Books and paintings go straight to the nervous system: Bacon

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In the work of Francis Bacon (1909-1992) there is no escape route for the figures he creates; they are trapped in eternal convulsion, in never-ending battle. Painting them seems like an attempt to synchronise movements ripped in opposing directions, destined never to coincide. These figures are forever imprisoned in a dance of tormented flesh where the inner realm is stripped bare by the outside world.

Life’s pressures are reflected in distorted forms, with a sensation that the central figure is trapped inside a transparent cage. Who has never felt trapped in a battle against oneself? Haven’t we all, at some point, felt like a character from Greek tragedy? Bacon certainly has and with him, anyone who observes his work.

Bacon: Figurative disfiguration. Influences

Not everything in Bacon’s work is autobiographical, the entrails of self exposed. Not everything is the live flesh of deformed models and the distorted faces of Velazquez-inspired popes. Bacon also translated abstruse paragraphs of works by Aeschylus, Nietzsche and T.S. Eliot into pictorial atmospheres and motifs. The destructive forces present in Greek tragedy, the pointlessness of life, as exposed by the German philosopher, as well as the violent themes present in Eliot’s poetry, convinced Bacon that the perfect work feeds on the destructive power of Dionysus and the beauty of Apolo.  

Bacon did not take a conventional route to becoming an artist. Although at the outset he signed up for the occasional drawing class, he never attended traditional art school. In the early years of his professional life he worked as an interior designer but soon abandoned this activity to experiment in the visual arts. A visit to Picasso’s exhibition at the Paul Rosenberg Gallery in Paris during the late 1920s confirmed this decision and he continued as a self-taught artist. The work of Picasso, whom Bacon admired, led him to explore how to distort the organic shapes of the human form, what has come to be known as figurative disfiguration.

Two eyes, a mouth and a nose. But are they always the same?     

From Bacon’s viewpoint, realism should be reinvented, regenerated or even degenerated. He sought to create forms capable of synthesising reality, able to precisely trace the course of life itself, to capture its dynamism and leave its imprint in painted form. He approached painting with a mixture of meticulous observation, instinctive expression and even a repulsive whiplash of the unreal. 

Bacon’s brushstrokes seem capable of reflecting the transformations in our gestures, in our bodies, through our very feelings. Screenshots of a movie whose location is undefined. Through tangible form, he manages to speak of the intangible nature of being, freeing it and bringing it into view with all its drama, dragging it into the light and exposing the rawness of its colours.

Obsessed with life, thanks to the places he discovered, the people he met, the artists that inspired him, the books that transformed him and the times he lived through, Bacon, with his work, built the means to prevent that life from escaping. Daring to the point of causing outrage, this artist managed to launch a direct assault on our nervous system.

Exhibition: «Bacon en toutes letters» until the 20 January 2020 at El Centre Pompidou

Curator: Didier Ottinger

Photography: Oscar Rivilla

Translation: Rebekah Jane Rhodes

Music: Dr Symptosizer

Art direction: Oscar Rivilla y Carolina Verd


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