Sadomasoquismo implícito

Eduardo Suárez, "El sadomasoquismo de Bacon subyace en sus mejores obras," ArteFe, Santa Fe (Argentina), 24.11.2009

Célebre por sus excesos y sus excentricidades, Francis Bacon pasa por ser el prototipo del artista perturbado e irreverente. En lo que no habían indagado los académicos era en la relación de su obra con sus instintos sadomasoquistas.

Lo ha hecho ahora John Richardson, biógrafo canónico de Picasso y académico de prestigio, que ha desnudado la sexualidad de Bacon en un largo artículo en la 'New York Review of Books', quien afirma que "el sadomasoquismo de Bacon en sus tormentosas relaciones con sus amantes homosexuales subyace en sus mejores obras".

Richardson repasa sus momentos con el pintor británico -al que trató entre los años 50 y 70- e indaga en la sexualidad torturada del artista, cuya raíz adivina en la paliza que su padre le dio cuando un día le encontró en casa vestido de mujer.

Por el artículo desfilan las relaciones de Bacon con sus dos amantes más duraderos: Peter Lacy y George Dyer. El primero lo torturó durante años. Al segundo lo condujo al suicidio.

Que Lacy maltrataba a Bacon ya se sabía. Pero el académico detalla su asalto más sanguinario. Aquel en el que éste arrojó a Bacon por una ventana de vidrio laminado en un estado de frenético alcoholismo. "Su cara estaba tan dañada", recuerda Richardson, "que le tuvieron que volver a poner en su sitio el ojo derecho. Después del incidente, Bacon amaba a Lacy aún más. Y durante semanas no pudo perdonarle a Luci[a]n Freud los reproches a su torturador".

En cuanto a George Dyer, Richardson recuerda la relación tortuosa que mantuvo con Bacon y que desembocó en su suicidio en el lavabo de un hotel parisino en la víspera de la inauguración de la retrospectiva del artista en el Grand Palais de París.

"Bacon solía acosar a George hasta el punto de dejarle en un estado de crisis psicótica", recuerda Richardson. "Luego", añade, "en las primeras horas de la mañana se levantaba y exorcizaba su culpa y su rabia pintando imágenes de su amante".
La tesis del profesor Richardson va más allá de estas y otras anécdotas. Según él, el instinto sadomasoquista fue el motor artístico de Bacon. Cuando desapareció, se esfumó su arte y sus últimas obras fueron irrelevantes.


Transatlantic Viewpoint

Francis Bacon, Study for Self-Portrait, 1976, oil and pastel on canvas, 198 × 147.5 cm. Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney

Coulter, Gerry. "Please... Just make It Go Away," Euroart Web Magazine, Issue 10, Fall 2009

“This painter of buggery, sadism, dread and death-vomit has emerged as the toughest, the most implacable, lyric artist in late twentieth-century England, perhaps in all the world. …Bacon is Ruskin’s antitype: in his ferocious sexual frankness, of course, but most of all in his denial that human life has any ‘higher purpose’, or that art and nature connect us in some way to God” (Robert Hughes, 2008).

I. Introduction
Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective (66 paintings and 65 objects from his studio) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (MET) seeks to reevaluate the artist’s work based on new interpretations and archival materials that have emerged since his death in 1992. The exhibition was organized by Gary Tinterow of the MET (along with Chris Stephens and Matthew Gale of the Tate Britain). The main point of the show is to demonstrate that Bacon did not lose his force and vitality as a painter after the 1960’s (he lived until 1992). The show, which succeeds in this goal, has already appeared at the Tate Britain, London, and the Prado in Madrid.
A major Bacon retrospective is an event and an important part of such an event includes the critical reception of it. As such, I’ll not only discuss the show at the MET (in Section III) but also its critical reception (Section II). Most of New York’s leading art critics are so charged with predetermined vitriol for Bacon the man, and for his art, that it seems they would have preferred the show never took place. Bacon is a challenging artist and it appears that New York critics were not prepared to meet the challenges laid down by the exhibition.

II. Critical Responses to Bacon’s Centenary Shows
a) New York
Taken as a whole, the response of New York critics to the MET show is at best unfortunate, and at worst, embarrassing. The most intelligent and sensitive of the New York reviewers was Roberta Smith (2009). She explained Bacon’s significant contributions to artistic representation, including his path-breaking images of male-male sexuality, but could not stop herself from referring to the artist’s best known works as barely paintings.
Howard Halle unfavourably compares Bacon’s works to popular American horror films (Jason and Freddy Krueger in particular). Halle finds Bacon’s work “hard to take seriously” and most of his review does not. We learn more about Bacon’s choice of lovers than his art in this review. Halle acknowledges that Bacon was among the first to foreground photographs as subject matter for painting but ultimately finds his canvases “a bit of a mess”. In the end Halle finds it all “oppressive”.
Lance Esplund (2009) calls the Bacon show “a histrionic horror show”. Like other critics it is the surface tortures on the body in Bacon’s painting that Esplund finds most objectionable. Bacon’s influence has been a bad one says Esplund as he has led a generation “to take the path of least resistance”. Like many critics labouring under the burden of American mythologies of abstraction from an earlier generation of critics (Rosenberg and Greenberg in particular), Esplund is bothered by Bacon’s “mannerism”. Why is it that calling an artist a mannerist today in America is as damning as calling a politician a “liberal” there? Is it such a terrible thing for an artist to find his or her idiom and to elaborate upon it in ways that show us how the work was made? I think even Barnett Newman would be amazed at his lingering influence on New York critics today. Must all painting be flat, abstract, and look as though any one artist could have produced all of the works in a room?
Jerry Saltz says that Bacon is more of a cartoonist than a great artist (Saltz, 2009). Bacon is “an illustrator of exaggerated, ultimately empty angst”. What seems to touch a nerve with Saltz, who claims to have also seen the Bacon show at the Tate and the Prado (for someone who dislikes Bacon’s work he certainly goes out of his way to see it), is the tortured nature of Bacon’s figures at which viewers “gape in wonder”. Americans are perhaps more sensitive about images of tortured figures since photographs of Iraqi prisoner abuse by American GIs, at Abu Ghraib prison, grabbed headlines in the world’s magazines and newspapers. Perhaps Americans have not yet come to terms with being torturers and would rather that such things happen quietly, elsewhere in the night. The future of the naïve posture of American exceptionalism may depend on it.
Saltz offers up perhaps the most shallow critical comment of the year when he adds: “Bacon has no idea what to do with the edges of his paintings”. If Bacon’s edges trouble Saltz one can only wonder how he feels about all the edges of geometric abstraction. Ironically, British critic Adrian Searle (2008) notes that the edges of Bacon’s canvases are as controlled as those of Barnett Newman!
Saltz says Bacon stagnated after the 1960’s – a ludicrous claim as I show in Section III). Mark Rothko is invoked in whose shadow Bacon “seems mannered, conservative, simplistic”. The presence of Rothko is interesting here in that Saltz accuses Bacon of ceasing to innovate. That said Bacon’s Blood on the Sidewalk and a late Rothko sit rather well beside one another.
Jed Perl (2009) charges Bacon with “preferring to sacrifice pictorial sensibility to literary sensationalism”. Bacon produced, says Perl: “not paintings… [but] rectangles of canvas inscribed with noirish graffiti: angst for dummies”. Perl, who has erected for himself a lofty reputation as one of America’s foremost priggs, doesn’t like the “fact” (which is never established), that Bacon, like Caravaggio “is admired not because he was a good painter but because he was a bad boy”. To me this is utter nonsense. Bacon’s social “respectability” seems to still be an issue in New York – it is interesting that Perl chose the gay Caravaggio as another overrated “bad boy”. Perhaps what troubles Perl, and the right wing magazine he writes for, is that he might have to sincerely engage with Bacon’s homosexuality to take his art seriously. Perl, like many of the other New York critics, won’t allow Bacon the status of a painter and here he puts him in very good company as he has denied the same rank to Gerhard Richter (Perl, 2002).
If Bacon is aggressive it is only in shoving our face into an uncertain rendering of what we are – in all of our unspectacular, unholy, ignoble bestiality. Bacon’s Crucifixion represents not only his positive encounter with Picasso’s work but, in displaying the dead Christian God as Soutine presented a carcass of beef (Jesus as meat), the artist stresses the lack of holiness, nobility, and hence increases the kind of uncertainty that those who ascribe divinity to Jesus Christ attempt to stave off. Perl wants no uncertainty, no irony, nor anything unsettled – while living in a country up to its neck in all of these things. But that is the point isn’t it? Many American critics find Bacon so hard to take today because he painted unsettling and uncertain images which are like portraits of not only his own life – but the living life of history today. Many Americans have had enough of that history – it ended, they hope, with the beginning of the new order on the morning of September 12, 2001. For Perl Bacon leads a revulsion against painting and refuses to probe the meaning of Bacon’s remark that (like someone who has just finished eating a steak) “we live off one another”.
What is striking about most of the New York based reviews is that they do not often mention the paintings (if so only one or two) and objects on view. It is as though most critics attending the Bacon show at the MET had an axe to grind with Bacon and their mind was made up before going to the museum. I wonder if it is really Bacon the New York critics detest or is it the fact that he reminds us just how intolerable life has become – even in the freest and bravest of all nations. The isolated figures in “cages and boxes” make Perl, like so many other critics, uncomfortable. “Shock tactics” Perl says. Maybe so, but with all those gaping mouths on the gallery goer’s faces maybe what we have here is a genuine case of “shock and awe”.
b) Critical responses to Bacon at the TATE Britain.
While London too experienced a horrific terror attack (7/7) the damage done to New York by the attacks of 9/11 may have done significant harm to the city’s aspirations to be a world cultural capital. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (New York’s famous 9/11 mayor) perhaps indicated best the damage done to New Yorker’s higher cultural aspirations when he called for censorship (a decency panel) in deciding what could hang on the walls on New York’s museums. Most of New York’s art critics would not openly support such a position of course but it is interesting that the response to the current Bacon show has come together as one loud and pathetic plea: “please… just make it go away!”
Unlike their American counterparts, the British critics tended to focus more sincerely on the paintings on display and to take seriously the new research on Bacon which the MET show also stressed. Unlike most American reviewers, who often went out of their way to deride Bacon the man and the painter, the British critics arrive at his work with an acknowledgement that his art is simply an accepted aspect of contemporary culture (as are the Rolling Stones, the Internet, Picassos, or Americans. The British critics write with an élan and cosmopolitanism that we once would have expected from now increasingly insular New York. To the Brits the fact that many view humanity as just another animal in a universe without God, subject to the same urges and violence (Bacon’s understanding), is an accepted (if intolerable) aspect of existence. The British responses to the Bacon show did not seek to protect the public from Bacon [the message of New York critics is clearly “avoid this show”] but rather to see him in a new light (the focus of the exhibition). It is not the case that the British critics like Bacon because he is British and the American’s dislike him as a foreigner. While a little of that may underwrite the position of the reviewers what is fundamentally different about the British reviews is their willingness to take Bacon seriously – something the American critics so refuse to do and it prevents them from penetrating the surface of his canvases.
Among British critics John McAuliffe (2008) is typical in his focus on the art on display rather than feeling uncomfortable with Bacon’s “bad boy” reputation or his images. McAuliffe demands a show that does more with the artist and his work – especially his relation to abstract art which Bacon came very close to at times despite the care he took to express distain for it. While the show does deal with abstraction McAuliffe is right – much more could have been done with this artist who straddled both figurative and abstract realms (but not necessarily realism).
John Molyneux (2008), writing from a leftist perspective, encourages the Left not to reject Bacon’s work. Molyneux goes on to make an interesting, if unconvincing, argument that Bacon is staring down alienation as a man who takes on the horror of the world. In Bacon Molyneux finds hope for resistance. In Britain, apparently, even the socialists approve of Bacon’s art. One can only wonder: Do New York socialists, their newspapers having long ago been forcibly closed down during a succession of communist witch-hunts, like Bacon too?
Rachel Campbell-Johnson (2008) tellingly, in strong contrast to her American counterparts, penetrates the shocking and disturbing aspects of Bacon’s oeuvre and finds in it philosophical depth and sumptuousness. The straightforward correlations between art and life which so occupied American reviewers are found to be reductive by Campbell-Johnson. Indeed, a key point of the show is that Bacon’s work derived from images he encountered and kept in his studio as much as from his life. Unlike the New York critics, Campbell-Johnson analyzes and penetrates her own biases and fears to take seriously the fact that Bacon offered us a unique depiction of the meaninglessness of life in modern times. Typical only of the British critics she isn’t embarrassed when she admires Bacon and his work.
Tom Lubbock (2008) notes [...] that mature critics and gallery goers have experienced a great change of view toward his art, and its place in the history of the twentieth century. Lubbock says that Bacon’s work, which “used to look like death” now “looks like life in abundance”. Lubbock, like none of the New York critics, delves into Bacon’s work to find not merely violence and things that disturb the faint of heart, but also comedy, tenderness, and the artist’s generosity. Like most London based critics Lubbock refuses to be distracted by the theatricality of Bacon’s images as most New York critics were (by their own admission they went looking for it). Lubbock though seems to anticipate precisely what may have been the biggest problem the Americans would have with Bacon: “He doesn’t have any puritan qualms about being gorgeous. He’s a vulgar entertainer”.
Charles Darwent (2008) focused on Bacon’s painterliness (no tirades about mannerism here) and his “liturgical” use of colour and its role in Bacon’s understanding of evil as generic. The American critics do not speak of evil. As far as colour is concerned Bacon came alive after the early 1960s – why don’t the New York critics (who normally speak to colour with great expertise) recognize this?
Finally, Adrian Searle (2008) weighs the reasons why we might admire Bacon’s work one moment, and dismiss him the next. Searle captures very well the ambivalence Bacon’s work arouses in some critics while not forsaking his job as a critic to assess the work on display. Searle believes that Bacon’s best work was behind him by the 1960s but he is willing to assess the work, make his case for and against it, and to present an understanding of its seductiveness, plausibility, and relation it holds to the horrors of the twentieth century. Searle’s review, while ultimately turning a thumb down to Bacon, does so in an analytical and sensitive manner which was lacking in the New York critics. What Searle is aware of is that one can be distracted by the artist’s life and hence he is very careful not to let this get in the way of his criticism of the specific paintings. Searle, unlike the New York critics, relishes the experience of being taken out of his comfort zone and this allows him to criticize Bacon in a much more convincing manner.

III. Bacon at the MET
For my part I did not know that we required a Bacon retrospective in order to demonstrate something which has long struck me as obvious – that Bacon does not lose force as he ages. Indeed, I have thought of it the other way around – if anything, his artistic powers strengthened and became slightly more polished with time. Witness his last great Triptych of 1991 and his Portrait of John Edwards, 1988 (both on display at the MET). There is a precision and an economy of means in each which tells us that we are dealing with a more mature version of the man who painted George Dyer in Three Figures in a Room (1964) or any of the popes for which he is so well known. Bacon’s great care over these late works is not surprising as they include the two men most important to him at the end. In the 1991 Triptych Bacon’s Spanish Lover [left panel] bears a remarkable resemblance to that of then Brazilian Formula-1 race car driver Ayrton Senna (whom Bacon painted from a magazine cover).
The 1991 Triptych is refined and accomplished and to me it is the last of his masterpieces – one that gathers up everything he ever knew about art and life and brings it to bear in these images. Bacon shows himself in the frame on the right – his face painted from a Polaroid of himself which he liked from the late 1960s. Interestingly, Bacon who was 82 when he painted this work, represents himself (and his significantly younger lover) as highly sexualized males. Two male figures are shown coupling in the middle frame. So much of Bacon’s severe philosophy (humanity is an accident – we live, we love, we die), is here in this extraordinary image. The whole story goes untold however and the enigma remains in all of Bacon’s triptych’s as Gilles Deleuze recognized three decades ago. Deleuze also saw the triptych as a form which allowed Bacon to engage in figurative painting without surrendering to conventional story-telling (Deleuze, 1981; see also Nochlin, 2008). The 1991 Triptych shows that Deleuze’s insight would remain relevant of Bacon’s painting to the end.
The Portrait of John Edwards is a painting of the man in London whom Bacon was closest to at the end – his illiterate heir and gentle companion. Edwards is an image of temporality – especially the unfixed nature of identity – a subject on which Bacon is the absolute master. The portrait of Edwards shows the man disappearing before our eyes. His left foot, and even the chair upon which he sits, have begun to dissolve into a puddle and his arms have evaporated. All that is solid melts into air, including all of our friends and loves, right before our eyes. Bacon understood that we capture, at best, only a fleeting glimpse of the real which is hidden under appearances which we rarely penetrate and then never for very long (see Coulter, 2007). Like so many of Bacon’s paintings the Portrait of John Edwards is painted from a photograph – the artist shifting his perspective to the left of an image which was originally taken straight on – of his former lover George Dyer.
Among the strengths of the MET show is the way in which it brings so much archival material (found in Bacon’s studio at the time of his death), to bear on his paintings. So many of these images have not simplified our understanding of Bacon but added a delicious complexity. This is only appropriate as Bacon’s paintings do not make our world more commonsensical, but rather, make it more enigmatic (Ibid). The MET show gave us a more complex Francis Bacon.
If Bacon’s work began to weaken in the late 1960’s (the dominant New York critical position), then you cannot see evidence of it in Bacon’s paintings of his friend and lover Isabel Rawthorne. His paintings of Rawthorne are not simply great; they are among the most sensitive images of woman painted by a man in the later half of the twentieth century. Rawthorne (who was also a model for Giacometti) is shown in one of her then fashionable outfits as a woman about town. She is shown looking cautiously (?) over her left shoulder at a bestial figure moving behind her in the street. We are left uncertain as to how she feels about this attention as that enigmatic swirl of paint representing unknowability appears in the middle of her face and she is just about to step out of the light into the darkness.
If, in a thousand years, this portrait of Rawthorne is the last surviving work by Bacon then people in the future will still know the artist. It will be possible for them to know what it was like to be a figurative painter while acknowledging the impossibility of realism. They will also know both the excitement and danger present for women in the streets of the great cities of the end of the second millennium.
If Bacon is exhausted by the 1960’s why then does his best portrait (of Michel Leiris) not appear until 1976? This is another way of asking why is it that critics cannot let go of the popes and heads of the 1940s and 1950s and realize that the portraits replaced them as a more sensitive and subtle (yet still highly evocative) form for Bacon? The portraits also signify that Bacon has moved on past Matisse who was very influential on Bacon at the time of the Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) where Bacon shows his élan with Matisse’s way of isolating figures on a monochrome background. Leiris is a wonderful portrait which is a strong likeness. The rest, as in all of Bacon’s portraits, remains behind the mask. There is a significant epistemology of identity at work in this manner of representation for which Bacon has not received sufficient credit (see Coulter, 2007). Leiris is also indicative of Bacon’s deep admiration for Picasso. This portrait, an homage to Picasso, is as close as Bacon ever came to cubism – it is also a great tribute to Leiris (and old acquaintance of Picasso’s) whose wife was, for a time, the great cubist’s dealer.
If Bacon is “over” by the 1960s then why do we find so much innovation in his later works? This includes a move into landscapes which are, according to an insightful take by MET curator Gary Tinterow, Bacon’s way of engaging with abstraction on his own terms (see Tinterow, 2009). Perhaps his Jet of Water is the best of these works in the MET show.
Against the narrativizations of abstraction Bacon uses abstract elements to reference the unknowable and enigmatic. Bacon’s genius is for touching on temporality without narration. He pushes the swirl of unknowability out into the face and in Jet of Water across the surface of an everyday scene. That white splash is a portrait of time itself, frozen, in the act of wasting each of us.

IV. Conclusion
Bacon’s work doesn’t attempt to lift us up rather; it puts us in our place and forces us to look at ourselves. It does so with sympathy and a generosity of spirit.
Why do Bacon’s popes scream? Surely because, after World War II, after Auschwitz and Hiroshima, the pope realizes that only a few believe in God. Historically, even popes who believe in God are rare. Why do they wear purple and not red as in the Velasquez pope which inspired them? This is because the pope realizes that his churches are emptying out at one of the two most sacred times of the year for the Catholic Church – Easter, the time when priesthood wears purple in deference to the seriousness of the event of the crucifixion.
Bacon is not as violent as he is raw. I do not find him hysterical but he is very intense. When such a number of his works appear in one place the artist is humanized and it is a lack of recognition of this that makes so many of the words of the New York critics ring hollow. For them Bacon’s raw intensity cannot be just another view of us, he cannot be just like the rest of us – his vision cannot count as does “ours”. Besides, in New York these days, disliking Europeans is something of a popular if discomfiting sport.
The Metropolitan Museum has been attempting (with some success) to better serve contemporary culture over the past twenty years. The Bacon retrospective fits well into this programme and behind the show there has been some excellent curating and sound scholarship. I especially appreciate the way the MET show recreated previous showings of Bacon’s work (which were overseen by the artist in smaller galleries) specifically the artist’s popes (Durlacher Gallery, New York, 1953) and the heads shown in London (Hanover Gallery, 1949).
Every nasty thing the New York critics had to say about Bacon is true but only if you are willing to protect yourself in a prejudiced insular shroud before viewing Bacon’s work. Bacon does paint exaggerated figures, some of his work might be hysterical, it may not be gruesome but that’s a fair word, and his palate provokes the eye. Bacon is also not a better painter than Ingres, Velasquez, or Picasso – but he never claimed to be. Bacon had no illusions about his talent – far less than the New York critics managed to invent. When you are in the presence of his work, without prejudice, without the enormous weight of American modernism on your shoulders, you can simply relish the experience – the way Bacon’s paintings attract and repel at the same time. The ugly is as attractive as the beautiful – it is the lesson of fashion shows for the past fifty years.
Most intelligent people who find themselves with Bacon’s work, no matter how it may challenge them, realize how fortunate they are to be in its presence. This is something the British critics were very aware of unlike their American counterparts who fail, spectacularly, to explain why Bacon’s work is so compelling. While the New York critics attempted to convince everyone that Bacon’s work is a horror show, it isn’t good, it isn’t even painting, let alone compelling art – the people came in droves as to any major art event. In the rooms there were, as at all Bacon shows, many open mouths – not only the ones in the paintings – so many viewers transfixed and moving much more slowly than people tend to do in museums. The only horror actually present in the event was the embarrassing criticism. What irony that Bacon – the painter who understood and represented, perhaps better than anyone else in his century, the anxieties which swirl around seeing – is treated in this manner in the city Baudrillard described as “the epicenter of the end of the world” (2002:14).
Bacon’s work may suggest violence but no one is tormenting his characters more than they are themselves within the confines of the social. The social is the greatest terrorist the individual will ever face and Bacon, a gay man in London when gay men were put in jail, understood that very well. In 2009 he still isn’t acceptable among New York art critics. New York really is not the centre of the art world anymore and its critics show it to be, in the case of Bacon, no longer a cultural capital either. I think Francis Bacon would relish this kind of thing and would have gladly sacrificed his 100th birthday to the cause.

Bacon, photographed by Cartier Bresson

Baudrillard, Jean, and Jean Nouvel. The Singular Objects of Architecture, University of Minnesota Press, 2002.
Coulter, Gerry. “Overcoming the Epistemological Break: Francis Bacon and Jean Baudrillard and the Intersections of Art and Theory,” Euro Art Magazine, no. 5, Winter 2007, http://www.euroartmagazine.com/new/?issue=6&page=1&content=140
Campbell-Johnson, Rachel. “Francis Bacon at Tate Britain,” The Times of London, 9.9.2008, http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/visual_arts/article4706909.ece
Darwent, Charles. “Francis Bacon, Tate Britain,” The Independent, 14.9.2008, http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/reviews/francis-bacon-tate-britain-lndon-929562.html
Deleuze, Gilles. The Logic of Sensation (1981), University of Minnesota Press, 2003
Esplund, Lance. “A Histrionic Horror Show,” The Wall Street Journal, 5.7.2009, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124709424380814667.html
Halle, Howard. “Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective,” Time Out New York, 2009, http://www.newyork.timeout.com/articles/art/75060/francis-bacon-a-centenary-retrospective-at-themetropolitan-museum-of-art-review
Hughes, Robert. “Horrible!,” The Guardian, 30.8.2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2008/aug/30/bacon.art
Lubbock, Tom. “All hail a vulgar entertainer: Francis Bacon retrospective”. The Independent, 10.9.2008, http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/all-hail-a-vulgar-entertainer-francis-bacon-retrospective-924347.html
McAuliffe, John. “Francis Bacon – Tate Britain,” The Manchester Review, 21.11.2008, http://mcrrview.web.its.manchester.ac.uk/blog/?p=262
Molyneux, John. “Francis Bacon at Tate Britain”. Socialist Review, 2008, http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=10573
Nochlin, Linda, et al., “Francis Bacon,” Tate Etc. (Online), Issue 14, 2008, http://www.tate.org.uk/tateetc/issue14/francisbacon.htm
Perl, Jed. “Slaughterhouse – Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective,” The New Republic, 17.6.2009, http://www.tnr.com/booksarts/story.html?id=5c8a2dfd-3e0d-4f3f-82e2-4f2b10dad432
Perl, Jed. “St. Gerhard of the Sorrows of Painting,” The New Republic, August 2002 (no longer available online).
Saltz, Jerry. “Francis Bacon at the MET”. New York Magazine, 25.4.2009, http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/saltz/francis-bacon5-27-09.asp
Smith, Roberta. “If paintings had voices Francis Bacon’s would shriek: Francis Bacon, A Centenary Retrospective”. New York Times, 2008 (M Halle: http://newyork.timeout.com/articles/art/75060/francis-bacon-a-centenary-retrospective-at-metropolitan-museum-of-art-art-review
Tinterow, Gary. Interview with Charlie Rose, 2009, http://www.charlierose.com/view/interview/10461


El maletín de Bacon: ¿Grotesco tocinesco?

Martin Harrison, Francis Bacon: Archivos privados, Madrid: La Fábrica, 2009

La Fábrica. En Archivos privados se reúnen los documentos más importantes que sirven de utilidad para que el lector tenga una visión más exacta de las influencias que provocaron y motivaron la pintura de Bacon.
Elaborado por Martin Harrison, Rebecca Daniels y Barbara Dawson, el libro posee información proveniente de la Galería Municipal de Dublín (The Hugh Lane), que es donde se preserva toda la documentación hallada en el estudio de Bacon (donada a la ciudad en 1998). Se trata de más de 7.000 recortes y objetos que forman parte de la 'base de datos' visuales del artista.

El contenido del libro sugiere los métodos artísticos y el vocabulario pictórico de Bacon. La obra contiene material acerca del cuerpo humano, animales y otros. Las más de 160 fotografías de estos estímulos contenidas en el libro, están acompañadas por comentarios que desbrozan aún más el contenido del mensaje que pretendía utilizar Bacon en el momento de llevar a cabo su evocación/provocación visual. Bacon trabajó a partir de la apropiación y posterior manipulación de imágenes sacadas de libros, fotografías, revistas, catálogos, en fin, mass-media. Arrugar, doblar, rallar, pintar, pegar... Tal deliberada manipulación de la imagen apropiada resultaba para él un estudio previo al trabajo final. El carácter reservado de Bacon respecto a la acumulación de imágenes diversas puede producir en quien se dedica a su estudio cierto desconcierto. De tal material emerge el interás del pintor por la obra de Miguel Ángel, Velázquez, Rembrandt y Picasso. Segun Harrison, las figuras de Bacon representan al hombre del siglo XX, uno "angustiado por la vida, pero entusiasmado por el arte".[1]

Rancho News. Documentación que sugiere y da testimonio acerca del proceso creativo de Bacon se reúne en Archivos Privados, volumen que recopila 160 fotografías, seleccionadas y comentadas por Harrison, Daniels y Dawson. Se trata de un corpus de más de 7.000 recortes, objetos y piezas. Parte de los mismos se hallan ilustrados en el mecionado volumen.[2]

Graciela Marín. "Bacon [...] sólo dejaba entrar a su taller a sus amigos más cercanos. En parte, porque era su mundo creativo. Pero también porque era casi un basural. Miles de papeles arrugados, cortados, manchados y doblados en el suelo, dispersos en un espacio de 6 por 4 metros. Entre medio, cuadros destruidos, despedazados y apuñalados, muchas veces por el mismo artista. Bacon nunca estuvo dispuesto a revelar demasiado de su intimidad. Su vida y su forma de trabajo eran privadas y le gustaba conservarlo así. Pero también era un asunto práctico: nadie más que él podía circular entre tanto desorden.
A 100 años de su nacimiento, las perturbadoras pinturas de cuerpos deformes y sufrientes de Bacon son más famosas que nunca. Desde el año pasado, una gran muestra retrospectiva se exhibe en [Londres], [Madrid] y Nueva York. Todas las exhibiciones se han repletado, aunque cada visitante abandona la muestra con reacciones distintas: algunos se incomodan, otros se horrorizan y varios se asombran ante las pinceladas que dan forma a retratos distorsionados, de ojos desorbitados y bocas aullantes.

[... Además, la] Galería Hugh Lane, de Dublín, exhibirá en octubre una gran muestra con los secretos de su taller en Londres, con fotografías, pinturas y documentos que revelan su proceso de creación. Son materiales que también se muestran en los Archivos privados de Francis Bacon, [... por] Martin Harrison. Es un libro que [...] descubre las obsesiones, dudas y experimentaciones que marcaron la obra de uno de los artistas más singulares del siglo XX.
[...] Bacon nunca siguió las modas. Cuando el arte abstracto estaba en su punto más alto, él lo despreció por considerar que era incapaz de reflejar las emociones del ser humano. En especial, aquellos que más le interesaban: la pasión, la rabia, la angustia y la desesperación. El arte abstracto le parecía [...] estéril [... e] inútil. Tampoco le interesó sumarse a los surrealistas. En una opción que lo aisló de sus contemporáneos, optó por la realidad. Durante años le pesó: en 1936, una galería de Londres rechazó exhibir sus obras, simplemente porque ofrecía un arte que era "insuficientemente surreal".
A él le parecía inconcebible un arte alejado de la realidad. Aunque en su caso, se trataba de un mundo hostil y violento, que se reflejaba en retratos desfigurados y sufrientes. Son pinturas que le ganaron el título de "artista del horror". Sin embargo, a Harrison no le parece tan así. "Pocas veces veo horror. Veo mucho más asco. Asco consigo mismo, con la raza humana y con el hecho de que seamos mortales", dice a La Tercera.

Y eso era algo que Bacon conoció muy de cerca. Nacido en Dublín en 1909, antes de los 10 años ya había sufrido la muerte de dos hermanos y conocido el horror de la Primera Guerra Mundial. Desde niño sufrió de asma crónica: cada cierto tiempo, sentía que se asfixiaba y sólo podía calmarse con morfina.
A los 16 años, su padre lo exilió del hogar familiar al descubrir que era homosexual. Tuvo muchas parejas, pero su relación más significativa fue con George Dyer, al que conoció tras sorprenderlo robando en su departamento. Estuvieron juntos siete años, pero Dyer no soportó la presión de ser la pareja de un artista que, a esas alturas, era famoso: en 1971 se suicidó con barbitúricos, en la pieza que ambos compartían, mientras Bacon estaba afuera preparando [su] exhibición [retrospectiva en el Grand Palais de París]. El artista jamás dejó de sentir culpa y [...] en [...] sus trípticos más impactantes, pintó la muerte de su amante. Y continuaría retratándolo hasta el final.

Bacon trabajaba con rabia, pero también impulsividad: así como destrozó en múltiples ocasiones sus obras, también arrugaba, rayaba y destruía el material con el que trabajaba en su taller. Muchos de esos papeles inicialmente se confundieron con basura: ahora, relata Harrison, se les considera gérmenes de las obras del pintor. "Los descubrimientos de su estudio confirman qué tan privado era él y [revelan] muchos de sus secretos. No de su vida íntima, pero sí sobre su forma de trabajar con otras imágenes", explica Harrison. "Son lo que él estudió, muy cercanamente, e investigó".
Bacon se obsesionaba con la realidad, pero no necesariamente con el mundo vivo. Jamás trabajó con modelos reales, pese a que muchos de sus retratos mostraban a sus parejas y amigos. "No era bueno para dibujar y le tomaba bastante tiempo lograr un parecido con sus modelos", agrega Harrison. "Su 'realismo' no era una copia directa de la naturaleza. El decía que los modelos vivos lo inhibían y le creo: pienso que lo insegurizaban y avergonzaban".
Son conocidos los estudios que Bacon hizo de cuadros de Van Gogh y Velázquez. Pero menos se sabe de su afición a la imagen fotográfica, que fue su principal medio de acercamiento a la realidad. Le fascinaban los detalles que podía captar una cámara, y que el ojo humano, en forma natural, pasaba por encima. Por lo demás, la fotografía le daba la insospechada licencia de retratar el mundo de una forma no-ilustrativa. Era la realidad, pero no igual a ella: era su esencia emocional. Una versión mucho más intensa.
Así se explica la destrucción de los documentos de su archivo. Durante años se pensó que se debía simplemente al descuido del artista. Hoy se piensa que era su método de trabajo. Rayones, manchones, dobleces sobre fotografías y recortes de diarios y otras publicaciones no eran más que otra forma de concentrarse en ciertas partes y movimientos del cuerpo, o una ayuda para imaginar cómo un cuerpo podía ser deformado. El más importante sería su estudio de las secuencias fotográficas de cuerpos humanos de Eadweard Muybridge, que le permitieron crear formas que, aunque estáticas, demuestran movimiento.

Pero no es claro que esa misma razón haya motivado la eliminación de sus obras. Hoy, sólo sobreviven 600 de sus cuadros. Hay etapas completas, como la que va entre 1929 y 1944, que él se encargó de destruir casi completamente, cuchillo en mano. "Ciertamente, no creo que podamos encontrar todas las partes que faltan de este puzzle," [...] sostiene Harrison. "Mucha gente intenta desentrañar a Bacon, pero nada que podamos decir o hacer puede disminuir el efecto de sus pinturas. Aunque su psicología era extraña, las pinturas aún resuenan intensamente [...]. Son obras que se entienden en términos universales, sobre pasiones y sentimientos muy humanos"."[3]

Oviedo. Hacia 1930, la vida de Francis Bacon (1909-1992) experimentó dos vuelcos fundamentales, ambos estrechamente relacionados entre sí. Por un lado, culmina el deambular incierto, lleno de episodios que sólo auguraban más confusión y fracaso y que lo habían alejado de Irlanda. Su permanencia durante unos pocos meses de 1928 en Berlín le permitió observar sagazmente los signos inexorables del final de la república de Weimar. Por ese entonces, la capital de Alemania concentraba las experiencias culturales más radicalizadas de toda Europa. Con menos de 20 años palpa el turbio clima de una urbe que mezcla la miseria de los desclasados y el derroche más insolente. El tríptico La gran ciudad, pintado por Otto Dix entre 1927 y 1928, refleja ese áspero contraste que más tarde Bacon podrá asimilar como algo también muy cercano a sus todavía rudimentarios tanteos en el terreno de la pintura.
Educación estética. El otro hecho, desde luego revelador, ocurre en 1930, cuando está viviendo en París, una ciudad con hallazgos prometedores para un autodidacta como Bacon, provisto de una versatilidad irreverente que elude los caminos sistemáticos o lineales. Allí visita la muestra de Picasso en la galería de Paul Rosenberg [...]. Un núcleo realmente decisivo de su formación irrumpe en esta oportunidad, la vocación artística de Bacon funda allí un punto de partida enunciado con la frase: "Picasso me ayudó a ver".
Simultáneamente, el otro llamado que recibió fue el de la fotografía, pintores como Man Ray o Max Ernst adoptaban con entusiasmo esta práctica con la cual Bacon no tardó en establecer una afinidad profunda. Asimismo, el cine de Buñuel (El perro andaluz y La edad de oro), la secuencia de la niñera que grita con desesperación en las escalinatas de Acorazado Potemkin y, conectada a ésta, el grito desgarrador de una madre en el cuadro La matanza de los inocentes de Nicolas Poussin contemplado en el museo de Chantilly, esbozan buena parte de la educación estética baconiana. La consulta de manuales de medicina con fotografías sobre afecciones bucales preanuncia que el deseo de pintar de Bacon está reuniendo aceleradamente muchas de sus inquietantes búsquedas.
Si bien en la historia de la pintura occidental el motivo de la crucifixión abarca un extenso recorrido iconográfico (de Cimabue y Grünewald a Felicien Rops y Picasso), el ciclo de las crucifixiones baconianas, a través de sus consecutivos escalonamientos, une la casi totalidad de su actividad como pintor. A veces se interrumpe, y cuando así ocurre es para reaparecer más adelante con elementos igualmente perturbadores. Ya en Londres incluye las primeras crucifixiones en una exposición del año 1933. Más tarde, en 1944 presenta [...] Tres estudios de figuras al pie de una crucifixión, punto de inflexión de su "carrera" de artista y obra maestra que excede esa misma carrera.
Como su título lo indica, las tres figuras de cada uno de los paneles aparecen, contra un fondo anaranjado, aisladamente, y de ese modo cumplen con el postulado baconiano de evitar cualquier tentación narrativa "que hable más alto que el propio cuadro". Una rápida descripción no podría omitir ni las deformaciones (que se proyectarán raudamente a las exacerbadas distorsiones de los cuerpos y rostros baconianos) ni las bocas de esas criaturas zoomorfas con dientes filosísimos que desde sus cuellos alargados hacen el ademán de saltar y que además parecen emitir con sus fauces abiertas un mudo aullido estremecedor. Según lo admitió el propio Bacon, son imágenes engendradas por una lectura de la Orestíada de Esquilo que se conectaban con recónditas capas de la culpa y la perdición que siempre atormentaron al pintor.
Léxico de las imágenes. Con posterioridad, se suceden, en 1950, Fragmento para una crucifixión, y 12 años después Tres estudios para una crucifixión, mientras que de 1981 es Tríptico inspirado en la Orestíada de Esquilo; por último, Segunda versión del tríptico de 1944 fue pintado en 1988: corrobora una tenaz obsesión de Bacon que en nada atenúa la ilimitada ferocidad de esas temibles "Hijas de la Noche" [Euménides]. Más allá de interpretaciones psicologistas, para Bacon –en una de las insoslayables entrevistas de David Sylvester– las crucifixiones se asociaban a "un autorretrato". ¿El suyo, cabe preguntarse? Lo cierto es que tanto el autorretrato como su par complementario, el retrato, fueron un "género" sobre el cual produjo una meditación plástica impostergable dirigida a registrar una cascada de fisonomías que nunca parecen agotarse.

Según sus palabras, se trata de "atrapar lo que no deja de transformarse". Así como poder capturar la descomposición del movimiento del cuerpo (utilizando las fotos de Muybridge), la inestabilidad y los cambios a menudo imperceptibles de las facciones lo condujeron a no someter su pincel al sosiego o a la inercia, por el contrario, el detalle de una boca se asemeja a un cuadro de Turner o una cabeza puede emular un muñón. Las espesas capas de óleo acumuladas, sus irregulares definiciones crean protuberancias y relieves que operan una drástica distorsión de una cara cuyos rasgos tambalean y pierden su identidad. Abundan los autorretratos que se concatenan como fotogramas; otro tanto ocurre con los retratos. [...] Difícilmente se podría pasar por alto que este género practicado con asiduidad por Bacon implica la presencia de modelos para ser representados. Sin embargo, en ese lugar baconiano por antonomasia que era su atelier londinense (el de Reece Mews, conservado por varias décadas) raramente los modelos de la realidad existían para Bacon. Prefería con frecuencia apelar a las fotografías. "Su realidad –afirmó con desparpajo ante David Sylvester– es mayor que la de las cosas".

Para pintar las más de 40 versiones del Retrato de Inocencio X de su admirado Velázquez utilizó una reproducción.
Una reciente publicación titulada Archivos privados pone justamente de relieve el rol central de un vasto repertorio de imágenes extraídas de recortes periodísticos, de revistas, de libros, de páginas arrancadas a libros de arte que solían hallarse dispersas y caóticamente amontonadas sobre el piso del atelier de Bacon. Un material heterogéneo (más de 7000 impresos) constituyeron, como se ha podido establecer, la matriz casi secreta del trabajo visual del pintor.
Láminas plegadas una y otra vez dislocan o dejan truncas imágenes, las arrugas les otorgan una nueva visibilidad, manchas, goteos, salpicaduras, caprichosas intervenciones del pintor, un material en el que hormiguean fragmentos sueltos: van entregando una suerte de léxico de las urgentes formas de la pintura baconiana. Y en este sinnúmero de restos que ahora componen una engañosa unidad, la obra de Bacon encuentra un cauce para ofrecer los umbrales siempre cambiantes de sus expresiones.
Perfil. Francis Bacon nació en Dublín el 28 de octubre de 1909. Su infancia y adolescencia transcurrieron en medio de los salvajes enfrentamientos entre católicos y protestantes. Antes de dedicarse a la pintura ejerció los más diversos oficios. Tras las Segunda Guerra Mundial, proliferan las exposiciones y retrospectivas de sus pinturas en las grandes ciudades de Europa y Estados Unidos, México y San Pablo. Su muerte ocurrió en Madrid el 28 de abril de 1992.[4]

Desesperación entusiasta. El maletín de Bacon: ¿repleto de material que testimonia un proceso de trabajo fuera de lo común o un extraordinario grotesco tocinesco?

1. A partir del material publicado por La Fábrica, "Nota de prensa," 27.1.2009, http://www.lafabrica.com/notas_prensa/notas_prensa.php?ola=97
2. Es paráfrasis de "Libros, España: « Francis Bacon, archivos privados»," Rancho Las Voces, Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, 29.1.2009, http://rancholasvoces.blogspot.com/2009/01/libros-espana-francis-bacon-archivos.html
3. "Los secretos que escondía el taller de Bacon," La Tercera, Chile, 30.08.2009, http://latercera.com/contenido/661_175552_9.shtml
4. Antonio Oviedo, "Formas urgentes de la pintura," La Voz, Argentina, 22.10.2009, http://www.lavoz.com.ar/nota.asp?nota_id=561202

Imágenes, en orden de aparición:
1. Reproducción del Retrato de Felipe IV (Diego Velázquez, 1655; Museo del Prado, Madrid), ilustrando la tapa de Archivos privados.
2. Dos páginas sujetas con clips a una cartulina, c. 1984. Izq. nota de Bacon en referencia a una de sus obras: "The image of body to come over white circle" («La imagen de un cuerpo a ser ubicada sobre un círculo blanco»). Der. fragmento sujeto a un catálogo ilustrando la obra de Paolo Gilio, L'uomo de Eakins, 1982; con fragmento del libro Bridgman's Complete Guide to Drawing from Life, de George B. Bridgman, Nueva York: Sterling Publishing Co., 1952, p. 31. Bacon le añadió a pluma negra el taburete bajo la figura de la esquina inferior izquierda. El taburete se parece a un diseño frecuente en la pintura de Bacon y es similar al del panel izquierdo de Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards (Tres estudios para un retrato de John Edwards), 1984.
3. Francis Bacon, Peter Lacy, fotografía, Ostia, 1954. Las fotos que Bacon y Lacy se tomaron entre sí en su viaje a Italia figuran entre las primeras que influyeron sobre la obra del pintor.
4. Cecil Beaton, Francis Bacon en su taller, fotografía, 1960.
5. Página del libro Velásquez, de José Ortega y Gasset, París: René Julliard, 1954, lámina 98: Diego Velázquez, El infante Felipe Próspero, 1660
6. Fragmento de una fotografía con la porción superior del rostro de Bacon (Source 243, The Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublín).
7. Imagen titulada "Cómo juzgar el carácter de una cara" (Londres, 1952).
8. Tres pequeños retratos realizados por Bacon y posteriormente lacerados por su autor (The Irish Times, 27.10.2009).
9. Fotografía con el rostro de Bacon, empleada por el pintor para realizar numerosos de sus autorretratos.
10. Fotografía color impresa en papel brillante de Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud (Sideways), 1971
11. Reproducción del Retrato de Inocencio X (1650), por Velázquez. Datos del retratado.
12. El maletín de Bacon (Bacon Briefcase), concebido para el Centro de Belleza VLCC en 2007 (fuente).

Extraordinario: "Alive with Bacon Taste"

Traducción - « Vivo, con gusto a tocino ».


The Greatest Painter or a Fascinating Mess?

In "Sacred Monster,"[1] a review of Bacon's Centenary Retrospective at the Met in 2009,[2] Jerry Saltz asks: Was Francis Bacon really the greatest painter of the twentieth century, or just a fascinating mess?

Whatever the case in point, problematic is first of all the "either-or" nature of Saltz's question. Master of the Uncertain, Francis Bacon was both one the greatest artists of the past century and a well-calculated mess too. Saltz's ideas, however, seem to have a lot to do with some certainties of his own. Some of them are appriopriate, others sound quite objectionable. At any rate, here they are.
Francis Bacon, whose centenary is being marked by a Metropolitan Museum of Art retrospective opening this week, is the [...] artist whom the English consider their Achilles: a truculent hero rising from the turbulence, an outlaw god. Indeed, the first word of Homer’s Iliad comes to mind when thinking about his paintings and tumultuous life: “Rage.”
Those who knew the artist—some of them his friends—described him variously as “devil,” “whore,” “one of the world’s leading alcoholics,” “bilious ogre,” “sacred monster,” and “a drunken, faded sodomite swaying nocturnally through the lowest dives and gambling dens of Soho.” Bacon was no kinder: He called himself a “grinding machine” and “rotten to the core.” This hasn’t stopped admirers and critics alike from proclaiming him “the greatest painter in the world,” “the best … since Turner.” Never one to spare hyperbole, Robert Hughes wrote, “This painter of buggery, sadism, dread, and death-vomit has emerged as the toughest, the most implacable, lyric artist in late-twentieth-century England, perhaps in all the world.”
For me, Bacon—who may be the only artist sharing a name with one of his main subjects, meat—has always been more of a cartoonist. He’s an illustrator of exaggerated, ultimately empty angst. His early accomplishments are undeniable, and the Met’s survey of 66 paintings and a cache of [...] source material is peppered with high points, especially the signature paintings of the forties and fifties: Canvases with twisted masses of faceless flesh and otherworldly homunculi, creatures of the id posed in living-room wastelands and Stygian prisons. The best of this work shrouds you in a sulfuric gloom where strange powers transform human souls into delirious monsters. These paintings make audiences stare as if they were looking at animals in a zoo, trying to come to terms with these merciless inhuman presences. You’ll see this at the Met: people blankly gaping in wonder.
To understand Bacon’s impact, look no further than the young Brits emulating him. Jake and Dinos Chapman place tortured figures in glass cases; Jenny Saville’s contorted Gargantuas are direct descendants of Bacon’s golems; Tracey Emin works with blood and guts; Sarah Lucas gives us spooks and deformities. Damien Hirst not only makes vitrines straight out of Bacon—he puts meat and carcasses in them. Like Dalí and Munch, Bacon is an artist we love when young. Tantalized by the urgency, angst, weirdness, blood, sex, and bodies, we think, That’s me! That’s how I feel!
You might have reconsidered feeling like Bacon if you’d lived in his skin. His love life is a study in emotional privation and degradation. “We are meat,” he often remarked—understandable, given his adolescence. Bacon, who was given morphine as a child for his asthma [...], always knew which way his erotic compass pointed, which is not to say that he approved of its inclination: He called his homosexuality “a defect” and a “limp.” And no wonder. When Bacon was 16, his father—the artist derisively called him “a failed horse-trainer”—caught the boy wearing his mother’s underwear. (“Fishnet stockings were an essential part of the artist’s wardrobe for most of his life,” one biographer notes.) As punishment, the father had him horsewhipped by the stable hands, whom, Bacon later claimed, he then had affairs with. Bacon Sr. asked a family friend to “straighten the boy out” by taking him to Berlin. The man complied—and subsequently bedded the younger Bacon, then abandoned him in the city that W. H. Auden called “a bugger’s daydream.”
Endless liaisons with rent boys and society types followed, until Bacon’s predator-prey notion of love and his “desire to suffer” reached new heights, in 1952. At the age of 43, he met a former RAF pilot, Peter Lacy, in London’s Soho. They spent a lot of time in Tangier, a refuge for gay men looking for freedom. “I’d never really fallen in love with anyone until then,” Bacon said. “Of course, it was the most total disaster from the start.” Bacon couldn’t live with or without him: “Being in love in that extreme way,” he said, “being totally obsessed by someone, is like having some dreadful disease. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.” They experimented with the far reaches of S&M. The end was horrid, too. On the day before his first Tate retrospective opened, in May 1962, Bacon learned Lacy had been found dead, almost surely from drinking.
Less than two years later, Bacon met George Dyer—reportedly when Dyer broke into his studio to rob him. For the next seven years the relationship rocketed up and down, then history repeated itself. On October 25, 1971, the day before Bacon’s retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris opened, Dyer overdosed and died in their Paris hotel room. Bacon, then 61, was again devastated. No wonder he talked about “the destruction” of love.

All this manifested itself in his art, which rattled the cage of English painting like nothing before it. Compared with the prevailing emphasis on the literary and the anecdotal (the sappy Victorian painter George Frederic Watts is considered “England’s Michelangelo”),[2] Bacon came out of nowhere. His unfinished surfaces, saturated color, and nonstories make him a near anomaly in the history of his country’s painting. He never attended art school [...] but he devoured art history, and you can easily spot his influences: Cubism, Romanticism, Expressionism, Surrealism, Chaim Soutine, Goya’s late paintings, and the figures of Michelangelo.
In 1927, a year after he was banished from home, Bacon went to Paris, where he saw a survey of over 100 Picasso drawings. The show tattooed itself on his brain and left him thinking that Picasso had come closer than anyone in the century to “the core of what feeling is about.” He became “the reason I paint,” Bacon said, “the father figure.” [...]
In 1929, back in London, he set himself up creating furniture and rugs based on modern French design. He tentatively showed a few paintings in his own home, but it wasn’t until April 1933, when he was 24, that Bacon exhibited his first painting, at the Mayor Gallery in London’s West End. Interest was immediate and word spread. Within months, a painting of his was reproduced opposite a recent Picasso in art historian Herbert Read’s book Art Now.

That work, Crucifixion (1933), which vibrates off the walls at the Met, [... is] a haunted little thing, with no sense of devotion to anything except painting—an ectoplasmic alien shape with phosphorescent wings and outstretched arms standing in a murky monochromatic ground demarcated by lines forming invisible planes. The macabre work was influenced by the almost unknown Catholic Australian painter Roy de Maistre (Bacon’s mentor and lover) and owes much to Soutine and archaic altarpiece painting. Yet it also epitomized Bacon’s astonishing description of what a painting should be: “a snail leaving a trail of the human presence.” Crucifixion radiates what Deleuze called “cosmic dissipation.”
But just as it appeared that he would take the English art world by storm, Bacon’s trail dissipated. He exhibited works the following year, to little attention and bad reviews. Stung, he destroyed every painting from the show. By the late thirties, he had quit painting. He “abandoned himself with a vengeance to drifting, from bar to bar, from person to person … setting up a series of private—and totally illegal—gambling clubs,” says his biographer Michael Peppiatt.

Then came the “night of the world”: the Second World War. In April 1945—a month of simultaneous relief and unimagined horror—Mussolini was hanged upside-down, Hitler committed suicide, Roosevelt died, and the nightmares at Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen were revealed. And Bacon, then 35, exhibited a painting that still induces shudders. Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion is a triptych depicting howling, deformed, harpylike goblins. There are intimations of real space, but these raving underworld visitants mostly exist in a universe of animal instinct. A lamentation for the dead and living, a retaliation for his personal traumas, the painting exudes venomous visionary force. Reviewers were shocked and awed: “Images so unrelievedly awful that the mind snaps shut,” wrote John Russell after first seeing Three Studies. “We had no name for them, no name for what we felt about them.” (Years later, in 1953, the Tate had to be persuaded to accept the painting as a gift.)
Bacon had broached a new door, and to his enormous credit, he kept doing that for fifteen years. Painting, from 1946 (bought by the Museum of Modern Art in 1948 for £280), was an even bigger breakthrough. In this coagulated masterpiece, a grinning or grimacing man—only the bottom of whose face is seen—is jammed between splayed cow carcasses and what looks like a witness stand. An umbrella is over his head. Here, Bacon hits on many of the themes, techniques, and formal concerns that occupied him for the rest of his life: Man, animal, and meat merge. There is no narrative, just a conjuration of some malevolent force. As with countless subsequent figures, Bacon isolates this one within an enclosure in the middle of the canvas. The space feels hallucinatory, menacing, sullen, shallow. Best of all, the paint is physical and visceral—clotted, smeared, wiped off, applied with rags and fingers and brushes or straight from the tubes. Intense lilacs, pinks, and magentas multiply the effect. Within a few years, Bacon was applying great unbroken fields of orange, apricot, and red. Some of this color is so intense and modern it keeps even the worst of his oeuvre alive.
By the fifties, Bacon had hit his stride, painting what he called “figures … [in] moments of crisis … [with] acute awareness of their mortality … of their animal nature”—truths hauntingly self-evident in his large pictures of naked beefy men crouching in transparent cases, making love with or attacking one another; dogs cowering on dark streets; sphinxes; businessmen; and howling monkeys. Adding to this symphony of hatred, longing, and pain are his many portraits of popes.
This period of Bacon’s paintings was revolutionary for two reasons, both hard to see now. First, an openly gay man was painting gay subjects at a time when homosexuality was a punishable crime in Great Britain. (Sodomy laws remained in effect there until 1967, and sentencing could involve hard labor.) Introducing overtly queer subject matter into grand painting without dressing it up in classicism or coy kitsch was as unheard-of as it was dangerous [...]. One of Bacon’s first solo exhibitions [...] in the fifties included [Two Figures,] a painting of two naked men grappling on a bed. It had to be installed out of the way, on the gallery’s upper floor, in case of a police raid.
The other striking invention is his use of photography. Unlike his contemporaries, he didn’t project (or paste) photos onto canvas, and he freely admitted his hatred for working from life. His visions came mostly from stacks of photos he kept for decades: images from radiography textbooks; Muybridge pictures; Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin; Grünewald paintings; pictures of Nazis, athletes, friends, lovers, and his own face, which he claimed to loathe.

In 1957, while going though one of his tumults with Peter Lacy and with the pressure of an imminent solo show building, Bacon, who in his own words was in a “bad way mentally and physically” and was trying to avoid a crackdown on homosexuality in Tangier, tried to make a move in his work. This, for all practical purposes, was the last time he’d attempt to break from predictability. He painted a series “at high speed,” based on Van Gogh’s The Painter on the Road to Tarascon, experimenting with more viscous surfaces and strident light. The color is flamboyant and brassy; space is flatter, less reliant on perspective; subjects are outdoors. In the one Van Gogh painting at the Met—a stunner—you can see him giving up his tricks, breaking out of his style to fantastic effect. But when the series first appeared, some of his most ardent supporters turned away. Russell called them “clamorous,” “hectic,” “perhaps the weakest” he ever did; Lawrence Alloway dismissed the series as “an outburst from a gypsy violin.”

Bacon and his work were becoming parodies of themselves. ‘‘I am the most artificial person you’ll ever meet.”

I believe the Van Gogh series marks the beginning of the end for Bacon. It’s true that he painted for another 35 years, and that in the sixties and seventies he produced arresting triptychs of bloody figures—in fact, it’s doubtful that Bacon would be nearly as famous without them. Bernardo Bertolucci based scenes in Last Tango in Paris on them. A so-so 1976 example sold in 2008 for $86.3 million, setting an auction record.
But the Metropolitan’s retrospective, like most Bacon shows, makes it clear that he kept working his theme until it became a gimmick. The calculated pictorial repetitiousness and lack of formal development wear thin. Except for a number of fabulous portrait heads and the astounding Jet of Water—made in 1988, just four years before his death, featuring an enormous streak of blue paint across an interior—Bacon’s formula had grown stagnant by 1965.
Once you’re aware of this point, it becomes all you see. He has no idea what to do with the edges of his paintings. Everything that happens in Bacon’s work happens in the middle of the canvas; at times you don’t have to look anywhere else. The bottoms of his paintings are always the same, too—a receding plane curves up at the sides, like you’re looking through a fish-eye lens or from inside someone’s eye sockets. He neutralized his paintings further by insisting they be framed behind glass. (“I even like Rembrandts under glass,” he once said.)
Last fall, when I saw this Bacon retrospective at the Tate, it ran concurrently with a Mark Rothko show. Rothko and Bacon were virtually the same age; both worked away from Paris and took “anguish” as their subject. Yet compared with Rothko’s glowing blank Buddhist television sets, Bacon’s work seems mannered, conservative, simplistic. Bacon said that “only by going too far can you go far enough,” yet in giving up all the conventions of painting, Rothko went further. When I saw the Bacon show again at the Prado this past winter—near the galleries full of Velázquez masterpieces—Bacon’s work seemed dead and canned. His supporters often refer to the rousing chaos of his studio (Cecil Beaton noted its “discarded paintings, rags, newspapers, and every sort of rubbish”). If only his late work had some of that anarchy.
What’s especially poignant about Bacon is that he knew he’d built his own prison. As early as 1963, he referred to “my rigidness.” He talked about the “drawback” of his style and how he used painterly tics as a “device.” In 1970, drama turned to tragicomedy when Dyer falsely accused Bacon of marijuana possession. A police raid was followed by arrest, public humiliation, and trial and acquittal. By then Bacon and his work were becoming parodies of themselves. You can see this at the Met; the bright chalky color in his work is vibrantly alive, but everything else is flat. And he seems to have recognized that. He’d sealed himself off from the art of his time. “I stay here in my cage,” he said. Bacon disliked abstract art, saying it was “too weak to convey anything, and had “nothing to do with the avant-garde.”
When you watch the 1985 BBC film of Bacon being interviewed in that grubby studio and hear him spout bromides he’d repeated for decades (he was “an optimist about nothing,” he said again and again), one of his self-assessments seems apt: “I am the most artificial person you’ll ever meet.” The more one looks at his long career—especially the last 25 years of it—the more Bacon strikes you not as an artist unafraid of the darkest within himself but as an artist who didn’t go to that source enough. Bacon wanted to “remake the violence of reality itself,” and for a time he succeeded. But in the end, he seems less a modern painter than the last of a breed of Romantics—one who, in his final interview, plaintively stated, “I painted to be loved.”

1. Jerry Salzt, "Sacred Monster," New York Magazine, 25.5.2009, http://nymag.com/arts/art/profiles/56786/; Bacon's images are from Artnet, 27.7.2009, http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/saltz/francis-bacon5-27-09.asp
2. Watt's Hope (1886) may well have illustrated Saltz's article.


Centenary Exhibition Reviews - New York

The first major exhibition in New York in twenty years devoted to one of the most important painters of the twentieth-century, Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective features 130 works (65 paintings and 65 archival items) that span the entirety of the artist’s full career.[1]

Roberta Smith. Francis Bacon is an artist for our time. You may love or hate his work, which is still vigorously polarizing after all these years. But more than that of any other artist who emerged at the end of World War II, his work tells us about the strengths and weaknesses of the moment.
For nearly 50 years, until his death in 1992 at 82, Bacon worked the fault lines dividing abstraction and representation and sometimes photography, where many contemporary painters from subsequent generations have staked claims of one kind or another.
His contorted figures and portraits, his screaming popes and apes, his flanks of beef and crime-scene gore, and his wrestling lovers bring to mind [...] a taste for hokey humanism, spectacle and sensationalism that often seems pervasive today. His emphasis on loaded narrative over form, which can make his art seem formulaic and repetitive, is now nearly epidemic.
The stately if cursory survey of Bacon’s paintings that opened Wednesday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art suggests a more lasting pertinence: Bacon’s depiction of the love that until a few decades ago dared not say its name, much less demand the right to marry. Bacon convincingly painted men having sex and sometimes making love. Whether this makes him a great painter [or not], it certainly secures him a place in the history of both painting and art. He emphatically turned the male gaze toward males.
Bacon did for men in lust or in love what his hero Picasso had done for [...] women. He turned sex and genuine passion into a pictorial event, using paint on canvas with finesse and no small sense of drama and without getting clinical. He operated, like Picasso, under cover of modernism. Picasso often diagrammed an itinerary of heterosexual engagement by mapping the female orifices and curves in a flattened Cubo-Surrealist style. Bacon specialized in blur and atmosphere; he captured the tumult of homosexual sex in motion by borrowing from photographs, film stills or images of other art, conveying a sense of athleticism and sweat, violence and tenderness, furtiveness and shame. Homosexual sex was a criminal act in Britain, where he lived most of his life, well into the 1960s.

The show, which originated at the Tate Britain last fall, has been slightly reconstituted and installed at the Met by Gary Tinterow, the curator in charge of 19th-century modern and contemporary art. It is freshest where it delves into Bacon’s use of photographs, not only those clipped from magazines and books but also images he had taken of friends and lovers. He often blew up images and used their cut-out forms as templates. (You can see this especially with George Dyer, his handsome, distinctively profiled companion, whom he painted often in the 1960s and ’70s.)
“Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective” begins in full cry. First come the screeching fiends of “Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion,” the triptych with which Bacon announced himself to the London art scene in 1944. Against bright orange grounds that would become something of a signature, gape-mouthed furies — part human, part monster, and one per canvas — foretell postwar deprivation, rage and existential doubt. The dogs of war are not going to be leashed anytime soon; the world itself is on the cross.
These overwrought creatures work better in movies, like “Alien.” Their screams continue in the next gallery, where the open, dentally precise mouths gradually migrate to human heads, mostly from 1949, and the first of Bacon’s famous, often glib screaming popes, after Velázquez, arrives. The Museum of Modern Art’s “Painting” from 1946 is also here, encapsulating much of the Bacon repertory: matching slabs of meat that might be said to couple, a seated male, a half-hidden screaming face and the luxurious surface and color. Even so, his mastery was more than a decade away.
Only in the third gallery does this show dial back the hysteria and risk real emotion, in particular the tenderness passing between two men in “Untitled (Two Figures in the Grass),” from around 1952. Pale, soft-fleshed and naked, his back to us, one sits with his legs tucked beneath him, bowing his head over the other, who apparently lies in the grass, his presence indicated mostly as a pair of bent knees that are, ominously, faintly touched with red. Theirs is a sorrowing intimacy stolen amid a gale of blue-black strokes. The faint outlines of a bed and room hint at an imagined interior, a safe, private haven.
Bacon later said that he regretted having wasted so much time while young. Instead of learning his craft, he was often drinking, gambling, sleeping around and having a brutal affair with a violent, alcoholic, drug-addicted sadist named Peter Lacy that sometimes made his friends fear for his life.
This show concurs by bringing on more popes, along with screaming apes, slinking dogs and mute businessmen. Scant of surface and image, with glancing, uneasy brushwork, they imply a divided attention and a reliance on pictorial short cuts and ambiguities to disguise limited skills. Although they are some of Bacon’s best-known works, they barely pass muster as paintings.
Yet the Met’s exhibition disputes the notion that Bacon’s art declined, indicating that it often improved as his colors brightened, his paint handling gained muscularity. It was equally important that he began to focus on people he knew and cared about, giving them faces that seem simultaneously masked, gouged out of wet clay and recognizably individual.
Bacon may have been saved by the physicality of Van Gogh’s art, as evidenced by the 1957 “Study for a Portrait of van Gogh VI,” with its thick, troweled paint, raking light and a plowed field that resembles a butterflied slab of meat marbled with red and green. In the same room “Three Studies for a Crucifixion” from 1962 announces Bacon’s maturity: in pulsations of red, orange and black we see two assassins; the bloody pulp of their victim, curled on a striped mattress; and a hanging side of beef — with human teeth — that suggests a saint’s martyrdom.
In the show’s second half Bacon paints from his life, his imagination or somewhere in between, uncoiling new, ambiguous narratives that were often enhanced by the expansiveness of the triptych format. These paintings may not always work, but it is rarely for lack of trying. Sex, both violent and not, takes place; crimes are committed; guts are spilled. Colors become electrifying, textures enrich. The curved shelf of space that becomes the norm circles around, implicating us as intimates, voyeurs or unwilling witnesses.
Often we seem to see people posing in the studio, fidgeting, ready to jump out of their skins (even though Bacon didn’t paint from life, only from photographs). In “Two Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer,” the subject sits near a canvas that is pinned with a nude picture of him, which is truer to Bacon’s working method.
An especially fraught 1967 triptych that Bacon allowed to be named for T. S. Eliot’s poem “Sweeney Agonistes” has two scenes of lovers on low platforms raised above grass-green carpet. They flank an interior in which a hideous partial carcass is propped up before a window. One imagines it as the remnants of a man who, from loneliness, has literally howled out his heart to the implacable black sea visible beneath a violet sky. Except that the violet plane is a window shade, a regal color commensurate with the sacrifice. Whatever Bacon’s mangled, solitary or coupled beings meant to him, they starkly remind us that, while we look at the painting, others are dying, seizing up with loneliness or having sex. I’m not sure that this show will do much to alter the polarities of opinion around Bacon; that will take much more curatorial precision and imagination. But it is always bracing to see his work and to realize that part of its energy derives from its refusal to go softly in art history. He reminds us that in the end very little about art is fixed, and that we should always be ready to turn on a dime.[2]

Huntley Dent. Why did many articles proclaim that Bacon was at once great but not credible? [...] Yet [...] Bacon's work jumps off the canvas and aims a dart into the soul as obviously [...] as Rembrandt's or Turner's. If the greatest achievement of art is to communicate the consciousness of the artist, how can anyone deny Bacon's power? When you visit the Tate Britain in London, [...] the [only] two painters capable of flaying the heart (in a good way) are Turner and Bacon. [...] I think ordinary viewers grasp this instinctively. [...] An appalled shiver unites the crowds, which are thick and constant at this exhibit. In addition to the paintings themselves, the Met has devoted one dimmed side room to a display of flotsam and jetsam from Bacon's famously chaotic studio (now transferred in toto to Dublin), where layer upon layer of compositing photos, news clips, magazine articles, and artistic shards formed a sedimentary deposit. Bacon left the studio in that condition, he said, because he was inspired by chaos, and he liked to await the arrival of happy accidents, a chance glance at a scrap or image underfoot that caused his mind to take flight. [...] Among all the detritus that satisfied his nesting instinct, I was struck by two images from Bacon's studio. One was a page torn from the studies of bodies in motion taken by the nineteenth-century photographer, Eadward Muybridge. These became famous as the first stop-action portrayals of men running, leaping, wrestling, and the like. Muybridge married science and art. His images supplied painters with thousands upon thousands of new poses, all in real-time motion, never dreamed of in anatomy classes. At the same time, they removed any hint of idealism, since not every gesture made by the human form is beautiful.

Bacon used Muybridge as a major inspiration; in this case, he saved a page showing two nude men wrestling, amounting to over a hundred postage-stamp sized shots in sequence. It's not only that he transmuted them into men having sex (never explicitly portrayed -- they could be men fighting or even merging like melting jelly or pooled liquid flesh). The startling part is how literal Bacon could be in lifting Muybridge's poses while simultaneously making them so disturbing, as if his own desire-repellence was a transmuting force all its own, capable of damning-celebrating, looking-not looking, touching-cringing at the same time.

The other scrap that caught my eye was of one of Bacon's young, usually thuggish, moody lovers, George Dyer. After Dyer's suicide by overdose in 1971, a grief-stricken Bacon began to paint him even more obsessively than he had in life. According to the painter, the two met in 1964 when Dyer was attempting to burgle Bacon's apartment, a likely story given that Dyer later planted some marijuana in the apartment, which he now shared with Bacon, and then called the police to come and seize it, arresting Bacon in the bargain. Rough, handsome, and no doubt adept at various tinges of sado-masochism, Dyer happened to have a classic Roman nose in profile. But in this particular photo he sits grinning in a chair facing us. It's an ordinary snapshot. What makes it striking is that Bacon has trampled and folded it many times, adding streaks of color such as a red slash here and there. This deliberate manhandling -- forget the psychological overtones -- gave Bacon access to visual distortions that leapt on to the canvas as distortions of face, figure, character, and mood.
[...] Bacon's existential surrealism hits with brute force no matter what the scale, and his habit of putting single figures on bright grounds of green and pink make it impossible not to focus on them. [...] In the audio guide and a projection at the end of the show, there's quite a bit of Bacon talking about himself [...] constantly evading the pain and honesty of his canvases. Bacon flouted a quotation he lifted from Aeschylus: "The reek of human blood smiles out at me."[3]

Scott Jackson. The retrospective [...] on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art shows Bacon’s belaboring exploration of the grotesque. He is fixated on both religious iconography [...] and malformed depictions of enigmatic carcasses. Though Bacon seems to recycle the same sort of grotesque in his oeuvre to an extent that becomes exhausting there is something still powerful in his poetics of the grotesque. He reminds us of bygone times before the age of the laboratory and medicalization of illness when the temple was a site of ritual killings and sacrifice. As Yve Alain Bois remarks in his essay, "Base Materialism," on Bataille and the photographer Eli Lotar: We live in an age where the slaughterhouse, just like the madman, is quarantined from everyday life. In his triptych [...] after the T.S. Eliot poem Sweeney Agonistes, Bacon depicts enigmatic fragmented lumps of life matter. The extreme upward tilt of the paintings draws the viewer into the painting, while having the contradictory effect of flattening the picture plane. In portraying such liminal figures that hover between life and death and inserting them between flat and deep space, one confronts the return of the repressed. That which is repressed and sublimated inevitably intrudes as the signified momentarily catches up to and disrupts the signifier. The horror in these works is in their representing the repression of violence. As Bois argues: "To show violence purely and simply would be a way of incorporating it; it is more effective to underscore how it is evacuated."
Bacon’s painting Blood on Pavement similarly hovers between deep and flat space. The obscure blood stain is a trace of a violence and trauma that remains absent. The horror of Bacon’s imagery lies not in its portrayal of violence, but rather in its undefinability that places the viewer between the sublimation and intrusion of the trauma. It is a horror that remains truly other and resists incorporation and resolution in the quotidian. He reminds us that the comforting sanctity of our daily latte and other objects of commercial consumption is continually haunted by wars, sweatshops, and environmental devastation. Bacon does not naively revel in the violence of the status quo, but rather exposes the ways in which we sublimate and expunge the traces of violence in presenting objects which remain liminal and resist foreclosure.

1. Archival items include pages the artist tore from books and magazines, photographs, and sketches.
2. Roberta Smith, “If Paintings Had Voices, Francis Bacon’s Would Shriek,” The New York Times Art Review, 21.5.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/22/arts/design/22baco.html
3. Huntley Dent,"Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective," The Berkshire Review for the Arts, 8.8.2009, http://berkshirereview.net/2009/08/francis-bacon-metropolitan-museum-of-art/
4. Scott Jackson, "Francis Bacon’s Poetics of the Grotesque," Ghost Island, 21.8.2009, http://ghostisland.wordpress.com/2009/08/21/francis-bacons-poetics-of-the-grotesque/
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