Francis Bacon was born in 1909, Dublin and died in 1992, Madrid.
British painter whose powerful, predominantly figural images express isolation, brutality, and terror.The son of a racehorse trainer, Bacon was educated mostly by private tutorsat home until his parents banished him at age 16, allegedly for pursuing his homosexual proclivities. Self-taught as an artist, he drifted in Berlin and Paris before settling in London in 1928, after which he worked as an interior decorator. He had also begun painting, though he did so without recognition until 1945, at which time the original and powerful style displayed in such works as “Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion” (1944) won him almost instant notoriety. His mature style emerged completely with the series of works known as “The Screaming Popes” (1949–mid-1950s), in which he converted Diego Velázquez's famous “Portrait of Pope Innocent X” into a nightmarish icon of hysterical terror.Many of Bacon's early paintings are based on images by other artists, which he distorts for his own expressive purposes. Examples of such themes are the screaming nanny from Sergey Eisenstein's film Potemkin and studies of the human figure in motion by the 19th-century photographer Eadweard Muybridge. Most of Bacon's paintings depict isolated figures, often framed by geometric constructions, and rendered in smeared, violent colours. He was admired for his skill in using oils, whose fluidity and mysteries he exploits to express images of anger, horror, and degradation. His later portraits and figure paintings are executed in lighter colours and treat the human face and body in a style of extreme distortion and contortion.Bacon's devotion to his art stood in curious contrast to his subject matter and the eccentric squalor of his personal life. Because he destroyed many of his early works, only a few examples can be found, mainly in American and European museums.
Francis Bacon, arguably the preeminent British painter of the twentieth century, was also for forty years the most controversial. Bacon's art often appears deliberately disturbing. His subject was the human form. Bacon reinterpreted the physical construction of the body with a new and unsettling intensity. To him it was something to be taken apart by the artist's penetrating gaze and then put back together again on canvas. He forces us to see, perhaps for the first time, the separate shapes and stresses hidden in the familiar human figure.
Bacon's treatment of the face could be especially challenging. In his portraits, generally of people the artist knew well, the subjects are sometimes shown screaming. Even in repose the features shift and reshape themselves before our eyes, yet they never become unrecognizable despite the swirling paint.
Often called an Expressionist or even a Surrealist, Bacon himself strongly rejected both labels. He insisted that in its own way his work was close to the world we see every day, remaining true to what he called "the brutality of fact."
The Theater of the Body
Perhaps the term that best describes Bacon's work is "realism," a classification that is often employed too loosely but which here is meant in a special sense. In this case, realism does not mean direct, straightforward representation—something Bacon dismissed as mere "illustration," and from which he felt as far removed as from abstract painting. Instead it means a fidelity to the vital experience of living inside the body, which for him is a fundamental theme of art. Like the realists of the nineteenth cen-tury, Bacon scrupulously recorded the mobile, shifting reality of the human form with the means that painting placed at his disposal. The difference is that by Bacon's time, a century later, the arsenal of resources for painting is much greater; naturalistic, imitative criteria are no longer sufficient. Bacon's realism is, therefore, radically modern, and his point of departure, as he freely admitted, was Pablo Picasso's work from the late l920s, which is sometimes considered Surrealist, though of an unusually tough-minded kind.
The drama in Bacon's painting arises from the fact that, inevitably, the viewer cannot help but identify to some extent with what a picture shows. The distortion of the body's ordinary appearance in a painting can make us cringe with a new and discomforting sense of how human flesh and bone are constituted. With Bacon, the figure often appears at the edge of dissolution, just prior to becoming unrecognizable. The painter concentrates all the violence of the brushstroke in the human form, using the agitated pictorial material to embody the convulsions of the flesh. To achieve this effect, Bacon at times hurls handfuls of paint against the canvas, forming it subsequently with his hands, the paintbrush, or other direct means. In these ways he affirms his presence in all its "brutality of fact."
Myth and Tragedy:
In the evolution of Francis Bacon's art, especially in its initial stages, several motifs are repeated frequently. Some of them come from specific paintings of the past, such as the portrait of Pope Innocent X by Velazquez, the Eisenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grtinewald, or the Crucifixion by Cimabue. Others come from myths recounted in literature, as with the themes taken from the Greek tragic poet Aeschylus or from T. S. Eliot. When Bacon uses such materials, it is not a question of retelling their stories or giving a literal re-creation of earlier pictures, but rather of stripping those original structures down to their essential human content. If Bacon used themes from those sources to surround his work with an aura of tragedy, he did so in order to suggest what evoked the primal scream shown in his early canvases—the intimate violence of real things. These recurrent motifs therefore function as meeting points between one's individual life experience and a larger sense of myth—that ancestral repository which has managed to preserve forms of representation appropriate to complex, difficult subjects throughout the ages. The Crucifixions, the bullfighting scenes, and the references to tragic literature selected by Bacon thus have in common an urge to deal with conflicting feelings and unknown forces—an urge, indeed, toward catharsis. Beyond the individual interest of each work, these canvases provide the key to the type of relationship Bacon sought to establish between viewers and his paintings, something similar to the attitude we might assume before a ritual whose meaning is unknown to us.
The first trace in Bacon's work of the portrait of Pope Innocent X by Velazquez. The primal scream is the outstanding motif of these first canvases, where nearly the entire face disappears in shadow, leaving only the mouth that utters the cry. The background is a sort of curtain of shadows from which the figure emerges.
Study after Velasquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X
The veil placed between the viewer and the figure of the Pope crying out derives from the textures of X-ray plates that Bacon often utilized in those years. The open mouth can be understood also as the result of a relaxing of the jaw that occurs in cadavers, which would well suit the spectral aspect of this figure.
Study after Innocent X
A later version of the Velazquez theme where the cry no longer appears. The color has become lighter, and the spatial arrangement already characteristic of Bacon is present in all its elements: the transparent cage, the perspectival space that leaves the foreground empty, drawing the viewer in. Finally, the papal throne has been synthesized into simple volumes.
Jose Maria Faerna,
Art of the 2oth century