Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Francis Bacon: Pessimism is profitable.

If Koons is an example of some of the happiest, most cheerful, fun silly art you can find; then Francis Bacon's is surely the opposite. This is someone who makes Munch's 'The Scream', look like the subject is singing karaoke. Wanna see a real scream?

Now THAT'S scary. Bacon was once called 'the most astonishingly sinister artist in England, and one of the most original'. His themes run unswervingly to the negative, morbid, ghoulish, and perverse, with a strong surreal element (not unlike Salvador Dali) and carry much pain and darkness. The colours used are generally subdued, often with black backgrounds and frequent splashes of purple and orange. The images are consistently blurred, and rarely does one see a recognisable form, though it is clear that whatever it is you're looking at is a person. This protagonist, usually a friend, lover, character from a movie, historical figure or sometimes himself is cocooned in claustrophobia, screaming in pain or mental distress. His self-taught, recognisable techniques, and constant atmosphere of agony and torture, mark him out as one of the most unique and successful artists of his century.

The macabre nature of his paintings lean almost towards the erotic in their energy (as is a recurring sub-nature to any life and death focused piece). Bacon spoke eagerly about this obsession in a TIME interview 'Distorting into reality' in 1962:

I look at a chop on a plate, and it means death to me. I would like some day to trap a moment of life in its full violence, its full beauty. That would be the ultimate painting.

This man is one of the most celebrated painters of his time. And why? Because we need him. Sure, there are artists who like to paint melancholy images and wallow in depression like a vat of chocolate, but Bacon is the most famous of these, the most praised, and the most unfaltering from his patented 'slit your throat' theme. It was after the 1950s that he started to gain recognition on a really big scale.. and no wonder. These were the days of the housewives, the adverts, the perfect families etc etc etc. Bacon fought Stepford with Suicide and reaped the rewards. To my knowledge there are only several acknowledged reasons why Bacon chose these themes. One was the death of his lover George Dyer, and the other is smaller incidences whilst growing up. His studio in London was such a tiny, cramped hole that it was critically analysed by Aida Edemariam. She states that his preference for working in cramped conditions and unwillingness to work on a larger scale, stemmed from being 'frequently locked screaming in a cupboard as a boy, by a nanny'. Years after this, Bacon was reported to say: 'That cupboard was the making of me'.

Bacon has been a source of inspiration to a vast number of people, including H.R. Giger who's design of the film 'Alien' was said to be based on Bacon's screaming portraits:

It was Francis Bacon's work that gave me the inspiration.. of how this thing would come tearing out of the man's flesh with it's gaping mouth, grasping and with an explosion of teeth.. it's pure Bacon.

He has also been described as being 'One of the most powerful artists in Europe and is perfectly in tune with his time'. Upon first starting out, Bacon showed his paintings only to his close friends, and it was only after World War II that he kept his paintings open for public view for the first time. His style, which was always significant to him alone, was appreciated and renowned not only for its astute portrayal of torture and pain but also for its finesse. This decadence of expression can be seen in his magnificent paintings like, the vaporizing head in front of a curtain and the screaming figure crouching under an umbrella.

Surely a man who has carved out such a high place in the world of negativity and despair in art cannot hold anything but well deserved praise.

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