CONSIDERED THE GREATEST BRITISH PAINTER OF THE 20TH CENTURY, FRANCIS BACON WAS ONE OF THE MOST ELOQUENT INTERPRETERS OF MAN’S CONDITION OF OUR TIME. HIS PAINTINGS, A PRACTICE WHICH THE ARTIST RESUMED IN THE FORTIES – FOLLOWING A HIATUS –DEAFENINGLY CONVEYS THE HARDSHIP OF LIVING THROUGH AN UNANTICIPATED ATTEMPT TO FOCUS ON THE BRUTALITY OF EXISTENCE.
Despite being part of the postwar artistic milieu, Bacon embraced an autonomous, self-generated path, in which the pictorial medium incessantly conveyed the unhinged fierceness of his personality. The poignant corporeity of his works, the vision of a surrealistic exploration of the evidence of human condition became the interpreters of a deeply perceptive sensitiveness, through which Bacon conveyed the complex relationship with his own social, sexual and intimate identity.
Just like on canvas, the artist’s psychological dimension shows the obsessive return of the body as the totem around which with brutal evidence all the traces of our interaction with the outside world concentrate, whose remnants materialize into anxiety, frustration and into the signs of our animal-like needs. The human figure here is deconstructed, decomposed, sectioned and disfigured to the verge of disturbing. And it is disturbance, precisely, on the threshold of psychological pathology, which informs the life of Francis Bacon.
Born in 1909 into an aristocratic Dublin family, Francis emerged very soon as an unconventional personality, distant from the rigid positions of his father, an upper-class war veteran. His debilitating chronic asthma, the adolescence spent at boarding school and the precocious awareness of his homosexuality were elements that urged his father to throw him out of their home.
Soon after he landed in London where he was introduced to painting and became interested in it thanks to his extensive traveling across Europe, especially in Berlin and Paris. It is inevitable to perceive in Bacon the echo of Picasso, the same disordered handling of volumes, the study in space, alongside the extreme use of suffering as a chronic condition, of body tormenting, – as in Soutine – the material rendering of pain through a gloomy palette, unnatural and suffering poses.
The return of the male figure in his compositions underlines the intimate vision of a different, distressed masculinity, on which he cruelly acts through a progressive process of deformation that shows no pity, no poetic sensitivity, but rather fury and violence: a cry of pain, that from the intimate and personal experience leads to a universal reflection on human condition. Crucifixion (1944), one of Bacon’s first and most celebrated paintings, is a violent reaction to the tragedy of contemporary Europe, torn apart by war, a place interrupted by the dehumanized trauma of Nazism, fascism and totalitarian regimes.
The crucifixion is not a prelude to salvation any more, it is physical sufferance, a nightmare that materializes itself: almost a motoric difficulty of human existence. Despite the scrupulous study on volumes and the almost sculptural rendering of the figures, Bacon’s paintings reflect the distorted imagination of a borderline, dissolute and solitary life, in which alcohol-driven delusion and disease are depicted through the hurried description of ambiences inhabited by suffering bodies and faces – Three Figures in a Room (1964) – engaging a constant battle with the body, with the way he handles and accepts it.
In Three Figures, Bacon evokes his lover George Dyer, who committed suicide in 1971 – on the eve of the artist’s great solo show at the Grand Palais – at the peak of the degeneration of a relationship that had become caustic and violent. Dyer is depicted as the pseudo-futuristic deformation of a Hellenic barbarian, alone and naked in an empty room, against the world, against the demons of living, in an endless contortion. Bacon died in 1992, taking with him the shadows and lights of a restless, painful and absolute existence, vividly impressed in his “religious” triptychs, in the self-portraits and in the empty rooms.
Bacon’s artistic practice brought about the surviving of figurative painting, when the sense of loss of the second half of the 1900s had, instead, led artistic expression to the abandonment of vision in favor of the unexpected chaos of dripping, action painting and abstraction. However, in his pictorial practice, Bacon anticipated and mediated the loss and dissolution of man and of its univocal representation, glimpsing its flaws, combustion, towards a disfiguring decomposition: all that, through himself, he had perceived about the world.
Texy by Agata Gazzillo