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Francis Bacon – A Review of Man and the Beast: Post-Holocaust Surrealism Remains Raw and Challenging

Francis Bacon may still be widely regarded as “the greatest British artist of the 20th century,” but with we’re almost a quarter of the way into the next century, that’s hardly any guarantee of relevance. Bacon was a gay, sadist alcoholic who crossed all lines of bourgeois interests, but in the end he was still another dead white man. The post-war rage he had so amazingly expressed now feels so long ago, and tales of epic disintegration and nihilistic aphorisms have grown boring on repeat. repeat.

A considerable Bacon the exhibition remains an important event, but it will take a lot more effort to capture our attention in this culturally contested time than it did 10 years ago.

This exhibition – co-curated by writer Michael Peppiatt, author of one of Bacon’s memoirs – is the first to look at Bacon “through the lens of a fascination with animals”. It’s not just “animals,” the current of visceral physicality that runs through his work, but actual animals. Paintings of bacon of monkeys, dogs, and bulls appeared immediately, but it’s hard to imagine having enough of them to sustain a large exhibit.

However, the show argued that the artist, who grew up on an Irish ranch, had an obsessive interest in “how animals fight, how they mate and how they die”, and that he was “convinced that he could analyze humans more directly and significantly by watching how animals behave”.

While Bacon’s studio seems to be crammed with “wildlife books,” his interpretation of animal form is hardly scientific. In the opening picture of the program Head I (1948), the head of a man and the fierce bared fangs of a monkey combine into a faint shape, with alarm, and typically Baconesque, sensing that aggressor and aggressor, the eaters and those who are eaten, have become one.

In the next room, in an electrified theater coup. Mediocre, modern objects. In Study Figure I, The character’s presence is implied by a tweed jacket and hat. In Study Figure II an eyeless figure that juts out from his coat, while inside Angerthe figure was shrunk to a gaping mouth, gnawing on its thin limbs.

Whether or not these compositions, paired with vibrant orange backgrounds and bright lights, are intended to be viewed together as some sort of trilogy, as they are here, the effect is stunning. This is a kind of post-Holocaust surrealism that still feels raw and challenging.

After this absolute taste of early Bacon, the standard of the works barely sinks into a large “wildlife” room where we are shown pictures of monkeys (a chimpanzee being conjured up in a striking block of matte paint), dogs (including the famous image of an exhausted man glimpsed by the roadside on the Cote d’Azur) and quite a few naked men messy, muscular sex.

While I was about to be convinced that the grassy setting of these second paintings was inspired by seeing animals walking across long, sunny lawns, “fascinated” Bacon during a trip to the South. Phi, the show explains his associative perceptions of the human and animal condition so broadly that it becomes an excuse to include in any Bacon work.

The portrait section found space for four of his famous Pope paintings – only one of which included animals – on the grounds that he “removed the illusions of even the highest parts of society.” society”, perhaps “animal” in nature (the wall of text frequently turns to speculative mass psychology). But it’s hard to complain so bitterly when faced with quality work Study from Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1965), Head VI (1949) and Pope I (1951), all inspired by a wonderful portrait of Velasquez that Bacon still haunts for decades.

Bacon perceives the current of violence and cruelty not only in Velasquez’s image, but in the entire process of containment and surveillance of the human form: two of his popes are contained within what looks like structures a cage; a person howling in distress or pain. Bacon’s quintessential questions about whether he was appalled by the cruelty or simply enjoyed it, about whether the violence on his brush marks was spontaneous or well-planned – the The problem may have been tiresome for decades – still fresh at once.

Francis Bacon, ‘Head VI’, 1949

(© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved, DACS / Artimage 2021. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd)

Here, then, is an audio journey throughout Bacon’s career, with an often vaguely applied animal theme: the filthy drawings in a room on “Beasty Nude” featuring “Beast” than the pictures in the other Bacon paintings – if that’s even the word match? With most pieces from British collections, and many on regular display, there will be little to reveal for the seasoned Bacon enthusiast. Still, it provides a compelling and welcome reminder of why he remains an incredibly important artist.

If the quality of the work dips in the second half of the show, it’s simply an accurate reflection of Bacon’s trajectory. Where some artists, such as Picassoone of Bacon’s great early inspirations, has been able to constantly change and expand their output, Bacon has continued to refine the signature tropes developed early in his career.

The blurring and deconstruction effect he got from long exposure photography, making his subjects look as if they were being cut out in front of us – seen as a powerful effect in Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne (1966) – has become a mere stylistic manner of our time Two studies on the human body (1974-75), with nude athletes derived from the anatomical photograph of Eadweard Muybridge. The paint manipulation is skillful, but the distortion is not really convincing.

The trio of bullfighting paintings from 1969 give the superficial impression of strength and energy, although up until this point in his career he had had that “vague look”. The sense of rawness and discovery, of the limits of what is possible, felt in the first few rooms of the show, has been gone for decades.

Francis Bacon, ‘Portrait of George Dyer Crouching’, 1966

(© The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved, DACS / Artimage 2021. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd)

Even at this late stage, however, Bacon can still evoke a sense of morality that really raises the hairs on the back of his neck. In Triptych August 1972, we see three naked images of George Dyer, Bacon’s mistress, who committed suicide the year before on the eve of Bacon’s great memorial service – the pinnacle of his career to date – at Grand Palais, Paris. With Dyer appearing in various patterns such as melting on the floor, turning into a pile of leftover meat, or with body parts cut and engraved on a black background, the painting seems to be both an homage to a of the greatest loves of Bacon’s life. and a kind of murder in paint.

At such moments, we feel ourselves on Bacon’s shoulders, gazing into the moral abyss in a way that is both terrifying and exhilarating. It is that sense of puzzling ambiguity that will make this exhibit feel oddly relevant to our current uncertain times.

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/reviews/francis-bacon-man-and-beast-review-ra-b1999541.html Francis Bacon – A Review of Man and the Beast: Post-Holocaust Surrealism Remains Raw and Challenging

Tom Vazquez

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