Bacon makes use of photography...
by taking it out of context.
portrait studies of Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin’s
widely known film with a nanny blinded by a gunshot is set against
Velasquez’ portrait of Innocent 10th.
seems to be the key for any understanding of this art, an art
which is deeply anti-rational. Rational philosophy analyses phenomena
in their context – against a background of circumstances
which work together.
phenomena considered rational are studied in their natural context.
This has been the method to present structure, distance, proportions,
light colour and treatment since the Renaissance as progress has
been measured by improvements of man’s understanding of
his relations with his environment.
so with Francis Bacon. The human figure in his painting is shown
usually in the centre of an empty room on a chair or a sofa or
a toilet seat. At times there are two figures in a love tangle.
The figure is painted quite differently from the background. He
starts with a clump of blots, and forceful brush-strokes –
whilst the background is painted smooth with the meticulous pedantry
of a painter-decorator.
Bacon shows a man closed off, in a state of utter isolation. It
is of-course a concept symbolising death - the most extreme manifestation
Bacon’s Man is a real physical creature imprisoned in an
The space is not illusory like baroque perspective lengthened
on the ceiling but an artificial enclosure, a cage paralysing
the prisoner’s movement.
And yet, at the same time the figure is charged with lightening
movement like a long exposed photograph in which the subject has
figure signals a latent energy, a readiness to jump, leap, writhe.
The vigorous curves evoke Figura serpentina the Italian mannerist
figures whose movements are impeded, trapped within the composition.
is how Michelangelo treated the human figure. A constrained energy,
a trapped dynamism within an unreal space. Hard to imagine. But
unlike Bacon, Michelangelo didn’t take away all hope. Nor,
except for those in the lower part of the Last Judgement where
he placed them, did he deprive them of their likeness to God,
figures of Bacon are always in despair, whether of ugliness, sickness
or the feelings of disgust which arouse their own peculiar attraction.
The human body is an object of love. In Bacon’s paintings,
it is an object both of desire and of hatred and revulsion. Bacon’s
eroticism is puritan and self-punishing. The erotic is a concession
to the world of matter which the spirit cannot forgive.
despite all this, there is no cruelty, no gruesome details which
could offend. No obvious horrors. And yet there is an overwhelming
presence of licentiousness. The dreadful indecency of being. As
if at some national or religious celebrations someone looked at
the dignitaries, the elegant women, dressed in their finery
amazement and said - just think, beneath the layers of material,
the jewels and the furs, hidden, at the very core of their essence,
are their pink, sweaty, sticky shapeless private parts.