Don Bachardy was born May 18, 1934 in Los Angeles, CA. Growing up, he worked in a grocery store and spent his free time going to the movies. He loved to draw and collected sketches of his favorite celebrities. While a student at UCLA, he studied languages and theater arts.

Don met the English novelist, Christopher Isherwood, on Santa Monica Beach in 1952. They became a couple on Valentine’s Day the following year and remained partners for over thirty years.

After discovering Don’s celebrity drawings, Christopher convinced his young lover to draw a portrait of him. Christopher was the first person Don drew from life. Impressed by Don’s talent, Chris encouraged him to continue his artistic studies. Don enrolled at the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles and studied there for four years. In 1961, hewent to London to attend the Slade School of Art. That same year, he had his first solo exhibition in London. While abroad, Don also created fashion illustrations for the magazine Women’s Wear Daily.

Christopher, an international literary celebrity, helped connect Don to increasingly important patrons. His portfolio includes portraits of actress Katharine Hepburn, film director Fritz Lang, novelist Ray Bradbury, the poet and author Allen Ginsberg, and others. In 1984, Don painted the official gubernatorial portrait of Jerry Brown, which hangs in the state’s capitol building in Sacramento.

With few celebrity gay couples in mid-century America, Don and Christopher became gay icons. In 1968, British artist David Hockney painted the couple—a double portrait that commemorates successful gay relationships. It now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In 2008, their relationship was portrayed and celebration in the documentary film Chris & Don: A Love Story.

Don has created over 10,000 portraits. His artwork can be found in major museums throughout the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Smithsonian Institution, and the National Portrait Gallery in London. Seven books of his portraits have been published, including The Last Drawings of Christopher Isherwood, aselectionof portraits depicting Christopher as he was dying of cancer. An artistic expression of grief and commitment, Don created 400 portraits of him, capturing his likeness once a day and recording his slow decline.

Don still liveson Adelaide Drivein Santa Monica, in the hillside residencewith sweeping ocean views that Christopher purchased for them in 1956. The wicker chairs where Don and Chris sat for David Hockney’s portrait remain side by side in the living room. Don still paints every day. When asked who his subjects are, he quickly replied, “Anyone who will sit for me!”

Don Bachardy: [00:00:30] A long shelf life, yeah. Yes, the first two years we were together, we shot a lot of film and 30 years later, it was just as clear and bright as it was originally. It was just kept in that closet all those years, but it's a cool closet I suppose. It's, luckily, very appropriate temperature.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor and just for the record tell me your name and spell it for me.
Don Bachardy: Don Bachardy. B-A-C-H-A-R-D-Y.
Mason Funk: [00:01:00] Okay and when and where were you born?
Don Bachardy: In Los Angeles. Yes, you can't get more LA than I am. General Hospital 1934.
Mason Funk: [00:01:30] Okay, great. Because this project really focuses on the history of the gay community, so to speak, I wonder from your memory what are some of the first gay people that you remember meeting in your life when you were still, obviously, younger than you are today?
Don Bachardy: [00:02:00] My older brother and my only brother Ted was also gay. He died 10 years ago. Anyway, and the first gays I met were his lovers, his friends, and I know that Ted used to warn his lovers in the first years when I accompanied the two of them to movies, "Keep the talk down, my little brother doesn't know anything." Well, his little brother knew just about everything there was to know at that time, at least about his doings. I pretended to be innocent for a year or two before I came out to Ted. He ought to have known much sooner than that.
Mason Funk: Who were your first gay friends besides your brother? When did you start to have your own personal life in that area?
Don Bachardy: [00:03:30] There wasn't much of it. There were only a couple of encounters, single encounters, before I met Chris. I was certainly no longer a virgin, but very inexperienced, which was probably a good thing and a rare thing for Chris at that time. I was 18, but I really had had very little experience. Chris had been to bed a few times with my brother Ted. In fact, it was Ted who introduced us and three of us used to go to the beach together and occasionally to movies. Then Ted was very beautiful then and sought after by lots of guys, so he had many beaus. He didn't really mind very much when I snatched Chris away from him. Though he did make a few remarks after Chris and I really got going together. A little bit jealous but not really.
Mason Funk: What do you think he was jealous of?
Don Bachardy: Just losing one of the beaus. Sometimes you can't have too many beaus.
Mason Funk: [00:05:30] In this era, we're talking like in the early, maybe late '40s, early '50s, were there bars that you would go to around Los Angeles?
Don Bachardy: [00:06:00] Yes. Yes, yes there were. It was very convenient for me to have a queer brother because he used to take me most places he went. I got quite an eyeful of gay life when I was probably 15, 16. I was 18 when I first met Chris. Actually, we met on the beach when I was probably 16 for the first time because I used to accompany Ted on the red car, the electric trolley that went all over Los Angeles in the late '40s and early '50s. That's how Ted got around in those early years, and I began accompanying him to the beach. Every time we arrived at the queer beach in Santa Monica, just the beach down here, state beach, the street car would let us off at the end of Santa Monica Boulevard, and Ted and I would walk a good mile and a half to the queer beach right below here now in the same place it always was.
[00:08:00] In the first years, I didn't let onto Ted that I knew we were walking all that way in order to get to the queer beach. I knew where we were going, yes. Ted was always received by a pretty good group of other gay men. All of them were admirers of Ted, and Chris was among them. His eye wasn't exclusively for Ted and even though I was only 16, I perceived a twinkle in his eye when he looked at me. I think he was always attracted by teenage boys.
Mason Funk: [00:09:00] You know, so much has changed and, in some ways, gay visibility and queer sensibility is so much more everywhere, present. In a lot of ways, that sounds like a much more innocent age than what we're living in today. Does that make sense to you, or how do you compare that era to now?
Don Bachardy: [00:09:30] An awful lot was going on behind the scenes. It was very sophisticated once you got into it. It was hidden mostly from the public eye just because it was still illegal, it was still dangerous to be overtly queer in public. We were, all of us, conscious of that. It was only when we were in seclusion together that we could fully relax and be ourselves. Nowadays people say, "Oh, but that must have been so- so awful for you." They're quite wrong because it made it more exciting. It was criminal. It was dangerous. It was fun. Yes. The whole cloak and dagger part of it a lot.
Mason Funk: Is that what you mean by sophistication that you ... What do you mean when you say-
Don Bachardy: [00:10:30] I mean I knew a lot about queer life from observing it very early when I was 15, 16 because Ted, being four years older, was already in the thick of gay life, and I was accompanying him on trips to the movies with his current gay friend and I was too young looking to frequent gay bars. I could still get in accompanying Ted and whatever partner he was with. Occasionally, if there were somebody at the door checking IDs, it was difficult, but I usually got in. I had a pretty good look at what was going on in the gay bars then even though I wasn't even 18 yet.
Mason Funk: Do you remember any particular names or locations of the bars?
Don Bachardy: [00:12:00] I could if I thought about it. They were, most of them, in West Hollywood even then. I can't ... If I thought about it for an hour or two, I could remember but I can't now.
Mason Funk: [00:12:30] Okay. People today might wonder, because there's so much focus on so called coming out to one's family, that's just such a thing in contemporary culture, so back in the day, you had a brother, you were both gay, and you were both heading off to the queer beach. I think people are going to wonder, what did your parents either know or not know and what did they make of all this?
Don Bachardy: [00:13:00] Well you see, my brother started very early. Certainly by the time he was 15, he was having sex with all kinds of guys of various ages. At 15, he had his first nervous breakdown and was hospitalized. Because of that, it all spilled out, his adventures with queer men. It all had to be explained to my mother by my father. She didn't know that there were such people as homosexual men. She didn't know what it was. Can you imagine having to explain to her by my father who was, comparatively speaking nowadays, he was awfully innocent himself? It must have been explained to her in the crudest of languages by him, but she got the picture I guess fairly quickly.
[00:14:30] Because of Ted and it all spilling out when he was hospitalized, it made it easy for me. I already knew myself, but it made it easier for my parents to accept my own queerness because Ted and I were two of a kind. It made it easier for me, and also, I got an awful lot of very helpful education from Ted. Though I was four years younger, I knew very well what to do with that education.
Mason Funk: When you say education, what kinds of things-
Don Bachardy: [00:15:30] Just about queer life and learning from Ted about his experiences, seeing first hand, meeting his whatever gay guys he was going around with. Ted and I were used to sharing our lives. We had very similar interests because he was my older brother and I followed carefully all the things that he was doing and was often with him.
Mason Funk: [00:16:00] So start off and do me a favor, just mention that one, Hooker, by name and tell us how you encountered her.
Don Bachardy: [00:16:30] When I first got to know Chris, he was still living in Evelyn Hooker's garden house. It was originally, I think, little more than a garden shed when Evelyn suggested that he could live there. Chris had an architect friend named Jim Charlton who redesigned what used to be the garden shed and made it really, very attractive one room building for Chris. Just one room and a very tiny kitchen. It wasn't really even a kitchen. It was just a sink with a hot plate and a very small toilet room. The big room had a lovely, big bay window that slid open on a tractor and let in the fresh garden air. It was a very attractive place, and it was completely lined with bookshelves because it was personally designed for Chris by his architect friend with whom he was having an affair at the time.
[00:18:30] Jim Charlton was a very attractive man in his early 30s when I first met him. Yes, it was either my brother ... It must have been Ted through whom I first met Chris. I very soon got to know Jim Charlton as well.
Mason Funk: What are your memories of you and Hooker?
Don Bachardy: [00:19:00] She was doing a study of homosexuality from the psychology of homosexuals I suppose. Chris was a godsend to her because if she had any questions about procedure, she had an expert living in the garden. She could just cross a few steps outside the house and ask Chris, "What does this mean? What does that mean?" Of course, she couldn't have had a better explicator. Through him, Evelyn and I met and got along very well. I soon realized that Evelyn herself must have been fairly scandalized by my youthful look. Though I was 18, I looked years younger.
[00:20:30] In fact that first year Chris and I were together, he took me with him to New York on my Christmas vacation, and I'd never been there and I'd never been on an airplane. That first trip to New York in Christmas of 1953 was very exciting for me. Seeing New York and meeting all of Chris's friends there, both gay and not gay, it was an unbelievably glamorous adventure for me.
[00:21:00] The only trouble with living in a gay house in the garden house of Evelyn Hooker's was she had a husband Edward who was very ungay and it was very difficult. They were both teaching at UCLA, professors at UCLA, so Edward, Evelyn's husband, naturally worried about the scandalous behavior going on in their garden because I looked very young. They were frightened that there might be a scandal in their very garden if Chris got arrested for molesting a minor even though, as I say, I was 18.
[00:22:30] Edward finally made it clear ... I think what really bothered him was my making use of their garden and picking flowers. The whole back of the garden was a kind of wild garden, and I availed myself of the wild flowers back there. Edward didn't like my picking them at all, and eventually, he forced Evelyn to come and tell Evelyn that she had to tell Chris to look for another place to live. He was just worried about their being exposed as harboring a queer in the garden who was having teenagers visiting him. So we had to move very soon, but it was lovely while it lasted. It was just less than a year before we had to move.
Mason Funk: [00:23:30] Who in those years after meeting Chris, after moving in with Chris and forming a strong relationship with him, who were some of the people you remember from his circle? Who had the biggest impact on you that you most admired or liked or ...
Don Bachardy: [00:24:00] Well that first trip to New York I met Lincoln Kirstein and Paul Cadmus and ... Let's see, George Platt Lynes who was a very glamorous photographer, very handsome man. I think he was 47 when I met him. I met him at a gay party that it might have been ... Paul Cadmus was certainly at the party, and George Platt Lynes always had his eye out for good looking young men.
[00:25:00] He asked, not me but Chris, for permission to photograph me, which Chris generously gave and he knew he didn't have to, asked me. I was eager to be photographed because I'd seen the nude males that George was famous for immortalizing and I couldn't wait to get in front of his camera. I promised Chris that first morning when I went to George's studio, no nudes. Such was George's charm that after photographing me for about an hour or more, there was the request to take off everything, which though I promised not to, I couldn't resist. When Chris was shown the pictures dutifully by George because he'd gotten Chris's permission, when Chris saw the first nude one of me, he said, "Oh, you naughty thing" to me. Yeah. I was happy to be recorded in my youth by such a master of the art.
Mason Funk: [00:27:00] Yeah, none better than him to photograph you. From watching the documentary, it was made about 10 years ago of course, I'm aware that you met, as you said, you met Chris when you were very young. When you had to go through your own journey to find the balance between being your own person and being in this relationship. Complicated.
Don Bachardy: [00:27:30] Yes. It was the very best of complicated educational experiences because I realized right away if I wanted to remain with Chris I had to make something of myself. I couldn't just bank on Chris's celebrity, being his little gay partner. I knew I had to have an identity of my own, and that was a very good fact to realize as early as I did. I took very seriously educating myself and starting art school as early as I could in order to ... With Chris's full urging, he wanted me to develop my ability as an artist because I showed him very early on.
[00:29:00] Of course, he asked me what I was interested in. I said that I drew pictures of people. He asked to see them, and they were all copies of movie actors that I had seen in movies and they were all likenesses that were accurate enough that Chris recognized all of my subjects and asked me had I ever worked from life, and of course I hadn't. I'd just copied the photographs, but they were very good and recognizable likenesses of the actors. He could identify them all, the women as well as the men. When I said I'd only worked from photographs, he said ... try working from life and offered himself as my first live sitter.
[00:30:30] I still have that very first drawing I did from life of Chris, and he was a very good sitter, very still, and I did exactly what I did when I copy photographs. I put in every detail I could see in the photograph, but since the photographs I'd learned from were all of movie actors, they'd all been retouched. With Chris, using the same technique of including everything I could see, I put in all the details that had been swept away by the retoucher in the photos of Hollywood actors and all of the crows feet, the eye bags, the lines down here. Chris was still a very beautiful man at 48.
[00:31:30] Even he wasn't used to seeing all those lines lovingly rendered in my drawing of him and because I was unused to working from life, I gave them maybe undo accentuation. The drawing of him, though very recognizable likeness also, made Chris look a good 10 years or more older than he really did look. It was sobering because it was also very like him with all the lines accentuated. So, with a gulp, he then said, "Well, you know, it's very good." I still have it. If you could see it, you would know what I mean.
[00:32:30] So I quickly, with Chris's urging, started art school. I waited almost three years because I was frightened at failing but I finally did take a six week summer course at Chouinard which was I think one of only two art schools that existed in LA at the time. I took a six week summer class and it immediately took. By the end of the first week of that summer school, I signed up for the fall term and went full-time for the next four years from nine to four in the afternoon. I was usually back for the night class from seven to 10.
[00:34:00] It was a long way away. I was living with Chris in Santa Monica and had to drive ... It was almost in downtown LA which was a good 30, 40 minute drive in those days. Of course, it was expensive. I could never have afforded to go to art school and Chris paid for it all and kept on encouraging me. Without him, I would never have become an artist. And it wasn't just that he paid for it all. He was there when I came home at night and said, "Show me what you did." We would go through every drawing, and he would remark on my progress or how good I was. He could see I was getting better all the time, and of course, that just whetted my appetite to please him as much as I could.
[00:35:30] Because I knew he was paying the cost of my art education, I started working not only at school but with two or three of my artist friends. We used to get together at night and draw each other. I was very determined and because of all of that practice I'd had copying photographs of movie actors, I used that same sharpness of eye that I'd got from copying photographs, working from life, and I made advancement very quickly. Soon, I was not only working from life with Chris but all kinds of, as I say, night classes with my school friends and either we posed for each other or we got friends to pose with us and we paid. I just worked continuously. I knew I had to have some kind of identity in the arts if I were going to maintain my life with Chris. There he was everyday encouraging me more and more. We were united in this common goal of finding an identity for me as an artist.
Mason Funk: This may sound silly but how did you know that you needed this, your own identity, as an artist? How did you know that?
Don Bachardy: [00:37:30] I was a veteran movie goer from the earliest times. Ted and I were taken to the movies very early by my mother. We were her movie going companions. A city night of movies, a lot of people laugh and say, "Ha ha! Oh, movies, a movie education is so superfluous." I was, I think, a lot more sophisticated than all the other kids I knew of my age. With the help of Chris, I knew what to do with the sophistication I'd learned from movies.
[00:38:30] I learned very quickly from him. He was the ideal mentor. Of course right away, he was giving me books to read, and not just his books but he had that little one room house of his was crammed with not only books but specially selected books by this very sophisticated man who was advising me in my reading. That was a wonderful experience for me, not only to have a mentor who was giving me books to read but then asking me my reactions and explaining to me all my questions about what does it mean and where was it going. He was just the very best explicator. I think I was very responsive because I had a real stake in my education because the smarter I got meant to me the longer I could hold the attention of this very fascinating, sophisticated mentor I had.
Mason Funk: [00:40:00] As an artist, as you grew and as you developed, were there other artists, either writers or painters, who you drew inspiration from?
Don Bachardy: [00:40:30] Yes. Because as soon as I started art school, I really had a much clearer idea of what it meant to be an artist, and I had this dedication already to portraiture, to learning how to draw and paint people. In art school, I learned about working from life everyday and class, and at nights, studying books of the work of artists who drew and painted people. With the enthusiasm I developed with living with somebody like Chris who could explain so much to me what it was I was learning by day in school, I made progress very quickly. I had a real appetite for it as well. You see, all that copying of photographs of movie actors, my eye was very well trained. When I started working from life, even Chris was surprised how quickly I advanced. The better I got, the more appetite I developed myself. I could see it in my work, and it was exciting. Chris was there to applaud and encourage me, so I couldn't get enough of it.
Mason Funk: [00:42:30] That's wonderful. Some people have commented that your relationship with Chris in some ways became a model for other gay men forming relationships and then really sticking with them through thick and thin. Is that something that you agree with, and what are your thoughts on that?
Don Bachardy: [00:43:00] Yes, and I'm sure we were certainly not the first example of a gay artist encouraging a young lover to develop his own ability as an artist. Certainly, there were many examples before us and many examples after. I met Chris just in time. If I'd been a year or two older, it would have been too late. I was just ripe for that kind of experience that Chris could give me. As I say, he was just ... The fact that we were lovers just increased the urgency of my education. In every way, everywhere I looked, there was encouragement to keep me going. Of course, that very first trip to New York, meeting Paul Cadmus who was a wonderful artist, who did terrific nude drawings of men, and through him, meeting George Platt Lynes and other artists, it just couldn't have been more exciting for me. I was avid to learn and being young and with all that attractiveness of a young man, excited by his first introduction to artists and wow! New York. Mm, I couldn't get back soon enough.
Mason Funk: [00:45:30] I'm curious when you say that you met Chris at just the right time, that even a year later it might not have worked, but I'm not sure what you mean by that. Can you explain?
Don Bachardy: [00:46:00] He could point me in the right direction, I mean, because he knew artists, and he was the real thing himself. He wasn't just somebody who read books, he wrote books! And he, by his own example as a writer... and then meeting genuine artists who could paint and draw and meeting somebody like Lincoln Kirstein who was such a knower of artists, of the art world. It was all so accessible to me, and I to it, being young enough and interested enough to appeal to all the artists that I was meeting through Chris.
Mason Funk: [00:47:00] You and Chris had conversations about what it meant to be publicly gay, to be a public gay person. Do you remember that, and what were those conversations like?
Don Bachardy: [00:47:30] Through my brother Ted, the only queer people I knew were young men who went to bars and the beach. Through Chris, I met the artistic gays. That was even more exciting to me and being interested in art myself, drawing and portraiture, it all was of a piece and having a knack for drawing which I could then develop by going to art school and working from live models. I couldn't get enough of it.
Mason Funk: You want to take a little break and then we'll just resume in a minute or two and talk a bit more?
Don Bachardy: Yeah, sure.
Mason Funk: Okay. I don't want to take too much of your time.
Don Bachardy: [00:48:30] Talk about my experience to young people and help them as much as I can. It was so exciting for me going to art school and watching my art teachers sit down on the very bench that I drew from and watching a professional artist start a drawing, continue a drawing, and even finish a drawing. That was just unbelievably educational for me because I was a mimic.
[00:49:30] Before the first year with Chris, I was over ... People were already remarking on my English accent. At first, I was just horrified because, of course, I was being kidded, I was becoming so affected with my English accent. Chris already had his accent though it sounded English to me when I first went to London with Chris. No, first in New York, that first trip to New York at the end of 1953 I met all kinds of people who remarked that I had an English accent. Then the first trip to London, it got even worse. At first, I was embarrassed but then I knew I could do nothing about it because it had happened unconsciously, so I just had to surrender to being regarded as a very affected personality. Okay, I'll do it up with real appetite. I suppose it came all the more affected. I was having a great time.
Mason Funk: [00:51:30] Yeah. You know, when someone falls in love with ... Many years ago, I went to Portugal on a vacation and I met a Portuguese guy and I fell in love with him and I ended up living for several years in Portugal. I later realized that not only had I fallen in love with him but I had fallen in love with the language and the culture. I feel like in a way you were learning a language almost.
Don Bachardy: [00:52:00] Yes, I was, certainly I was. Yes and a culture too because I knew how to be an American but I knew very little about how to be an American artist. Chris introduced me to American culture in a way that I probably wouldn't have found out about for years and years because I was getting it from the horse's mouth. Not just somebody telling me about art but practicing art and knowing people who practice not only writing but art, painting, and music and the whole rest of it. Being taught about the ballet by Lincoln Kirstein and Paul Cadmus and knowing Paul Cadmus and seeing his art studio and Lincoln Kirstein had in his house Paul Cadmus's paintings of the deadly sins. That was no end of fascination for me. Cadmus's paintings of lust and envy and jealousy and ... Oh, what are the seven deadly sins? For me, seven wasn't nearly enough. I wanted more examples to depict. It was such fun and so exciting.
[00:54:00] Gosh, and then eventually meeting Tennessee Williams and William Ians and theater people and Chris knew lots of movie people. Oh, I remember in the early days going to an Italian restaurant in Hollywood called Naples. It was on Gower Street very close to Columbia Studios. One night having dinner with Chris at the Naples restaurant, I suddenly said, "Chris, Montgomery Cliff is just coming in!" Well, he was right down the street at Columbia making “From Here to Eternity”. Naturally, he was coming through, had dinner at Naples restaurant, and not only was he sitting at a nearby table, he eventually saw Chris and walked right up to the table. I said, "Chris, uh, he's coming toward our table." Suddenly, he was saying, "Hello Chris." Chris knew him very well because Fred Zinnemann who directed Cliff's first film “The Search”, Chris had actually watched some of the filming of that and knew Cliff. Gosh, how exciting to meet a genuine movie star who Chris knew so well. Lucky it wasn't just the first time. I had lots of such experiences with him.
Mason Funk: [00:56:30] When you use the term, you use the term artist a lot, becoming an artist and the people you met who were artists. What does it mean to you today when you say someone is an artist?
Don Bachardy: [00:57:00] People who make something out of their experience. That their experience is so vivid, so exciting that it's not enough just to live it. You want it recorded in some way to make it last, to find the essence of the experience you're having so you can record it yourself. I'd been unconsciously doing it from a very early age by copying pictures of movie actors in magazines. I was in some way acknowledging the experience I'd had in movie theaters watching movie actors. By doing likenesses of them, I was in some way acknowledging my excitement of watching movies and seeing people through what they looked like recorded by a camera lens. Then recording that image myself, and then that introduction led to another introduction and a whole line of refinements of that first introduction until finally I was having the experience of being an artist myself.
[00:59:00] Having somebody like Chris who, it was so strange and new to me and having a real master of artistic experience helping me to understand what was going on and making it all the more exciting for me. Chris was like one of those Greek artists explaining what he was doing and living to a handsome Greek youth. It was just another wonderful repetition of what had been going on for centuries. Happily, yes.
[01:00:00] Oh what luck to meet somebody like Chris, really, and finally realizing not just somebody like him but the real McCoy, an artist in every sense of the word who was willing to create for himself the experience that he'd had learning about the Greeks and learning about writers and artists and culture in general and then being able to hand it on to an eager young man who had a little bit of a natural talent and appetite to want to develop that talent and to have a man who could tell him how, to just kind of point him in the right direction and help him along the way with his encouragement and little bits of enlightenment, being careful not to overload him but giving him more and more of an appetite. I know that was exciting for Chris too.
Mason Funk: [01:02:00] I want to switch topics briefly and talk about the '80s, 1980s and the onset of the AIDS crisis and what your memories are of those early days and how they affected you.
Don Bachardy: [01:02:30] Of course it was very scary. Of course I had the realization that my good fortune in meeting Chris had probably also saved my life because if I hadn't met him, I would certainly have found other gay men to fraternize with. I would most certainly have had a very good chance of getting AIDS myself. I fully realize that once into that phase of gay life and AIDS became such a tragedy that I would have been one of his victims if my life with Chris hadn't saved me from it because otherwise I doubt if I could have avoided it. Ted, my older brother, was just old enough to also have ... If he'd been younger and more promiscuous, he would have certainly become a victim too. That was a real responsibility that I was conscious of. My good fortune and being just miraculously able to avoid it because of my relationship with Chris, it gave me a sense of responsibility, to develop a responsibility to try to be as good as an example as I could to guys younger than myself to carry on with the good work Chris had done for me.
Mason Funk: Just one second. Someone wanted to come. Hello.
Ben: No, because we're supposed to train Don.
Don Bachardy: Oh gosh!
Ben: [01:05:30] How far are you guys?
Don Bachardy: Yeah, I completely forgot what day it is. Ben, yes.
Mason Funk: I'm Mason, this is Kate.
Don Bachardy: Hi, nice to meet you. Yes. I'm sorry. What can we do about this?
Ben: If you have to take more time, it's okay. We'll do it another time. I'll just come in on Thursday.
Don Bachardy: Gosh, I'm so sorry Ben.
Ben: No, it's not a problem.
Don Bachardy: [01:06:00] It just went out of my head. Tuesdays he has my ...
Ben: No, Don you have changed the schedule so many times myself, so it's not on you. It's on me. It's not an issue. It's not a big deal.
Don Bachardy: Gosh, well look Ben, do forgive me. I'll call you as soon as we're over and ... Make plans.
Ben: No worries.
Don Bachardy: I'm so sorry to have forgotten.
Ben: No, it's okay.
Mason Funk: Thank you.
Ben: Have a good one.
Don Bachardy: [01:06:30] Oh gosh! God I'm getting so forgetful. Yes, Tuesdays and Thursdays every week we work out for an hour and a half, and sometimes other days too. That's very bad. Anyway, it's done.
Mason Funk: [01:07:00] Yeah, he didn't seem too ... He seemed like he was okay.
Don Bachardy: [01:07:30] He's a very nice guy, but I hate wasting his time. Yes, well I'll certainly pay him for today too because of course I will. Still, I wouldn't have had to of wasted his time.
Mason Funk: Let me ask you, you were saying that you felt a responsibility in the light of the AIDS epidemic towards younger men.
Don Bachardy: [01:08:00] Yes, because of course I felt guilty just because I also felt lucky to have avoided AIDS myself just by the happenstance of being committed to a relationship that kept me from going to gay bars and being susceptible to all the experiences that otherwise I would have had and probably, most certainly have been an AIDS victim myself. Yes, it made me feel I had to make up for it in some way by ... Yes, I guess I felt that all of my queer life that as lucky as I am I ought to feel very responsible as possible for being at least the best example of it that I can be.
Mason Funk: [01:09:30] What does that mean to you? What does it mean to be a good example to ...
Don Bachardy: [01:10:00] Just in itself being a good example to a young gay man to say it isn't ... You see, because I come from an era when gay men felt hideously ashamed and wanted to hide it or get rid of it. Now I want to help gay men to flourish in their own gayness and be a sufficient example of gayness to not to make them horrified to be an example that they might even want to emulate. That's a big responsibility, and I often don't feel fully up to it. I do try sometimes anyway. I've done a fair bit of encouraging young men to certainly not feel ashamed of themselves. Can you imagine what Chris was like for me because even meeting him as early as I did I'd already met enough gay men to feel I must be secretive, I must hide this essential fact of my life? Yes, to avoid that shame that was so prevalent then and there's still a pretty good amount of it around.
Mason Funk: [01:12:00] Yeah, I agree with you. We still need a lot of examples like you've been able to provide of men who have made it through and flourished as you said.
Don Bachardy: Yes.
Mason Funk: Yeah. I'm curious to know, I know that Chris was a lifelong devotee of Hinduism, of Vedanta and I wonder how you related to that, if it was an interest to you or not or ...
Don Bachardy: [01:12:30] Well, in my own perverted way, I'm certainly a Vedantist. I would initiate and, of course, Chris taught me, gave me books to read. You see, he very early introduced me to Paramananda, his own guru. If you think that was easy for him, being who he was at the Vedantist center, being a disciple of Paramananda and knowing he had the responsibility to introduce his 18 year old lover to Paramananda himself and his 18 year old lover who still looked 12, that wasn't easy for Chris. All the other members of the congregation seeing Chris show up with this teenage looking boy, that took a lot of guts. The women, the female Vedantists you can imagine all the sly knowledge they had. That wasn't easy for him. He knew he couldn't hide, so he'd better make the best of it. His conscience wouldn't let him hide because he observed so many of his own kind over the year making grotesque spectacles of themselves. No, he couldn't hide.
Mason Funk: What do you mean making grotesque spectacles?
Don Bachardy: Well, by pretending not to be queer to all their straight friends, yes, who know anyway. Even the women knew.
Mason Funk: [01:15:00] You know, one thing that really comes through is even now when you talk about Chris you just come alive if there's something so fresh about the way you talk about him as if you met him a year ago, six months ago.
Don Bachardy: [01:15:30] Well, he was like nobody I ever met then and he's still like nobody I've ever met. He was genuinely phenomenal. I know and respect more about him now than ever before. It's more than 30 years since he died and he's even more original than I realized after all those years of living with him. Yes, he had something and you see, he managed to be himself and to be a fag and a Vedantist and not be ashamed in anyway. In fact, to use the very essence of that contradiction for most people and make it work for himself and be an example that really was genuine. Yes, he was the best influence I could possibly have had. As I said, I met him just in time. I was still young enough, I could absorb it all and use it all.
Mason Funk: So today, do you still paint?
Don Bachardy: Today, I what?
Mason Funk: Do you paint today? What's your painting ritual or life like?
Don Bachardy: [01:17:30] What time is it? If Ben's here, it must be after 10:30. I've got a 12:30 sitter and I usually ... Ben and I work out to noon and then I have a snack to eat and then go out to the studio. Yes. I usually schedule my sitters for 12:30. I can't think who it is today but I know I'm with somebody.
Mason Funk: Who are the people you most look forward to painting these days?
Don Bachardy: [01:18:30] You know, it doesn't matter, even the most difficult subjects. I used to say to my ... "God, what am I going to do with so and so today?" Man or woman. I mean, how can I make art of so and so? I've been tested in the hottest ovens. I can make art out of anybody who will sit still for me because I'm not kidding. I'm really genuinely interested in people and everybody has something unique. That's very exciting to find it. With some people, it's obvious. With others, I really have to look with a very finely tuned microscope, but it's always there. I've always got something to record. The harder it gets, the more exciting it gets.
Mason Funk: There's no one you've ever painted where you just were completely stymied?
Don Bachardy: [01:20:00] Oh of course. I don't measure up nearly often enough. Even nowadays, I feel I've failed to record what the real intensity of a particular person. It's always my failure. It's never theirs. I mean, people can make it very difficult for me. A lousy sitter can really tax me to the limit, but when it works, it's a perfect example of cooperation. I can truthfully say I'm only as good as my sitter, and the better my sitter sits for me, the better I am as an artist and the better the results are likely to be.
Mason Funk: What goes into being a good sitter? What makes a person a good sitter?
Don Bachardy: [01:21:30] Giving back the concentration I'm focusing on them. Most people, if I just am patient, they get it right away and give it back to me. It's nothing other than concentration. If you have the ability to concentrate, yes, that's very important. Most people have it somewhere. They may not use it often enough, but if I can inspire that in them and most people do realize, I must do something I'm unaware of and I hope I can remain to be unaware of it. Some kind of, when I settle down to it, I start to work, most of my sitters get it right away that I mean business. There's something I do that seems to make them feel that I transform myself into somebody who is serious about what he is going to do. I don't think you can kid around in that way. I always know when somebody is faking concentration.
[01:23:30] Yes, and most people who are dissatisfied with themselves as artist are dissatisfied because they're not giving their full intention to it. There are some people, I guess, who are incapable of realizing their own potential for concentration. Maybe there's some people who aren't capable of it and alas, they must miss something really essential in life if they miss that. Because that excitement is just essential to me. Yes. It's the only thing that makes me feel really alive. I must take a bathroom break. Excuse me.
Mason Funk: Sure.
Don Bachardy: [01:25:00] It's really the thing about the AIDS that I find most difficult to handle. I used to have very sharp memory. It was very useful to Chris because his memory began to go ... Actually, I guess around the same age as mine began to go. A very significant day occurred last September — for the first time in my life, I became older than Chris. I feel I've been living on borrowed time ever since. It seems almost indecent to live to be older than he was. I don't know what to do with myself except just go on working. That was very bad of me not to prepare Ben.
Mason Funk: Well, we really appreciate your time. I have one more question and then I want to give Kate a chance to ask a question or two and then we'll be done.
Don Bachardy: Very good, okay.
Mason Funk: [01:26:30] I wanted to ask you because I brought up the friends that I have, Tucker Fleming and Charles Williamson, I just wanted to ask you if on camera you could record your memories of Tucker and Charles.
Don Bachardy: Oh it's so long ago. Tucker I know sat for me. I can't remember a sitting with Chuck. Are they still alive?
Mason Funk: No, they passed.
Don Bachardy: No, I thought so, yeah.
Mason Funk: [01:27:00] You did paint them both though.
Don Bachardy: [01:27:30] [01:28:00] Good. I remember both vividly but I can't remember my drawing of Chuck. Tucker I remember very well drawing him, but I remember them both clearly. Really of the two, Chuck would have been the more interesting personality to record. There was more of his personality in his face than Tucker. That's not accurate to say because I think every face tells me exactly who people are. It's just that I don't concentrate sufficiently to get the full range of that expression. Yes, I think Tucker was easier to read than Charles. Charles was more complicated of the two.
Mason Funk: Kate, do you have a question?
Kate Kunath: [01:28:30] I do. I was wondering ... What was I wondering? I was wondering since your relationship with Chris was so important and so long and started when you were so young and losing him was probably so significant for you, if there was a life lesson or something that you learned about yourself since his passing, since you have been living your life without him, what would that thing be? Something that you've learned about yourself since-
Don Bachardy: [01:29:30] [01:30:00] [01:30:30] [01:31:00] We both realized the arts were inescapable, that I'd be living on after him. We were both aware of that and so I was preparing myself the whole time for losing him and how best to guard against that or to strengthen myself for it was to use my abilities for mimicry by, as much as I was capable of, becoming him, soaking up every possible aspect of him that I knew, and to ... If my role in life has been to imitate people and do portraits of them with the knowledge that I've absorbed by becoming them as it were, by imagining being the person I'm recording, then of course I also do that. I believe I have done it to my maximum ability.
[01:31:30] [01:32:00] I've become him. I'm kind of living on in his image as it were. I think I've been continually and I judge myself with that comparison with him cruelly still, realizing what a way I have to go still, what a long way to go to be a reflection of who and what he was. I won't give up until I'm on my deathbed because what's the point of giving up? Yes, he was a lifelong inspiration for me and he still is. I can't get away from him even if I wanted to.
Mason Funk: Is part of being an artist never being satisfied, never feeling like you've fulfilled-
Don Bachardy: [01:32:30] [01:33:00] Isn't that part of being alive really? Being alive, it's how can we ever fulfill our potential because our potential ought to be the highest state possible and how few of us even approach it. I've seen a few examples that were in my life of people who have gotten very close. Even when you reach your highest point, there's always more potential. I know Chris felt that. He was not at all satisfied with himself.
Mason Funk: [01:33:30] If someone comes to you, a young person, and is contemplating coming out in some way, shape, or form, whatever that might mean, what guidance would you offer that person?
Don Bachardy: [01:34:00] [01:34:30] Just instead of wasted time regretting anything fundamental about oneself, there's nothing so shameful or so second rate that shouldn't be exposed and dealt with. We all have such a distance to go still. What is the point of giving up? As soon as you get to one state, you find out how much further yet you still have to go, but giving up is certainly not an out. Surrender is impossible, so you just have to keep going.
Mason Funk: [01:35:00] When you look to the future, your own future or the future of this world we live in, what's your hope? What gives you hope for the future?
Don Bachardy: [01:35:30] [01:36:00] [01:36:30] [01:37:00] [01:37:30] Gosh, at my age, there's so little future one can depend on. It gets very dicey even trying to imagine what that is, and it makes me uncomfortable just to think about it. Of course, I do think about it. I really don't know. I know Chris was very wary of any kind of pronouncements about his experience and I know that he wasn't nearly satisfied sufficiently with himself. He felt there was so much more he could have done. I guess we must all feel that. I'm sure the moment I feel satisfied with my life or the moment I will feel most foolish, how could I possibly have fulfilled my potential? I've failed in so many ways, but that doesn't mean I can stop for one minute trying. Yes, it seems hopeless but I still have to try, and I do most of the time.
Mason Funk: [01:38:00] You know you were very ... You agreed finally to let us come. Why is it important for you to tell your story?
Don Bachardy: [01:38:30] [01:39:00] Because I know from having tried before, it's so frustrating. I never get deep enough. Also, I know try as I may, it's impossible to tell you enough, and yet it takes so much time to tell you to do the best I can. I'd so much rather be out in the studio slogging away and knowing my sense of satisfaction will probably never be sated. I have to keep trying. What time is it?
Mason Funk: It's time, I think, to finish. It's 11:20.
Don Bachardy: Yeah. I should, yes.
Mason Funk: [01:39:30] Okay.
Don Bachardy: Because it takes awhile to get myself going out in the studio.
Mason Funk: Sure. We can wrap up right now. Anything else Kate?
Kate Kunath: Nope.
Mason Funk: Okay. Thank you very, very much.
Don Bachardy: I hope you haven't wasted your morning.
Mason Funk: [01:40:00] No, you've given us a great deal. You really have. You've given us a lot of good stuff. Thank you. Do you want to record room tone?
Mason Funk: We're going to do 30 seconds of just the room with nobody talking.
Don Bachardy: Very good.
Kate Kunath: [01:40:30] It's okay.

Interviewed by: Mason Funk
Camera: Kate Kunath
Date: April 04, 2017
Location: Home Of Don Bachardy, Santa Monica, CA