Berger: Bacon-Disney


Tiko Kerr
Walt Disney contemplando a Francis Bacon
collage, 2017


Texto de John Berger, inicialmente publicado en inglés como "Francis Bacon and Walt Disney", 1972; traducción española de Pilar Vázquez Álvarez, Francis Bacon y Walt Disney, incluida en: Mirar, Modos de ver y Otra manera de contar.


Michael Leventis, Francis Bacon, 2013

Though one can readily see the gravity and depth of Bacon’s characters and environments, Berger intimates that such reality is not the case in his works. Berger compares Walt Disney and his sense of over the top cartoon animation to Bacon’s work on the basis that both are hollow and lack substance. He even states that Bacon’s work is in line with the repetitive Disney pieces in that, “Bacon’s paintings do not comment, as is often said, on any actual experience of loneliness, anguish or metaphysical doubt; nor do they comment on social relations, bureaucracy, industrial society or the history of the 20th century…What they do is to demonstrate how alienation may provoke a longing for its own absolute form- which is mindlessness” (Berger).
Berger espouses the notion that Bacon’s work is in and of itself hollow and unquestioning. He feels that the paintings reveal little or nothing about a given subject and that the body of work has lacked thematic development. Berger even goes so far as to mock Bacon by referring to his own words when he mentions that all objects other than bodies are illustrated, something that Bacon has said he find boring about works that appeal directly to the brain rather than the nervous system. In effect, Berger is purposely equating the works of Bacon to that which Bacon most disliked about conventional art in order to provide a dramatic sense of invalidation to the pieces.
While John Berger may think himself clever for attempting to render Bacon as artistically and intellectually flaccid, he is far from convincing in his comparison of his works to that of Disney. Walt Disney presents what is obviously a bland and stereotypical cast of characters, all of whom play out absurdly over simplified story lines in slapstick. The moral and ethical depth of said stories are best compared to a mirror; illusionary, superficial, and nonexistent in actuality. No gray area is permitted in right and wrong in the magic kingdom. Good guys win because they are good and baddies are conversely wrong as such. The great notion of human struggle and the despair of human experience is limited to songs and silliness. The fact that these stories are often to violent for children does not negate the fact that they are created solely for their consumption. Little substance beyond basic prescription for general moral principles and values like sharing, honesty, and friends sticking together can be found in these films. Quite literally, the Disney catalog is devoid of intricacy of any kind aside from the physical talent of the illustrators themselves.
One may argue that only the actual physical art and image matters in this case. I reject this assertion as art intrinsically involves narrative. The story of a piece is of the utmost importance in experiencing the work. This being true, Bacon’s paintings are rife with rich and intricate narrative. No piece in his body can be seen without calling into question a plethora of factors involved in the character’s expression. Though Bacon’s art focuses singularly on pain and suffering this does not in-substantiate is presence. Singularity of subject does not impinge upon the effectiveness of its conveyance in a given medium. Where Berger would argue that Bacon’s work shows no growth of theme, one can easily see that the theme involved is developed throughout the life of his work. The expression of pain and grief of Bacon’s earliest works are obvious predecessors to his later pieces. His ability to convey the notions have been studied and fine tuned to a point where they do enter directly in to the nervous system as he would have hoped. A question of thematic development can not and should not hinder the appreciation of any artistic body. These facts separate Bacon from Disney absolutely as his work transcends triviality and even the medium that it utilizes to offer the audience a direct interaction with not just the image of the raw human condition, but also a direct experience.
Bacon’s work has a depth that Berger seems to have missed in his rush to make an interesting comparison. For Bacon’s art hits upon key truths of the pain of humanity. Though Berger would say that the art reveals nothing, much is actually exposed. The most important of these exposures, is the raw reality that while we are most certainly alive (and aware of that fact) we are, at the very same time, most certainly dying. Berger may see the art of Francis Bacon as illustrative, but what one may find better illustrated by further examination is a definite sense that Berger is still unaware of this fact. For, while his pontificating may be very lively, his argument is surely dead.
Ian Little, Reflection upon Berger, 28.1.2011


Figura yacente en espejo

Francis Bacon, Lying Figure in Mirror, 1971

Francis Bacon, Figura yacente en un espejo (Lying Figure in a Mirror), 1971. Óleo sobre lienzo, 198.5 x 147.5 cm. Museo de Bellas Artes, Bilbao

Figura en un espejo es un cuadro misterioso y sugestivo, dado que el espejo de Bacon refleja una figura cuya identidad y condición son equívocas (Mariano Akerman, Figura en el espejo, 2008).

Una figura masculina se refleja en un espejo delimitado por dos líneas blancas, en el que también se representa parte del interior circular –albero o escenario de exhibición erótica– en el que se sitúa. La reducción geométrica y cromática del suelo, las paredes y los estores contrasta vivamente con el tratamiento carnal y elástico de la presencia acéfala y deforme que domina la composición, cuya plasticidad se corresponde con el interés que en ese periodo Bacon –que conservaba en su estudio una imagen de El día de la Capilla Medicea de Miguel Ángel– manifestó por la escultura. El espejo, un elemento habitual en su obra desde finales de los años sesenta, lejos de agrandar la habitación, refuerza su confinamiento y convierte al espectador en voyeur de su propia realidad distorsionada. [M.G.M.]

A male figure is reflected in a mirror framed by two white lines, which also depicts part of the circular interior—an arena or a stage for erotic performances—in which it is placed. The geometric and chromatic reduction of the floor, walls and roller blinds forms a sharp contrast with the sensual and elastic treatment of the deformed headless presence that dominates the composition, the plastic quality of which matches the interest that sculpture held for Bacon at the time (he kept a picture of Michelangelo’s Day from the Medici Chapel in his studio). Far from making the room larger, the mirror—a common feature in his oeuvre since the late sixties—stresses the idea of confinement and transforms the viewer into a voyeur of his own distorted reality.

Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao

Mariano Akerman, ARTE BRITÁNICO, 2009

Extracto del texto de María Müller en Verseando

En una habitación sin muebles, delimitada al fondo por tres estores negros, yace una criatura de apariencia extraña y voluminosa. En un primer momento aparece como una masa contorneada por una membrana en metamorfosis. Es difícil decidir si se trata de una o de dos figuras enredadas en un apasionado abrazo o en una lucha existencial. De la naturaleza humana sólo se manifiestan los brazos doblados, un pezón y una axila cubierta de vello (¿o un ano?). La cabeza, que existe, desaparece tras las curvaturas de la carne. La apreciable pesadez de la figura, determinada por la carencia parcial de tensión física y por las extremidades estiradas hacia el borde izquierdo del cuadro, recuerda a una foca, que mueve su pesado cuerpo fuera del agua sin miembros apropiados para ello.

Bañado por una luz brillante, y sin embargo carente de sombra, el carnoso cuerpo parece una masa biomórfica en la que sólo se esbozan extremidades, la curvatura de las nalgas y una cabeza.

[...] El cuadro, que a primera vista parece de gran claridad, desconcierta en una contemplación más [prolongada]. La habitación queda imprecisa, la superficie amarilla contigua al borde inferior del cuadro parece servir al observador como de entrada al cuadro. Pero, ¿se debería superar luego una inclinación, sobre cuya altura yace la figura?, ¿se mira el pequeño segmento de una enorme bola?, ¿o se entra en una habitación abombada, cuyas paredes malvas, sin embargo, discurren otra vez estrictamente paralelas a la pintura?, ¿o cuelgan los estores libremente en la habitación? Y, ¿qué muestra el espejo que se menciona en el título del cuadro?

Mediante dos líneas que discurren paralelas se perfilan dos lados de este espejo, colocado oblicuamente en la habitación y cortado por los bordes izquierdo y superior de la obra. En el interior del cuadrado, que contiene muy oprimido el espacio de la figura acostada, sólo el amarillo es más intenso. Pero no se perciben ni la esperada distorsión del espacio ni la simetría entre habitación y reflejo. La supuesta claridad del cuadro cede, provocando una inseguridad permanente. El espejo no sirve aquí ni a una «distorsión o alteración de la figura representada» ni a su duplicación. Aparece como mera afirmación, para la que no hay indicios suficientes. Gilles Deleuze llegó al fondo de la cuestión en 1984 en su interesante estudio sobre la obra de Bacon: «Todo es posible en el espejo de Bacon, excepto una superficie reflectante». En referencia a Lying Figure in Mirror prosigue: «el cuerpo penetra en el espejo, toma asiento, él mismo y su sombra. De ahí la fascinación: no hay nada detrás del espejo, sólo en él» (Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon : logique de la sensation, París : Éditions de La Différence, 1984).

Siguiendo las huellas de la capa de pintura, el proceso pictórico explica la génesis de esta engañosa imagen especular: es totalmente evidente que Bacon pintó primero la figura –como se hace frecuentemente–. Aplicó pastel y óleo seco en movimientos a menudo circulares en la estructura descubierta del lienzo. Los realces blancos, por el contrario, están aplicados con pintura pastosa. Como también se observa en otros cuadros, sólo estaba predefinida la línea ligeramente arqueada que discurre horizontal, que sirve tanto a la división de la superficie como al posicionamiento de la figura que se recuesta en ella. El suave violeta de la mitad superior del cuadro y el amarillo de la inferior fueron aplicados luego superficialmente; así, por ejemplo, el delicado violeta en las zonas del borde se hace también visible bajo la figura. El amarillo y el violeta, pero también el negro intenso de los estores que cuelgan del borde superior de la pintura, debieron de ser aplicados con un rodillo.

Posteriormente, Bacon trazó las líneas que se encuentran en un ángulo obtuso y enmarcó así la figura sobre la superficie del cuadro. Las conocidas estructuras en forma de jaula de las obras de los años cincuenta y sesenta, que dan apoyo a las figuras dentro del espacio del lienzo, son reemplazadas aquí por un simple marco. La superficie amarilla está cubierta de una capa de fina arena, que, sin embargo, no queda adherida en todas partes. Dentro del pretendido espejo, Bacon retoca con un paño sucio esta zona áspera y de aspecto brillante por el reflejo de luz, y con ello limpia parcialmente la arena. Sólo esta parte más oscura y compacta dentro del «marco» sugiere por sí sola el reflejo del espejo.

[...] Los estores negros remiten al año 1946, en el que Bacon creó [...] Painting [...].

También pudier[o]n haber influido las obras de hombres tumbados sobre colchones o tarimas, amándose, copulando o luchando juntos, aun cuando aquí parezca reconocerse tan sólo una figura. La pintura de Bacon, desde comienzos de los años cincuenta hasta el último tríptico que realizó en 1991, traza a modo de hilo rojo el motivo tomado de las fotografías de Eadweard Muybridge, «un tema inagotable». Precisamente en virtud de este tema, el camino de Bacon hacia la pintura se hace comprensible, determinado por planos superpuestos de las imágenes almacenadas en [su] memoria visual: la experiencia privada, la historia del arte y el amplio fondo de fotografías [reproducias] en la prensa diaria, revistas y publicaciones científicas.

[...] En el «vacío» de esta estrecha habitación, bañada por una luz despiadada, aparece la figura yacente como una transición gradual de la existencia de una criatura humana, totalmente aislada y entregada, demostrando al mismo tiempo gran energía y fuerza. Lo individual retrocede aquí tras lo general. El desconcierto que provocan la imprecisa habitación y la figura en el espejo ponen en duda la claridad de la composición y de los arriesgados contrastes complementarios. Y aunque la figura yacente parezca cautiva en su estrecha habitación, limitada por el espejo, no cabe duda de que la energía que emana de ella hará que prolongue con fuerza el distorsionado movimiento de su cuerpo.

Mariano Akerman, SER Y NO SER, 2013

Francis Bacon en Buenos Aires

Lo Grotesco en las pinturas de Bacon

Desarrollo del Ciclo de Conferencias SER Y NO SER


Metamorfosis of the Other

גילגולי האחר במשחק האמנותי של פראנסיס בייקון: להיות ולא להיות


A dissertation by Mariano Akerman

Visual sources plate

Mariano Akerman. Born in Buenos Aires in 1963, Mariano Akerman is a painter, architect and art historian. Working as a researcher and a lecturer, Akerman also develops educational activities that encourage free expression and communitarian involvement of participants while considering their cultural background.
Akerman studied at the School of Architecture of Universidad de Belgrano (Argentina), completing his formation with a prized graduation project on modern architecture boundaries and space (1987). Abroad from 1991 onwards, he received a British Council Grant to research the artwork of Francis Bacon at Marlborough Fine Art and the Tate Gallery in London. Akerman is author of The Grotesque in Francis Bacon’s Paintings (1999) and "Bacon, Painter with a Double-Edged Sword" (2012).
In Asia, Mariano Akerman developed the educational series of conferences The Belgian Contribution to the Visual Arts (2005), In the Spirit of Linnaeus (2007), Discovering Belgian Art (2008-9), Raisons d’être: Art, Freedom and Modernity (2010), German Art (2010), and The Gestalt Educational Program (2011).
In the American continent, the series of lectures Art and Identity (2013) includes a conference devoted to Bacon's idiosyncratic imagery—"To be and not to be."
Specializing in Visual Communication, Akerman lectures on modern art at institutions such as the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Buenos Aires, the National Museum of the Philippines in Manila, the Star of Hope School in Taytay, the National College of Arts in Lahore, the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, UNIRIO and the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro.


La belleza no lo es todo

Julenne Esquinca, Francis Bacon: porque la belleza no lo es todo, Farenheit, 28.10.2015

Francis Bacon es uno de los pintores que dejó al mundo en shock, ya que su obra retrata crudamente una naturaleza humana que, para el artista, es ‘inevitablemente violenta’. Este pintor, heredero del expresionismo y de genios como Egon Schiele, Munch y Picasso, dotó sus obras de una naturaleza salvajemente humana.

Después de leer la vida de Bacon, entenderemos sus razones, pues fue una persona entregada a los extremos de la vida y los placeres. No obstante, aunque podría pensarse que el escándalo era parte de su vida, era una persona bastante reservada y que cuidaba su imagen. Tras esta cortina, Bacon era una persona impulsiva, rodeada de relaciones extremadamente violentas, fuente de inspiración para su pintura.

¿Qué es lo que lleva a Bacon a pintar? Es su descubrimiento de La masacre de los inocentes, un óleo de Poussin, lo que lo lleva a decidir pintar. Otro gran detonante para Bacon fue la visita a una muestra que incluía figuras antropomorfas de Pablo Picasso.

La obra pictórica de Francis Bacon se encuentra en el marco de la pintura figurativa realizada después de la Segunda Guerra Mundial, el así denominado arte de posguerra. En esta época, predominaba el arte abstracto, pero es Bacon junto con Matisse, Giacometti, Dubuffet y Balthus –entre otros–, quienes sostendrían el estandarte figurativo.

A lo largo de su carrera, Bacon recurre tanto al surrealismo como al expresionismo, mas su obra pertenece a aquello que se denomina nueva figuración o arte neofigurativo. Esta tendencia de posguerra retoma la figura humana, pero a su vez también la distorsiona como una metáfora respecto la violencia bélica. Cabe recalcar que la pintura de Bacon también se le considera arte existencialista.

A pesar de todas las clasificaciones anteriores, Bacon siempre se mantuvo fuera de cualquier movimiento artístico. Para este artista, sólo Picasso representaba su gran fuerza creadora e inspiradora. En efecto, Bacon produjo sus piezas basándose en la vía abierta que Picasso dejó entre la figuración y la desfiguración, al tomar elementos como el cuerpo y deconstruirlos con violencia, tal y como lo intentó el cubismo en su momento.

Inicialmente, la pintura de Bacon tendía al sensacionalismo, pero con el correr de los años sus pinturas involucraron un grado de esteticidad. La teatralidad y la magnificencia fueron también dos factores cruciales en la producción artística de Bacon.

Algunas de sus primeras obras reflejan influencias de Picasso, otras, incorporan elementos provenientes de la imaginería de Grünewald, Poussin, Rembrandt, Soutine y Cimabue. Finalmente, sus trabajos también poseen referentes como Velázquez, van Gogh, Degas, Goya o Ingres. No obstante, en casi todos los casos, las fuentes de inspiración son trascendidas por la propia intervención de Bacon.

Sus cuadros más distintivos son su serie de Crucifixiones (1933-1968) y Cabeza rodeada de flancos bovinos (1954), donde Bacon rememora aquello que lo obsesiona: la agresividad del ser vivo y aquello que él entiende como su innata e inexorable inclinación hacia la violencia.

Una parte importante de las pinturas de Bacon son los retratos, ya que su obsesión era la naturaleza humana. Entre estos destaca George Dyer en un espejo –donde retrata a su pareja George Dyer–, obra que pertenece a la colección del Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza en Madrid.

A diferencia de otros pintores, Bacon hizo sus retratos prescindiendo modelos naturales, sino que los desarrolló a partir de fotografías. Bacon capturaba con su pincel a sus compañeros íntimos y amigos como también a gente famosa. Es decir, que en su bastidor se encuentran retratos de George Dyer, John Edwards, Lucian Freud, Hitler, Pío XII y Mick Jagger.

Strugging with Chance

by Dangerous Minds, 23.12.2013


Real painting for Francis Bacon was about a mysterious and continuous struggle with chance.

”Mysterious because the very substance of the paint can make such a direct assault on the nervous system; continuous because the medium is so fluid and subtle that every change that is made loses what is already there in the hope of making a fresh gain.”

Bacon believed when one talked about painting one said nothing of interest, it was all superficial. He believed it was best for a painter not to talk about painting. “If you could talk about it, why paint it?” he once said.

”The important thing for the painter is to paint, and nothing else.

“The most important thing is to look at the painting—to read the poetry, to listen to the music—not in order to understand it, or to know it but feel something.”

Yet, Bacon did talk at length about his paintings and his art. He claimed it was the Irish in him that made him so talkative. Much of what he said was recorded in a series of long interviews conducted with with the art critic, David Sylvester. These were later published as a book, and here in this documentary The LIfe of Francis Bacon they provide an exceptional background to understanding Bacon the artist and the man.

The documentary opens with Bacon’s idea of painting as a means to opening up areas of feeling, rather than merely illustration.

”A picture should be the recreation of an event, rather than an illustration of an object. But there is no tension in the picture unless there is a struggle with the object.

“I would like my pictures to look as if a human being had passed between them like a snail, leaving a trail of the human presence, a memory trace of past events, as the snail leave its slime.”

Bacon wanted to bring the sensation of life, what he termed “the brutality of fact,” directly to the viewer “without the boredom of conveyance.” To achieve this, he claimed he performed acts of violence on the canvas in a bid to make the pictures live. Bacon was a quick worker, turning paintings out in a few hours—compare this with the months Lucien Freud spent on a single canvas.

He took his ideas from everywhere—the colored plates in dentistry books; memories of his Nanny blurred with images of the slaughter on the Odessa Steps from Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin; paintings by Velázquez; his asthma, Bacon’s Popes were gasping for air, not screaming; paintings by Picasso; the sadism of his father; nudes taken by Vogue photographer John Deakin; endless photo-booth self-portraits.

Bacon painted his lovers and friends, and many self-portraits. These self-portraits became more frequent as his friends died, many destroyed by their “gilded gutter life” of drink and excess.

”Between birth and death it’s always been the same thing, the violence of life. I always think [my paintings] are images of sensation, after all, what is life but sensation? What we feel, what happens, what happens at the moment.

“We are born and we die, and that’s it, there’s nothing else. But in between we give this purposeless existence a meaning by our drives.”

It’s rare to see as many gallery paintings by an artist in one documentary as there are contained in The Life of Francis Bacon, and it’s superbly complimented by the long extracts of Bacon’s interviews, these are read by Derek Jacobi, who memorably played Bacon in the film Love is the Devil.


Mouth Research

Bouche. Five variations on Francis Bacon's imagery
by Mariano Akerman

Bouche A

Bouche B

Bouche C

Bouche D

Bouche E

• The Hague, Gemeentemuseum, Francis Bacon, 2001 - official site reproduces for the first time Bacon's working document, in black and white.


• Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Francis Bacon and the Tradition of Art, October 2003 - January 2004, p. 160, cat. no. 39: "Two fragments of a leaf with coloured illustration of an open mouth held open by forceps and displaying an abscess. Publication uncertain but probably from a book on diseases of the mouth which Bacon purchased while in Paris in the late 1920s. [...] Dublin, Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, F105:140."

• Martin Harrison, In Camera: Francis Bacon, London: Thames & Hudson, 2005, p. 219, fig. 242: "Working document: illustration from an unidentified medical book, possibly the book of diseases of the mouth Bacon bought in Paris in the 1930s."

• Margarita Cappock, Francis Bacon's Studio, Merrell, 2005, p. 103: "Medical Imagery. Bacon's predilection for shocking imagery is abundantly confirmed by his cache of medical imagery. [...] Bacon was curious about disease and injuries from early in his career. While in Paris in the 1920s, he bought a book on diseases of the mouth with hand-coloured illustrations. Although the book was not found in the [Reece Mews] studio, two fragments showing a drawing of a mouth (with forceps over an abscess) from Grünwald's Atlas-Manuel des maladies de la bouche... (fig. 173) were discovered. This was probably the book that Bacon [recalled while being interviewed by David Sylvester in 1966 (Interviews, 1975, p. 35)]. Page 103, caption fig. 173: "Leaf (two fragments) with a colour illustration depicting gum disease, from Ludwig Grünwald, Atlas-Manuel des maladies de la bouche, de pharynx et des fosses nasales, Paris, Ballière et fils, 1903. Bacon may have purchased this book in about 1927."[1]

fig. 173
The Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin; The Estate of Francis Bacon, London
Hugh Lane F105:140
Bacon's World: Source Material, Item 8

• Julian Bell, The Cunning of Francis Bacon, The New York Review of Books, 10 May 2007.

Some 40 percent of a plate has been ripped out of the Atlas-Manuel des maladies de la bouche, a French translation of an 1894 German medical textbook. The torn-away trapezoid shows "Fig. 1": a heavily retouched photo of lips prised apart by forceps to reveal gums disfigured by an abscess, chipped teeth, and froth about the tongue. The chromolithograph with its flesh reds stands as an oval vignette on the creamy fragment of coated paper. But then the scrap has been scuffed by brushes loaded with green and cerulean; there are fingerprints to the right in blue-black and mauve, little splats of yellow and scarlet. The paper's edges are frayed and nicked, it has a riverine crack where those clutching fingers have bent it: a vertical sever being a further result of decades of overhandling.

The item is among the several thousand catalogued in 1998 during the clearing of a smallish workroom in Reece Mews, Kensington, London SW7. This room was occupied by the artist Francis Bacon from 1961—when he turned fifty-two—till his death in 1992, thirty-one years later. For six years Bacon's studio lay in an undisturbed limbo, but in 1998 negotiations between the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, which houses one of Ireland's leading collections of modern and contemporary art, and Bacon's partner and heir John Edwards resulted in its entire contents (not only each scrap of paper, but even the paint-encrusted walls) being packaged and transported to the museum. There they were reassembled in a purpose-built display room, in exactly the disorder in which Bacon had left them in London. In this manner the painter (whose English father bred horses in Ireland) returned to the land of his childhood. The Hugh Lane's curator, Margarita Cappock, reviews and analyzes the attendant inventory in her copiously illustrated volume, Francis Bacon's Studio.

Mostly Cappock has papers to describe. Her team found printed pictures ripped not only from medical textbooks but from news magazines; trampled snapshots of Bacon's friends; quick sketches for compositions; crumpled, scribbled agendas for imagery ("flesh-coloured shadows, "bed of crime," "meat seen in a box"). There were weathered volumes of wildlife photography and art books reproducing Velázquez and Ingres. All these had been cast down among champagne cases, paint rollers, brushes, pots, and cans over the course of three decades, mounting up and moldering in ragged drifts around a walkway to the easel. On worktables, uncapped paint tubes had fused into mountainous conglomerates. By the walls and windows and also underfoot, a hundred slashed canvases lay strewn, with holes where faces once had been. Earlier photographic records indicate that a circular mirror with pocked silvering—a relic of the painter's prehistory, his attempts while young to work in interior design—was one of the few items that had always stood proud of this dismal, dusty morass.

There is something giddying about the systematic resurrection of such an environment in another city, three hundred miles away. When the would-be cultural guerrilla A.J. Weberman coined the term "garbology" in 1971, he was teasingly dignifying his habit of sneaking around celebrities' refuse in a quest for telltale signs of ideological duplicity. (Had Bob Dylan turned from political protest to heroin addiction? Had Muhammad Ali been snacking on pork? Surely, sooner or later, the used needle, the emptied meat can would turn up!) Garbology has since been taken into the fold of academic respectability by archaeologists who recognize in it a fast-track variant on their own science. Object-based information is the great desideratum, from their perspective: distaste and decorum only form the fuzziest of qualifying considerations.

Naturally, professional archaeologists were involved in bringing Reece Mews to Dublin—Cappock includes their draftsman's floor plans of the clutter in her documentation. And yet turning over remnants as soiled and sad as that scrap of paper with the abscessed mouth, one is brought back to the sense of trespass that Weberman was playing with in a less information-fixated age. Is it really our business to be snooping around here, in another man's trash? What crime do we suspect him of? This Dublin high-tech display complex with its meticulously simulated chaos, this book that so forensically analyzes its constituents: doesn't it all amount to a loss of human proportion?

Francis Bacon
Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944
Tate Gallery, London

Well, there is a crime of sorts to be accounted for. That medical textbook, picked up in Paris in 1927 when Bacon was a teenager on the run from his father, would eventually supply a cue for the triptych with which he made his mark on the London art scene in April 1945. In the central canvas of Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, the same gaping mouth has been grafted onto a head on a lithe snake neck, descending from the body of a plucked turkey, with a white bandage over its eyes: this mutant being perched on a pedestal inside an expanse of glaring orange (see illustration on page 6). No one encountering that blind, voracious phantasm—whether in a London gallery at the traumatic moment when the Holocaust's horrors were just becoming public knowledge, or even now, reproduced in any primer of modern art—has found it easy to forget. But Bacon was far from done with his oral prompt. Those forced-apart teeth helped to catalyze the series of "screaming popes" that cemented his reputation during the 1950s. Echoes of them repeatedly punctuated the rushing, slithering flesh-flurries he specialized in painting during the following decade, as he settled into Reece Mews and into a niche of international renown far beyond that of any British contemporary.

Mariano Akerman
The mouth by Francis Bacon compared with its visual referent
Digital plate, 2008
Motif from the central panel of Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (Francis Bacon, 1944) and its visual source of inspiration from Atlas-Manuel des maladies de la bouche (Ludwig Grünwald, 1903).

There was nothing particularly covert, however, about his use of the image. Bacon himself spoke about his passion for the Atlas-Manuel, with its "beautiful" pictures of diseased mouths, in the course of a 1966 interview. He was talking with David Sylvester, a formidable London art writer who became his chief critical advocate. The eloquence with which Bacon expanded on such singular reference points was one of the reasons Interviews with Francis Bacon, published in book form in 1975, became a major art text of its time. That volume offered its readers photos surveying the already legendary studio muddle. Cappock's book provides further shots taken across the decades, including a couple from 1974 which set against it an impeccably natty artist, all dressed up to hit the drinking clubs or gaming tables that habitually completed his daily round.

The more you get used to this milieu and the mentality behind it, the more you sense that the pomaded fifty-four-year-old in the Jermyn Street shirt would himself have been controlling the shutter by proxy. He would have been exactly aware of the image he was giving out: he is said to have rejoiced in this "compost" around him, from which his images had sprouted. Have you been snooping around some private citizen's refuse? No, you have been granted a glimpse inside a monarch's palace. Arguably, Reece Mews was not simply a style statement, but the artist's lone work of sculpture—Bacon's equivalent to Duchamp's Étants Données, the installation that was only made available to the world after the artist's death. And if he was the master operator throughout, obscurely willing the studio's relocation from beyond the grave, then what of that scrap you took for a clue: Was it merely a decoy, a plant? Is it your credulity that those paint-smeared fingers have been gripping?

These thoughts occur because Bacon's own accounts of himself, to a remarkable degree, continue to dominate the literature on him. Interest in Bacon shows no signs of abating. Among the various Bacon exhibitions of the last two years, Francis Bacon: The Violence of the Real in Düsseldorf and Francis Bacon: Paintings from the 1950s, which originated in Norwich, England, and is now traveling the United States, have each generated substantial catalogues, the latter including a long essay by Bacon's biographer Michael Peppiatt. The curator of the Düsseldorf show, Armin Zweite, concludes his text with the remark that when it comes to Bacon's art, "continued efforts are called for to explain the process and the product," and this injunction is certainly being heeded.

Besides Cappock's account of the studio, there is Francis Bacon: Commitment and Conflict, a new general study by Wieland Schmied; and Martin Harrison's In Camera: Francis Bacon: Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting, an extensive examination of Bacon's use of source materials. All these publications have worthwhile aspects. (It should be mentioned that Cappock's book is elegantly drafted, commandingly knowledgeable, and offers many telling local insights.) It remains the case, however, that whichever you read, the lines that sing out and stay in the mind are Bacon's own. "To unlock the valves of feeling and therefore return the onlooker to life more violently," for example, and "realism has to be reinvented." The Düsseldorf Violence of the Real catalogue functions as an extended, highly learned gloss on those Bacon dicta, with Zweite trying to ground them in texts by Kant, T.W. Adorno, André Breton, and Gilles Deleuze. And yet after bearing with his studious philosophizing it is to their loose gestural pungency that you long to revert.

Bacon's continued hold on the meaning of his own art is quite distinctive. If you turn to his initial artistic inspiration, Picasso—or for that matter to that other great post-Picasso painter, Jackson Pollock—you meet artists who habitually, for most of their careers, refused to offer verbal sops to interpretation. Writers on Picasso and Pollock contradict one another vigorously and incessantly; when it comes to Bacon, the commentariat is docile and orthodox. What is it that engenders this pattern of viewer behaviour?

Let us imagine a first encounter with a Bacon from what most agree was the heyday of his art. You round a gallery partition and meet the Three Studies for a Crucifixion of 1962 (now in the Guggenheim Museum, New York), glaring six and a half feet tall in fields of orange and red (thus reiterating, more expansively and slickly, the layout of the near-homonymous Three Studies from seventeen years before). To the left, you register the blobby silhouettes, floating like bacilli in blood, of two walking males, with paired sides of a beef carcass transecting the foreground. At the center, a far fiercer image arrests you: a bed seen end-on, its striped mattress swelling and drooping, on which there lies a knot of whirling, skimming brushmarks, pinkish-yellow and black, splattered with blood red and ejaculatory trails of white. The knot's loops don't quite untie into distinct limbs, yet a set of parted teeth confer on it a face. Loudest of all is the creation to the right: a winding gloop of black and blubber-pink that slithers down a post to a puddle and a ring of bones at its base, with a ripped-open ribcage and below it a screaming, eyeless head—yet further parted teeth, the acutest detail of the whole convulsive ensemble being a single canine tooth isolated against the mouth's black hollow.

The fleshly brushloads rasping the canvas rasp at your tactile empathy. You're prompted to imaginatively inhabit these heaves of paint, investing them with your own sense of body; and yet how could you? That would mean casting off all your comportment, all your muscular control: you would be skinless, virtually shapeless. To approach these images judders the guts. If nonetheless you stay before them, that is because they are also mysterious. How do those mutated presences behind the reflective glass (a constant of Bacon's framing procedures) relate to one another? To what on earth else might they refer? Both your discomposure and your curiosity create a keen demand, therefore, for something to hold on to. Obligingly, the gallery label offers the word "crucifixion."

That helps: reach out for religion, tradition, old church art. So that blubber on the post is some latter-day "study for" Christ's agonies? Yes, but as you read on—as the channels of curating head you toward Bacon's pronouncements—you learn that as of the twentieth century, this transfixed body is decisively bereft of divinity; that there is now no redeeming meaning to what a body might undergo, whether in torment or in orgasm; or rather, that meaning now inheres in the act of painting itself, and in the relation it bears to the naked realities of existence, to "facts, or what used to be called truth," in Bacon's phrase. For his pictures bear on "the inanity of our situation in the world as ephemeral beings, more capable than other living creatures of brilliant and pointless ecstasies," as his friend the philosopher Michel Leiris expressed it;[2] they address what his spokesmen generically term the human condition. An encompassing, empowering phrase: equipped with it, perhaps you can regain your equipoise, master whatever threatened it, give it a name. It may even help you to discover in these uncanny images what used to be called beauty.

Master of the initiatory ordeal, master of the revelatory dictum, the atheistic Bacon—club-cruiser, gambler, gourmet, and leather-clad submissive—did as much as any artist to restore the missing quotient of belief to twentieth-century painting. Wieland Schmied is a distinguished devotee. He opens his essays on Bacon's art with the customary pieties of such writing: humanity's "agonies on the killing-floor of life," "the existential anxiety of modern man," and "the horror and despair that lurk beneath the surface of things." He moves on to salute the Triptych May–June 1973, done after the death of a boyfriend of Bacon's, as "the most tortured and desolate rendering of the human condition in the entire history of art." Hyperbole? Well, I like the warmheartedness. Schmied is a senior twentieth- century-art expert, based in Munich, who became acquainted with Bacon toward the end of the artist's life. Like Zweite, he takes Kantian calipers to the art, tackling the compositions via remarks such as "the purpose of space is individuation"; but also he can fondly evoke "the youngest 80-year-old I have ever met," who "moved with a nimble grace, almost skipping as he walked."

The former rector of the Bavarian Academy brings an Adam-like innocence to his description of a component in a "screaming pope" canvas—"Its appearance suggests some kind of metal frame, but this is not in fact the case: it is quite simply a brushstroke...." (Beware, professor! The trick's widespread. It's known as painting. Italics, admittedly, added.) Only he, perhaps, would dare reprimand the artist for failing properly to confront the papal image he was defacing: "That Bacon never saw the original of the Velázquez portrait is regrettable for several reasons...." Yet Schmied is a telling phrase-turner himself:

Bacon's ideal would have been to paint like Velázquez, using the methods of Pollock.... [His] dream...was that one day he would be able simply to throw a handful of paint at the canvas and a fully formed portrait with a perfect likeness of the subject would emerge of its own accord before his eyes.

That gets close both to the physical grain of the paintwork and to the cultural and historical crisis that Bacon felt he was confronting—even though, as Schmied notes, he had no liking for his Abstract Expressionist contemporaries. It comes in a chapter on "The Painting Process and Its Goal" which is in fact as alert and as precise an account of Bacon's picture-making as I have read. Adhering to Bacon's creed of existential crisis in no way prevents Schmied from offering an illuminating perspective on his tactics and purposes.

Adhering to Bacon's dicta can, however, lead to doctrinal somersaults. One of the commonplaces of all the texts under review is that this work is not "illustrational." The point stems from the artist's interviews with David Sylvester, in which he posits an ideal of painting that makes a radically direct impact on the viewer, bypassing all rationally organized procedures for recording appearance—"without the brain interfering with the inevitability of the image," as he expressed it. If instantaneity is of the essence, then structures of time will be blown away, as Schmied pithily asserts: "Bacon is not a story-teller, but a destroyer of stories." Yet then he goes on to read triptych after triptych as a "sequence of events," busily inferring internal relationships between their figures. Michael Peppiatt, as Bacon's biographer, not surprisingly does the same. He supplies a lowdown on that big 1962 triptych—I annotate:

Read very briefly from left to right, it appears to recount Bacon's expulsion from the family home by his father [for borrowing his mother's underwear: father and son being the male silhouettes] through a traumatic sexual encounter [the squirm on the mattress]...to an inverted Crucifixion (no doubt of Bacon himself) in the last panel....

This interpretation of "humiliating exile and suffering" is one the art historian Martin Harrison also accepts in his book In Camera: Francis Bacon: Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting. In fact narrative paraphrases abound wherever you look: the Violence of the Real catalogue captions are glutted with them.

Is this all a crass traducement of Bacon's art? I don't think so. The point is that his talk of transcendent immediacy was an aspiration, a handsome modernist reverie, at odds with equally strong countervailing instincts. His pictures can judder the stomach, yes, but they are also adept at mystifying; they tease the viewer's imagination as much as they assault it. The abrupt handiwork he uses to conjure up figures—an interplay of quick-snatched curls and streaks with down-driven, explosive splats—gets increasingly overlaid, in the course of his career, by finicky texturings with powder pigment and fine bridging lines; for the prevailing direction of his art is toward aesthetic suspense. Increasingly, he dangles those clotted bodies in clean-planed interiors that hark back to his early experience working as a modernist designer; and always he keeps them removed under glass.

Seen in the light of this aestheticism, Bacon's paintings become no less interesting, but they do become less icon-like. Is it really essential to assent to a certain crisis-tinged doctrine of the human condition in order to appreciate what this particular artist is offering? A touch of irreverence might give us more room to enjoy his fiendish ingenuity; moreover, to distinguish the indisputable inventions of genius that issued from Reece Mews from the numerous non-events—among the latter, the cover image of Schmied's book, a dry, affectless specimen of Bacon's old-age aerated manner. (Incidentally, the publishers have also shortchanged Schmied by printing his text in an insultingly small font.)

It is in this broadly revisionist, canon-shuffling spirit that Michael Peppiatt worked on the exhibition of 1950s paintings now touring the United States. The accompanying volume, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, forms a kind of postscript to Peppiatt's 1996 biography, reverting to the period just before his own acquaintance with the artist began. Yes, we know that Bacon was a great reiterator, with that one set of Crucifixion studies succeeding the other (and yet more in his later years); but, says Peppiatt, the long interval between the two reveals him also as a plural-minded, restless, and reckless experimentalist. And indeed, it proves fascinating to follow the master of mangled flesh as he tries his hand at portraying Lady Sainsbury directly from life (quite against his normal practice); at essaying vibrant expressionistic variations on a self-portrait of van Gogh walking in Provençal sunshine; or conjuring up vistas of an African elephant fording a river, or of the Great Sphinx. Some of these ventures are blurted and botched, others—such as some mid-1950s figure studies, immersed in deep blue—unexpectedly beautiful: the extraordinary originality of Bacon's obsessions shows through throughout.

The 1950s, writes Peppiatt, were a period of turmoil for Bacon. In 1951 the recently arrived celebrity of the London art scene loses his one surviving fixture from his Irish childhood, the light-fingered Jessie Lightfoot—a nanny-turned-retainer who had taken to shoplifting to provide for the bohemian ménage that her former charge kept up with his lover Eric Hall. Distraught, he abandons both this address and this partner and spends years flitting through the gay demimonde, from country cottages to bordellos in Tangier, with no fixed studio. He falls into a grim love affair with the owner of a collection of rhino whips, who wished to keep him "chained to the wall, living like an animal on a bed of straw."

This tale of life lived on the edge—with its interwoven strand of steely artistic determination, which eventually brings Bacon to the stability of Reece Mews—makes for flavorsome reading. Peppiatt portrays his old friend with easy authority, acting at once as an ad hoc psychologist (as in his reading of the Crucifixion triptych) and as an insouciant phrase-twirler—"a drunken, farded sodomite," he dubs him at one point, an "affable, elegant boulevardier" at another. In truth I think the exercise is slightly overextended, even if it brings a number of unfamiliar Baconological minutiae into the public domain. It was interesting, however, to read how Bacon used what Peppiatt calls his "magpie eye" when he descended in 1959 on St. Ives, the Cornish base of what was then Britain's leading school of abstractionists.

Bacon liked to dismiss abstraction as "watered-down" art, telling Sylvester that his taste for it was mere "fashion." But he himself was keenly alert to fashion, and in the late 1950s the wind of "colour field painting" was blowing in from New York: heavy-laden angst was becoming passé, making way for the broad uninflected surfaces of Barnett Newman and his like. Three months on Britain's western coast, far removed from his customary urban bolt-holes, saw Bacon filching a slick new flattened presentation from the colorists around him—such as Patrick Heron—whom he affected to disdain.

From this point onward his art took on an expansive, deadpan hauteur, as the former flailing, abrupt obsessive got subsumed within the persona of the prince-guru of Reece Mews. This is the self-restyling that Peppiatt's Bacon in the 1950s is attempting to pick away at; though in fact the transition is described with deeper art historical grounding in Martin Harrison's In Camera. It is Harrison who, thanks to a wonderfully well-informed, re-tentive eye, is able most effectively to locate Bacon's painting within the broader development of twentieth-century visual culture. Harrison's researches are closely tied to Cappock's sifting of the studio papers, while showing a shrewd mistrust of the clues that Bacon chose to present to his public. "The layers of obfuscation surrounding a great artist are only just beginning to be penetrated," Harrison writes. His inquiry takes him to some considerably obscure places in the backwaters of British painting, but it also clarifies how this artistic act, which has struck so many viewers as utterly sui generis ever since 1945, relates to more familiar reference points.

As I interpret Harrison, Bacon starts out in art under the shadow of Picasso, the great figure-obsessed breaker-up of figures. Also fixated on the human figure, he regards the prospect of further pictorial fragmentation—the path that leads to Pollock's abstraction—as a downward detour for art. Up on the heights stands Velázquez, the supreme interpreter of human appearance. But there's no straight path that heads that way. Because—and this is what Degas and still more his British disciple Walter Sickert teach Bacon—the recording of human appearance has now been taken out of human hands. Through and through our culture is pervaded by mechanized picturing; we can only insert our art within that process, like the Atlas-Manuel's draftsman inserting his retouchings between the photograph and the chromolithograph.[3]

That, rather than any facet of twentieth-century public history, is for Bacon the cultural crisis that matches the spiritual crisis occasioned by God's failure to continue existing. It's a crisis that calls for Picasso's aggressive, disfiguring tactics, redoubled in ferocity as he clenches and throttles the lineaments of the reproduced image he has picked up off the studio floor, as he spatters it with gouts of white and red. Only that way, heading down rather than up, via inverted crucifixions and hollowed-out popes, is there hope of touching on what Velázquez touched—which is "what used to be called truth"; which is synonymous with what Bacon still calls art.

That, very roughly, seems to be Bacon's minimal rationale. Harrison's examination of how Bacon developed, practiced, and then modulated it is far more richly informed and imaginative than this résumé can convey. It returns the reader to the sheer variety and inventive cunning of Bacon's paintings, which people will probably still be poring over long after his particular theory of the human condition in crisis has become a footnote in cultural history.

Comparative plate by Mariano Akerman, 2008

• Julian Bell, La obra póstuma de Bacon: su taller, tr. Cristina Sardoy, Clarín, Buenos Aires, 16 June 2007: "A una lámina del Atlas-Manuel des maladies de la bouche, traducción francesa de libro de medicina alemán de 1894, le falta casi la mitad. El trapezoide arrancado muestra: "Fig. 1": una foto muy retocada de unos labios abiertos con fórceps que revelan encías desfiguradas por un absceso, dientes cascados y espuma alrededor de la lengua. La cromolitografía con su carne roja destaca como una viñeta ovalada sobre el fragmento color crema del papel brillante. Pero el papel fue manchado luego por pinceladas cargadas de verde y cerúleo; a la derecha se ven huellas digitales en azul-negro y violeta, pequeñas salpicaduras de amarillo y rojo. Los bordes del papel están rasgados y recortados, una grieta lo recorre como un río donde los dedos lo doblaron: el corte vertical es consecuencia de décadas de excesivo manoseo.
Se trata de uno de los varios miles de artículos que fueron catalogados en 1998, cuando se llevó a cabo la limpieza del cuarto de trabajo bastante exiguo de Reece Mews, Kensington, Londres SW7. Esta habitación fue ocupada por el artista Francis Bacon desde 1961 —cuando cumplió cincuenta y dos años— hasta su muerte en 1992. Durante seis años el taller de Bacon permaneció en un limbo imperturbable, pero en 1998, gracias a las negociaciones realizadas entre la Galería Hugh Lane, de Dublín, que cuenta con una de las principales colecciones de arte moderno y contemporáneo de Irlanda, y el compañero y heredero de Bacon, John Edwards, todo su contenido (no sólo cada pedazo de papel, sino hasta las paredes con incrustaciones de pintura) fue embalado y transportado al museo. Allí fueron colocados nuevamente en una sala de exposición construida a ese fin, exactamente en el mismo desorden en que Bacon los había dejado en Londres. De esta manera el pintor (cuyo padre inglés criaba caballos en Irlanda) volvió a la tierra de su infancia. La curadora de Hugh Lane, Margarita Cappock, reseña y analiza el inventario en su libro, profusamente ilustrado Francis Bacon's Studio.
En general, lo que describe Cappock son papeles. Su equipo de trabajo encontró imágenes impresas rotas no sólo de libros médicos sino de revistas; fotos pisoteadas de amigos de Bacon; bocetos apurados de composiciones; proyectos arrugados y garabateados de imágenes ("sombras color carne", "cama del crimen", "carne vista en un cajón"). Había libros de fotografías de animales salvajes y libros de arte con reproducciones de Velázquez y de Ingres. Todo eso fue apilándose entre cajas de champaña, rodillos de pintura, pinceles, potes y latas a lo largo de tres décadas, formando estibas alrededor de una senda hasta el caballete. En las mesas de trabajo, tubos de pintura destapados se confundían en conglomerados montañosos. Apoyadas contra las paredes y las ventanas y también en el piso había desparramadas cientos de telas con agujeros en lugares en que, en algún momento, había habido caras. Registros fotográficos anteriores indican que un espejo circular en plata repujada —una reliquia de la prehistoria del pintor, de sus intentos juveniles de trabajar en diseño de interiores— fue uno de los pocos elementos que siempre reinó orgulloso en medio de todo ese embrollo sucio y deprimente.
A medida que vamos habituándonos a ese entorno y a la mentalidad que lo animó, más sentimos que este engominado de 54 años con su camisa ordinaria de Jermyn Street controlaba el obturador por interpósita persona. Tiene que haber sido perfectamente consciente de la imagen que daba: dicen que se complacía en medio de ese "abono" que lo rodeaba y del cual habían brotado sus imágenes. Podría decirse de Reece Mews que no fue simplemente una declaración de estilo, sino la obra escultórica única del artista —el equivalente de Étants Données de Duchamp, la instalación que estuvo a disposición del mundo recién después de su muerte—. Y si durante todo el tiempo manejó los hilos, deseando oscuramente reubicar el estudio desde el más allá, ¿qué hay de la basura que tomamos como pista?, ¿era sólo un señuelo, una trampa? ¿Lo que han estado aferrando esos dedos manchados de pintura es nuestra credulidad?
Estos pensamientos surgen porque los comentarios del propio Bacon siguen dominando en gran medida la literatura acerca de él. El interés por Bacon no muestra indicios de disminuir. Entre las distintas exposiciones de los últimos dos años, Francis Bacon: The Violence of the Real, en Düsseldorf, y Francis Bacon: Paintings from 1950, que se originó en Norwich, Inglaterra, y ahora viaja a Estados Unidos, presentaron catálogos importantes. El último incluye un largo ensayo de Michael Peppiatt, el biógrafo de Bacon. Por su parte, el curador de la muestra de Düsseldorf, Armin Zweite, concluye su texto con la observación de que el arte de Bacon "requiere continuos esfuerzos para explicar el proceso y el producto", y esta recomendación sin duda es muy tenida en cuenta.
Además del libro de Cappock, se publicaron otros dedicados al taller de Bacon, entre ellos Francis Bacon: Committment and Conflict, un nuevo estudio general por Wieland Schmied, y In Camera: Francis Bacon: Photography, Film and the Practice of Painting, de Martin Harrison, un análisis exhaustivo del uso que hacía Bacon de los materiales que tomaba como punto de partida. Todas estas publicaciones tienen aspectos valiosos (digamos de paso que el libro de Cappock está diseñado con elegancia, contiene información sólida y ofrece muchas percepciones locales elocuentes). De todas maneras, leamos cual leamos, las expresiones que más trascienden y se fijan en nuestra mente son las del propio Bacon. Por ejemplo, "Abrir las válvulas del sentimiento y de ese modo volver a arrojar al observador a la vida con más violencia" y "el realismo debe ser reinventado".

• The fragment from Grünewald's Atlas-Manuel is not present among the 95 working documents shown in the Bacon's Centennial Exhibit at the Prado, 2009 (Obras en la exposición, IX. Archivo), which curiously enough does include Bacon's Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion of 1944.

• David A. McGowan, Francis Bacon and the Texbook, Dental History Magazine, Vol. 4, No. 2, U.K., Autumn 2010, p. 19: "Following an enquiry to the curators of the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin I received a copy of an 11 x 7.5 cm fragment from the studio (Hugh Lane catalogue number RM98F 105:140j). It shows an illustration of an ulcerated lesion in the upper left buccal sulcus. There were no identifying marks apart from the label. (Fig 1.). / The library staff at Glasgow Dental Hospital and School, Beverley Rankin and Christine Leitch, traced an article, "The Cunning of Francis Bacon" by Julian Bell in the New York Review of Books which, relying on the work of the art historian Margar[i]t[a] Cappock,[4] described the fragment and its source which was the Atlas-manuel des Maladies de la bouche - a 1903 French edition of the German, Atlas der Mundhole, des Rachens und der Nase (Atlas and Epitome of Diseases of the Mouth Pharynx and Nose), by Dr L Grunwald, 1894, J J Lehman, Munich. We found a copy of an American edition, edited by James G Newcomb of New York, in the Glasgow University library and easily identified the fragment as Fig. 1 of Plate 5. / The description on the facing page identifies the lesion as an "Epulis" and the case history indicates that it was what would now be called a Pyogenic Granuloma (a benign mass of granulation tissue formed in response to chronic infection, often related to the presence of a fragment of bone or tooth – as seen in the drawing)."

• Federico Rodríguez Gómez, Francis Bacon: notas sobre la carnalidad, Investigaciones Fenomenológicas, vol. monográfico 2: Cuerpo y alteridad, Universidad de Sevilla, 2010, p. 4, n. 8 - mentions Grünwald's Atlas-Manuel among Bacon's visual sources.

• Mariano Akerman, Bacon: Painter with a Double-Edged Sword, Blue Chip Magazine, Vol. 8, Issue 88, Islamabad, February-March 2012, pp. 29-33.

1. Nicolas Surlapierre and Frédérique Toudoire-Surlapierre, Edvard Munch-Francis Bacon: Images du corps, Orizons, 2009, p. 104: "Francis Bacon avait trouvé à Paris en 1927-1928 une ouvrage avec des plaches colorées des différentes maladies de la bouche." Concerning Cappock's book: "Francis Bacon (1909-1992) is widely regarded as one of the most significant post-war painters. From 1961, his studio at 7 Reece Mews, South Kensington, London, was both his home and his workplace, and, over time, the repository of thousands of items that were central to his art, the impetus for many of his most important paintings. The studio - with its extraordinarily rich contents untouched since Bacon's death - was donated in 1998 by John Edwards to Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, where, after meticulous dismantling and reconstruction by archaeologists, conservators and curators, it is now on permanent display. The studio's deconstruction revealed some 7500 objects, among them numerous well-thumbed, folded and torn photographs, many depicting Bacon's friends and lovers; illustrated publications, including books and magazine articles on subjects as diverse as medicine, sport, wildlife and war; drawings, interventions and handwritten notes by Bacon; slashed canvases and his final, unfinished work; and a welter of artist's materials - the walls themselves are vivid with encrusted paint, mixed and tested by Bacon. In Francis Bacon's Studio, Margarita Cappock provides the first in-depth study of the studio, selecting key elements from the dense mass of objects Bacon accumulated and placing them succinctly within the context of the artist's life and practice. Profusely illustrated with unique material that has never previously been published, Francis Bacon's Studio makes an important contribution to Bacon studies, especially in relation to the last three decades of the artist's career. Drawing on artefacts that resonate with the energy of Bacon's work, this book offers unprecedented insights into the sources, inspiration and working methods of one of the giants of modern art."
2. Quoted in Francis Bacon: The Violence of the Real, p. 218, from Leiris, Francis Bacon: Full and in Profile, Rizzoli, 1983, p. 45.
3. Schmied tells a relevant story: "On one occasion Bacon had a picture brought back to the studio after seeing the transparency made by the gallery's photographer. There was a blue in the reproduction that he particularly liked, but it was lacking from the original and he wanted to add it in as an afterthought" (Schmied, Bacon, p. 80).
4. As seen, Cappock has identified the fragment in her book, Francis Bacon’s Studio, Merrell, 2005, p. 103.

Mariano Akerman researches Francis Bacon's imagery since 1977.

Related to this entry
Bacon: Painter with a Double-Edged Sword
Inspired by Dr Grünwald
A Telling Clipping amid Bacon's Working Documents

Stills from Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon, film, UK, 1998. Directed by John Maybury. Although not showing Bacon's actual working documents, Maybury still succeeds in recalling many of the painter's favourite sources.


Retrato de George Dyer en un espejo, 1968

Pintura de Francis Bacon, exhibida en el Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

En este doble retrato, George Dyer, el amante de Bacon durante años, está sentado en una silla giratoria frente a un espejo colocado sobre un extraño mueble con peana. La violencia y brutalidad de la imagen, con el cuerpo distorsionado y la cara retorcida por un espasmo, está agudizada por un halo de luz circular que proviene de un foco situado fuera del cuadro. En contraposición, la cara reflejada en el espejo, escindida en dos por una franja de espacio luminoso, no sufre las mismas distorsiones. Si pudiéramos unir las dos mitades, tendríamos un retrato bastante naturalista del modelo, con su perfil anguloso de nariz ganchuda y una expresión que combina deseo y muerte. Bacon, en la estela de los retratos dislocados de Picasso de los años centrales del siglo pasado, logra traducir los aspectos más sórdidos del ser humano.

Francis Bacon
Retrato de George Dyer en un espejo, 1968
Óleo sobre lienzo, 198 x 147.5 cm.
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
Nº INV. 458 (1971.3)

Sólidamente enraizada en la tradición figurativa británica, la obra de Francis Bacon suele vincularse a la genéricamente denominada Escuela de Londres, un grupo heterogéneo de artistas —entre los que, además de Bacon, se encuentran Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff y Michael Andrews [...]— que comparten la exaltación de la individualidad, un interés común en la figura humana, un cierto expresionismo y el rechazo del naturalismo academicista.

En el doble Retrato de George Dyer en un espejo, de 1968, la única obra de Bacon en la colección Thyssen-Bornemisza, el modelo aparece aislado en medio de un espacio vacío. George Dyer (1934-1971), un ex criminal casi analfabeto, que fue el amante de Bacon durante varios años hasta que se suicidó con una sobredosis de drogas en 1971, está sentado en una silla giratoria frente a su propia imagen reflejada en un espejo colocado sobre un extraño mueble con peana, una mezcla de televisor o de aparato de rayos X. La violencia y brutalidad de la imagen, centrada en la distorsión de la figura principal con la cara retorcida por un espasmo, como si estuviera expuesta a una serie de fuerzas de las que no se puede desprender, está agudizada por un halo de luz circular que proviene de un foco situado fuera del cuadro. En contraposición, la cara reflejada en el espejo, escindida en dos por una franja de espacio luminoso, que parece un reflejo en el cristal, no sufre las distorsiones propias de los personajes de Bacon; de hecho, si pudiéramos unir las dos mitades, tendríamos un retrato bastante naturalista de la cara de Dyer, con su perfil anguloso de nariz ganchuda y una expresión que combina deseo y muerte.

Bacon supo dar al género del retrato una solución muy personal, eliminando cualquier individualidad física y enfatizando en cambio el destino único de cada hombre. El cuerpo, en su calidad de carne, supone el elemento esencial de sus retratos, y siempre esconde un doble sentido de representación y alienación. El pintor británico vuelve a los personajes del revés, mostrando sus vísceras, deformando sus caras, con una distorsión que les borra las facciones. Con una personal iconografía, creada de manera instintiva, intentaba atrapar, según sus palabras, «un instante de vida en toda su violencia y en toda su belleza», y logró traducir los aspectos más sórdidos y aterradores del ser humano, por lo que su pintura podría considerarse una interpretación algo convulsiva del existencialismo europeo. Por otra parte, las deformaciones carnales a las que somete Bacon a sus personajes se relacionan con la violencia de los retratos más dislocados de Picasso de los años centrales del siglo xx.

La técnica expresionista utilizada en esta obra es una combinación de óleo aplicado con pincel y trabajado con los dedos. Con las gruesas pinceladas blancas salpicadas brutalmente sobre la imagen, Bacon rompe intencionadamente con las convenciones técnicas y asume riesgos que pretenden producir efectos desconcertantes. Estas salpicaduras pueden ser una especie de alegoría incluida en el cuadro y que el pintor nos deja oculta, pero también nos hablan del componente de azar que Bacon no quiere dejar olvidado: «Mi ideal —decía— sería coger un puñado de pintura y lanzarla sobre la tela con la esperanza de que el retrato estuviera ahí». Francis Bacon logró atrapar ese «instante de la vida» y nadie como él consiguió traducir los aspectos más sórdidos y aterradores del ser humano. Con su talante existencialista, Bacon ha sido el pintor que mejor ha representado plásticamente la alienación del hombre contemporáneo, su vulnerabilidad.

Paloma Alarcó

Ref. Paloma Alarcó, Retrato de George Dyer en un espejo, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, 2001 (accedido 19.02.2009).
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