By Nika Sarabi.
Francis Bacon, the timeless painter. The entire genre of painting was born and died. He was there before and remains after, just as relevant in both times. Bacon understood the historical context of his craft and pushed its boundaries both aesthetically and conceptually. His basic understanding of our human essence, in addition to his progressive ideas, make his work as relevant today as ever.
Painting by Daniela Grapa
Bacon’s figures were never in nature. Their surroundings were always sparse and within neatly compartmentalized rooms. The settings were always human made. Our choices make our creations. Putting a figure in a room that was created by the choices of another person unseen, adds a layer of emotional complexity or affect to the already heavy weighted emotion of the subject. Being in Europe at the height of existentialist theory must have had some effect on his logic. “I think that 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.” He denounced religious higher powers and embraced our personal choice.
Francis Bacon, ”Paralytic Child Walking on All Fours (from Muybridge),” (1961). Oil on canvas, 198 x 142 cm.
Bacon was obsessed with slaughterhouses, hence the violent nature of his human depictions. He saw crucifixion as being on par with butchers at the butcher shop. It was just one being doing something to another, regardless of a higher moral imperative, or Godly power.
Francis Bacon by John Deakin for Vogue, 1962
Bacon’s paintings simplify our existence, focusing on certain points in a beautiful way that is hard to miss. He liked to play with a modernized chiaroscuro. Valasquez, who Bacon mentions, used to paint clothes with extreme swallowing blacks. Bacon was also inspired by Picasso’s view and how the “…organic form relates to the human image but is a complete distortion of it.” Painting, the genre, became not only about the image, but a thing onto itself. Following Picasso’s footsteps, Bacon made wholly new creations, with new energy, original from even its inspiration.
Francis Bacon ‘Study of George Dyer’ 1969
The paintings start off with no intention he says, story ruins the image.
His painting process comes from deep within his psyche. His own personality, life experience and consciousness are recorded in his work. George Dyer, his lover, commit suicide on the eve of his retrospective. Bacon went with stoicism to his opening night anyway. He couldn’t get over his grief of Dyer’s suicide for a while. Revisiting it through painting The Black Triptychs. Bacon has admitted these pieces are his dealing with Dyer’s death. They depict a lack of consciousness of the figure in the center. Maybe partial decay, Dyer’s figure is not recognizable as it is on the two outside images. The themes of violence, starkness, loneliness, being pinned or attached to something are prevalent. Despite the negative undertone of his work, he claims to be eternally optimistic. About what? He says, “Nothing.”
Francis Bacon Central panel of the ‘Triptych of George Dyer’ 1973
Francis Bacon ‘Triptych of George Dyer’ 1973
The beauty in his work is undeniable. The rich colors, are not overwhelming, the images are simplified to their most efficient state, recognizable but undefined. He leads you in, then leaves room for your imagination to fill in the gaps. The colors are combined effortlessly to pop and entice our eyes into a world that is downright frightening. They make violence beautiful, like Anthony Burgess’ Clockwork Orange. Alex, the protagonist’s, acts of thuggery were always cool to me when I was younger. I may even have gotten a band of friends together and dressed like his posse on Halloween. Burgess and Bacon, both British born within a decade of each other, both make the brash, violent and uncomfortable subject matter vivid and enticing; a kind of collective unconscious for the times. Their sensibilities of violence, binge drinking, pushing boundaries of freedom are heavily attached to their burdens: lonely, violent and stuckness.
Three Studies for a Crucifixion – 3
Alcoholism was a huge part of Bacon’s life. He mentions that drunkenness is where he finds his absolute freedom, tests his limits of exploration. Which is a necessity to his process. That is where he breaks barriers. By doing, and following his purely creative decisions, nurturing “selective process which part of the accident one chooses to preserve. One is attempting of course to keep the vitality of the accident and yet preserve its continuity.”
John Minihan ~ Francis Bacon and William Burroughs, London, 1989
Later in life he has a more Warholian attitude towards how his work is made. He refuses to take any responsibility for it, he says it is what it is. He creates his work to provoke a reaction. People see it how they want to see it. He is more decided, abrupt and efficient in his reasoning. Bacon was not interested in the literalness of telling a story.“And the moment the story is elaborated, the boredom sets in; the story talks louder than the paint.”
Bacon’s paintings are so captivating and easy to enter, but once you’re in, you realize you may be in a little too deep. The figures’ psychological state reminds me of my own mortality and eventual loneliness that only death brings. To me, somehow with all of the serious subject matter they are not hopeless, just matter-of-fact. There is companionship in the thought of a collective loneliness. I’m not the only lonely. It’s solace for us all to know that no matter what our life’s circumstance. We all go through it, we all have our inner humanness to deal with, in that we are together.
David Sylvester, The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, London, 1975, reprinted 1987, pp.8-29.
Nika Sarabi is a contributing writer for by such and such.