We all know Francis Bacon was a painter with a soul which was affected very deeply.
Of course this can be said of any artist. Yet this label cannot be more accurately ascribed to a twenty-first century artist with such force or reckoning. Never to my knowledge, bar Edward Munch’s ‘Scream’ 1893 painting, has anyone created a long-span career based on painting the inner soul with such tortuous, maligned agony.
Animalistic in their temperament. Set within caged, windowless rooms. Chairs, plinths and pedestals awkwardly ingratiate themselves within the contorted pains and screams of anxiety and dislocation. Every element of Bacon’s paintings yell anguish, misery and distress. ‘Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion’ 1944 is an obvious example but even ‘Seated Figure’ 1961 sits constricted and constrained by the awkward position and the invisible box surrounding his mournful demeanour.
There seems to be no way to escape the confines of these desperate spaces.
Specifically staged figures, or the frightful ‘Chimpanzee’ 1955, are trapped on the canvas. A rigid, restricted surface that allows for no freedom. However the urgency and movement depicted in these scenes terrifies us with the grief they’re experiencing. Bacon always set out to make paintings in which the ‘paint comes across directly from the nervous system’ and he succeeded in expressing the condition of humanity as he saw it. A world without a God.
Our encounters with his paintings keep us at a distance, as though we are watching performing animals at a circus. Which painting would win the award for ‘the most disturbed’ or ‘the most bewitching in its ugliness’? Ghostly fragments of a kindred human soul seemingly disappear in front of me. An invisible forcefield denies any chance to connect or sense any shred of vulnerability. Just like a photograph which captures a moment, he likened this medium as a trap and not adequate enough to capture reality.
An archival selection of sketches, photographs and books show an inner world of Bacon’s thought process when considering the contorted forms of his agonistic figures and self-portraits. Compositional studies made at wrestling or boxing matches make the perfect material for bloody battles and ferocious sparring, the boxing ring making another ‘invisible room’ for which there is no escape for the opponents. Interestingly there are paper sketches that have been folded to create movement in his drawn figures and photographs that have been painted over.
This adds a lesser known, insightful element to the Tate’s new show, showing a side of Bacon that was more considered, patient and notably, expertly observant of the human mind and body. This collection of paintings demonstrate this with a controlled ferocity so perhaps shows Bacon’s softer side, not one necessarily all about anger and alcohol.
Next blog: don’t miss the Tate’s two other exhibitions by Maria Lassnig and Ella Kruglyanskaya.
Francis Bacon: Invisible Rooms
Opening today until 18th September