 Jan. 1963, p. 15.
Eric Westbrook, the NGV’s Director at the time that the work was acquired for Melbourne in 1964, related Andrews’s work to contemporary Italian cinema:
In this picture the world into which Andrews admits us is closely related to that of the Italian post-war film. The title of the picture makes a reference to ‘La Notte’ (1960), one of the key films of this period as does the series of separate but integrated incidents … here is the same image of an affluent international society bathing in the sun and sea, drinking, quarrelling and love-making … In using this material Andrews’ attitude is obviously close to that of the Italian directors and script writers and like them while using an extraordinary technical brilliance to floodlight this aspect of contemporary society he does not preach or suggest an alternative social structure. Like them also he participates in the excitement and tension which this world of wealthy and neurotic nomads uniquely creates.6Eric Westbrook, ‘Two paintings by Michael Andrews’, Annual Bulletin of the National Gallery of Victoria, vol. 7, 1965, pp. 20, 22.
On a personal level, the painting’s sequential narrative of indoor and outdoor partying partially reflects Andrews’s experiences at the Colony Room Club, a counter-culture Soho drinking club that he had frequented since 1954 with fellow artists Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud and Frank Auerbach, among others. While the viewer feels engaged with the various characters in All night long, there is also a sense in which one has no idea what is going on. The effect is similar to hearing Polari, the secret gay language that was often used in mixed social situations before homosexuality was decriminalised in Britain in 1967. Andrews would certainly have overheard conversations in this coded language at the Colony Room Club, feeling at once involved in the club’s social scene, while also being divorced from sections of its ritual and meaning.7See Paul Baker, Fabulosa! The Story of Polari, Britain’s Secret Gay Language, Reaktion Books, London, 2019.
All night long was a fortunate and timely purchase for the Gallery. The painting had been reserved for the NGV directly from Andrews’s London studio, while still unfinished, by the Gallery’s Felton Bequest adviser, A. J. L. McDonnell. Shortly after McDonnell had visited Andrews’s studio in late 1963, John Rothenstein, Director of the Tate, London, tried to reserve this painting for the Tate’s collection. ‘I wish you could’, Rothenstein recalled Andrews saying, ‘but the Felton Bequest have just bought it for Melbourne’.8John Rothenstein, Modern English Painters. Volume Three. Hennell to Hockney, Macdonald and Co., London and Sydney, 1984, p. 191.
Ted Gott, Senior Curator, International Art, National Gallery of Victoria
Lawrence Gowing, Michael Andrews, Hayward Gallery, London and Arts Council of Great Britain, 1980, p. 16.
Paul Moorhouse, ‘ “Strange consolation”: The art of Michael Andrews’, in William Feaver & Paul Moorhouse, Michael Andrews, Tate Publishing, London, 2001, p. 21.
This detail has been identified as coming from a nineteenth-century Japanese photograph reproduced in the journal Verve, vol. 1, no. 3, Oct.–Dec. 1938, p. 92.
Michael Andrews & Victor Willing, ‘Morality and the model’, Art and Literature, no. 2, Summer 1964, pp. 49–64 (the photographs are on pages 53–5).
David Sylvester, ‘Michael Andrews: “Mysterious conventionality”,’ The Sunday Times, 13 Jan. 1963, p. 15.
Eric Westbrook, ‘Two paintings by Michael Andrews’, Annual Bulletin of the National Gallery of Victoria, vol. 7, 1965, pp. 20, 22.
See Paul Baker, Fabulosa! The Story of Polari, Britain’s Secret Gay Language, Reaktion Books, London, 2019.
John Rothenstein, Modern English Painters. Volume Three. Hennell to Hockney, Macdonald and Co., London and Sydney, 1984, p. 191.