100% Bacon

"He seeks to paint the human condition, which is both violent and violated, cruel and tender, vulnerable and touching." Chris Stephens (curator of the Bacon retrospective at the Tate, London, September-December 2008), Francis Bacon at Tate Britain, videoclip, London: Tate, 01.09.08

"His figures are assembled yet fragmented, troubled and beautiful, and utterly compelling. I can't think of another twentieth century painter who has had such a powerful visceral impact." Rhys Tranter, "Francis Bacon: Tate Exhibition 2008," A Piece of Monologue, blog, 14.09.08

...Turning Figure, oil on canvas, 1963

Bacon se centró de forma radical en la naturaleza mortal del hombre, lo cual le ha convertido paradójicamente en inmortal. Es el pintor de la irredenta carnalidad, en la que se confunden los niveles biológicos orgánicos, al ser abolida toda jerarquía posible entre ellos. Bacon conoció y representó "el hermoso y deslumbrante surco de luz que se abre en cada herida del humano cuerpo [...]; llamémosle [...] pues, el poeta de la vulnerabilidad." Francisco Calvo Serraller, "Bacon, la sensualidad de la herida," El País, Madrid, Suplemento Babelia, 07.02.09

"Bacon [...] es [...] depredador y presa simultáneamente. [... En su] exploración de la carne, aunque volcada siempre hacia el lado oscuro del ser humano, tiene la recompensa de extraer la belleza sombría del caos. [...] Bacon [...] parte [...] de la concepción [pictórica] clásica para demostrar [...] la subversión del cuerpo. [...] Hay una belleza enigmática en su laberinto de cuerpos despedazados." Rafael Argullol, "La estimulante desesperación de Bacon," El País, 13.02.09

"«En último extremo, todos somos carne», decía [Bacon], usando la palabra meat, que en inglés se aplica a la carne sacrificada y comestible de animal, por oposición a flesh, que es la otra carne, la del cuerpo humano y el deseo. [...] No hay que fiarse de Bacon: justo cuando uno está a punto de darlo [todo] por sabido [acerca suyo y de su arte] salta con un zarpazo y uno descubre que sigue siendo vulnerable." Antonio Muñoz Molina, "Carne de Bacon," El País, Babelia, 14.03.09


Foam of Feeling and Existential Wasteland

Art-critic Rachel Campbell-Johnston from The Times reminds us of the "foam of feeling" and "existential wasteland" in Bacon's pictures, while describing his exhibition at the Tate Gallery in London as "a marvellous retrospective which gives us a haunting vision of life stripped to the bone and a sense of macabre desolation."[1] Here are our additional remarks concerning the work of "the most extraordinary, powerful and compelling of all painters."[2]

1. Three Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer (1963) is Bacon's earliest portrait of his favorite model and companion. It includes to what Bacon once referred as pictorial "injury." The painter declared in 1966, "I've always thought of friendship as where two people really tear one another apart and perhaps in that way learn something from each other."

2. A visual reminder of man's vulnerability and isolation in the central panel of Triptych May-June 1973 or, as Bacon already noted in 1962, "man now realizes that he is an accident, that he is a completely futile being, that he has to play out the game without reason."

3. Triptych March-June 1973, showing Dyer's 1971 miserable end in elegant tonalities, sophisticated sheets of perspex and expensive golden frames.

4. Dyer knock-out in the left-hand panel of Triptych 1971.

5. Depicted now as a fallen boxer, Dyer looks much better in Triptych 1971 than in any of the Studies Bacon painted in 1963, when he was still alive (Fig. 1). "Waldo is one of those people who would be enormously improved by death." - Saki (Hector Hugh Munro), "The Feast of Nemesis," Beasts and Super-Beasts, 1914

7. No accident at all as Bacon uses inversion tactics in Painting 1978, suggesting an upside-down world of his own.

8. Figure in Movement (1985) is a double-edged monster, some kind of simultaneously anxious and orgiastic cyclops that recalls Bacon's last companion, John Edwards.

Addendum. Bacon and Edwards, London, 1985. Their companionship is said to have been a father and son relationship. "Francis was a real, true father to me," Edwards told The Daily Telegraph in 2002. Yet, a photograph published by Daniel Farson in 1993-4 suggests otherwise, adding spice to gossip.

References: 1. "Francis Bacon: Touching the Void" (video), The Times Online, 9 September 2008; 2. Louise Cohen, "Francis Bacon at Tate Britain," ibid.



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Akerman, Luis Mariano. The Grotesque in Francis Bacon's Paintings, M.A. thesis, 1999

Alley, Ronald and John Rothenstein. Francis Bacon, introductory essay by Rothenstein, catalog raisonné by Alley, London: Thames & Hudson, 1964

Alphen, Ernst Van. Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self (1992), Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1993

Archimbaud, Michel. Francis Bacon: In conversation with Michel Archimbaud (Entretiens avec Michel Archimbaud, 1992), London: Phaidon, 1993

Arles, Fondation Van Gogh, "Van Gogh vu par Bacon: la série des Van Gogh sur la route de Tarascon, July-October 2002," Artsversus, http://www.artsversus.com/vangoghvuparbacon/

Boxer, David Wayne. The Early Work of Francis Bacon, Ph.D dissertation, John Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, 1975

Bragg, Melvyn, interviewer. Francis Bacon (film), London Weekend Television, South Bank Show, interview and editing by Melvyn Bragg, prod. and dir. David Hilton, 1985

Brighton, Andrew. Francis Bacon, London: Tate Gallery, 2001

Calhoun, Alice Ann. Suspended Projections, Ph.D dissertation, University of South Carolina, 1979

Chiappini, Rudy. Francis Bacon, exhibition catalog, Lugano: Museo d’Arte Moderna della Città di Lugano and Milan: Electa, 1993

Dagen, Philippe. « Un entretien avec Francis Bacon », Le Monde, 24 September 1987

Davies, Hugh Marlais. Francis Bacon: The Early and Middle Years, 1928-1958, Ph.D. dissertation, Princeton University, 1975; New York and London: Garland, 1978

-----, and Sally Yard. Bacon, New York: Abbeville, 1986

Deleuze, Gilles. “Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation,” Flash Art 112, May 1983, pp. 8-16

-----. Francis Bacon: Logique de la Sensation, 2 vols., Paris: Editions de la Différence, 1981

Demetrion, James T. Francis Bacon, exhibition catalogue with essays by Lawrence Gowing and Sam Hunter, Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden: Smithsonian Institution and Thames & Hudson, 1990

Domino, Christophe. Francis Bacon (1996), London: Thames & Hudson, 1997

Faerna, José Maria. Bacon (1994), translated by Wayne Finke. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1995

Farr, Dennis. Francis Bacon: A Retrospective, exhibition catalog with contributions by Dennis Farr, Michael Peppiatt and Sally Yard, Yale Center of British Art and other venues, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. in association with The Trust for Museum exhibitions, 1999

Farson, Daniel. The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon, London: Vintage, 1993

Ficacci, Luigi. Francis Bacon, Cologne: Taschen, 2003

Follet, Jean-Phillipe. "Francis Bacon à Beaubourg," Urban Desires, Vol. 2, Issue 5, September 1996

"Francis Bacon: Triptyques" (animation avec biographie, tableaux, références), Artsversus, 2002, http://www.artsversus.com/francisbacon

Gale, Matthew. Francis Bacon: Working on Paper, introduction by David Sylvester, London: Tate Gallery, 1999

Gowing, Lawrence. Francis Bacon: Recent Paintings, exhibition catalog, New York: Marlborough-Gerson Gallery, 1968

Harrison. Martin. In Camera Francis Bacon: Photography Film and the Practice of Painting, Thames & Hudson, London, 2005

Hergott, Fabrice. Francis Bacon, exhibition catalog, Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, 1996

Hughes, Robert. ‘Singing within the Bloody Wood’, Time, July 1 1985, pp. 54-55

Leiris, Michel. « Ce que m’ont dit les peintures de Francis Bacon », in: exhibition catalog, Francis Bacon : Recent Paintings, London: Marlborough Fine Art, 1968

Leiris, Michel. Francis Bacon, Full Face and in Profile (Francis Bacon, face et profil, 1983), English tr. John Weightman, London: Thames & Hudson, 1988

Muñoz-Molina, Antonio. Francis Bacon: Pinturas 1981-1991, exhibition catalog, Madrid : Galería Marlborough, 1993

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Sylvester, David. Interviews with Francis Bacon, London: Thames & Hudson, 1993

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Francis Bacon

The British artist Francis Bacon (1909-1992) was one of the most original and powerful painters of the twentieth century. He was noted for the immediacy and paradoxical nature of his work. Bacon achieved fame and notoriety for his disturbing figures and his preoccupation with bare flesh, wounds, fluids and the persistent interest in the human condition. His imagery conveys loneliness, violence and deterioration. At its best it often does in an extraordinarily grotesque manner.

Bacon was born October 28, 1909, in Dublin. At the age of 16, he moved to London and subsequently lived for about two years in Berlin and Paris. Although Bacon attended no art school, he began to draw and work in watercolor about 1927. Picasso’s work decisively influenced his painting until the mid-1940s. Upon his return to London in 1929, he established himself as a furniture designer and interior designer. He began to use oils in the autumn of that year and exhibited a few paintings as well as furniture and rugs in his studio. His work was included in a group exhibition in London at the Mayor Gallery in 1933. In 1934, the artist organized his own first solo show at Sunderland House, London, which he called Transition Gallery for the occasion. He participated in a group show at Thomas Agnew and Sons, London, in 1937. Bacon painted relatively little after his solo show and in the 1930s and early 1940s destroyed most of his works. He began to paint intensively again in 1944. His work gained prominence only after World War II. By this time he painted the human figure, subjecting it to extreme distortions that made it look bizarre and disturbing (Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944). His first major solo show took place at the Hanover Gallery, London, in 1949. From the mid-1940s to the 1950s, Bacon’s work reflected certain influence of Surrealism. The pictures that made his reputation were of such subjects as an opened-mouth figure bending over and partly covered by an umbrella (Figure Study II, 1946) and a vaporizing head in front of a curtain (Head II, 1949). These startlingly original works were considered to be powerful expressions of anguish, remarkable because of the grandeur of their presentation and unusual painterly quality. By the 1950s Bacon had developed a less elusive treatment of the human figure and based his work on clippings from newspapers and magazines or from the ninethinth-century photographs of humans and animals in movement by Eadweard Muybridge. He also drew on such sources as Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1649–50), Vincent van Gogh’s The Painter on the Road to Tarascon (1888), and Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (1925). The combination of motifs drawn from completely unrelated sources was usual in Bacon's imagery. At the same time contemporary imagery was given a grandeur presentation akin to that of Baroque masterpieces. Bacon's first solo exhibition outside England was held in 1953 at Durlacher Brothers, New York. In 1950–51 and 1952, the artist traveled to South Africa. He visited Italy in 1954 when his work was featured in the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. His first retrospective was held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, in 1955. Bacon was given a solo show at the São Paulo Bienal in 1959. From the 1950s through the end of Bacon's painting career and life, in the early 1990s, the recurrent theme of his work was the isolation and anguish of the individual. He often painted a single figure, usually male, seated or standing in a windowless interior and framed by a geometric construction, as if confined in a private hell reminiscent of Sartre's Huis clos. His subjects were his friends and lovers, and himself. Working almost without preliminary sketchs, Bacon used expressive deformations to convey every possible nuance of feeling and tension. His painting technique consisted of using rags, his hands and whorls of dust along with paint and brush. In 1962, the Tate Gallery, London, organized a Bacon retrospective, a modified version of which traveled to Mannheim, Turin, Zurich, and Amsterdam. Other important exhibitions of his work were held at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1963 and the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971; paintings from 1968 to 1974 were exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 1975. Although Bacon had consistently denied the illustrational nature of his paintings, the facts of his life led art critics and historians to draw links between the personal life of the artist and the subject matter of his paintings. An example of this was the suicide of his model and lover George Dyer.1 Bacon's impressive Triptych May-June 1973 evokes Dyer’s suicide and shows him shadowed in a door frame, vomiting into a sink and dying hunched fetus-like on a toilet. Bacon admitted this painting to be a most personal work and one which verges on illustration. Yet, he also kept each panel of the triptych framed individually and arranged it so to alter a logical sequence and to avoid storytelling. In a period dominated by abstract art, Bacon stood out as one of the greatest figurative painters. Often large in scale, Bacon's works bring back traditional themes but in an iconoclastic way, which is often double-edged. Retrospectives of Bacon's work were held at the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1989–90 and at the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, in 1996. The artist died of heart failure brought on by asthma in Madrid, on April 28, 1992.

1. Dyer's death, the result of ingesting a mix of drugs and alcohol, occurred just before the opening of Bacon's major retrospective in Paris in 1971.


Potential Carcasses

In 1944, one of the most devastating years of World War II, Francis Bacon painted Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. With this horrific triptych depicting vaguely anthropomorphic creatures writhing in anguish, Bacon established his reputation as one of England's foremost figurative painters and a ruthless chronicler of the human condition. During the ensuing years, certain disturbing subjects recurred in Bacon's oeuvre: disembodied, almost faceless portraits; mangled bodies resembling animal carcasses; images of screaming figures; and idiosyncratic versions of the Crucifixion.

Bacon, Three Studies for a Crucifixion, 1962
Oil with sand on canvas, three panels, 198.1 x 144.8 cm each
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

One of the most frequently represented subjects in Western art, the Crucifixion has come to symbolize far more than the historical and religious event itself. Rendered in modern times by artists such as Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso, and Barnett Newman, this theme bespeaks human suffering on a universal scale while also addressing individual pain. The Crucifixion appeared in Bacon's work as early as 1933. Even though he was an avowedly irreligious man, Bacon viewed the Crucifixion as a "magnificent armature" from which to suspend "all types of feeling and sensation." It provided the artist with a predetermined format on which to inscribe his own interpretive renderings, allowing him to evade narrative content—he disdained painting as illustration—and to concentrate, instead, on emotional and perceptual evocation. His persistent use of the triptych format (also traditionally associated with religious painting) furthered the narrative disjunction in the works through the physical separation of the elements that comprise them.

That Bacon saw a connection between the brutality of slaughterhouses and the Crucifixion is particularly evident in the Guggenheim's paintings. The crucified figure slithering down the cross in the right panel, a form derived from the sinuous body of Christ in Cimabue's renowned 13th-century Crucifixion, is splayed open like the butchered carcass of an animal. Slabs of meat in the left panel corroborate this reading. Bacon believed that animals in slaughterhouses suspect their ultimate fate. Seeing a parallel current in the human experience—as symbolized by the Crucifixion in that it represents the inevitability of death—he has explained, "we are meat, we are potential carcasses." The bulbous, bloodied man lying on the divan in the center further expresses this notion by embodying human mortality.

Nancy Spector

Source. Nancy Spector, Francis Bacon: Three Studies for a Crucifixion, Guggenheim, New York, Collection Online, accessed 3.3.09.
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