Thursday, May 8, 2014

Bacon, Francis

Study After Velazquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X
oil on canvas
153 x 118.1 cm
Des Moines Art Center, Iowa, USA
-Fair use-

Francis Bacon (1909-1992), was an Anglo-Irish painter. His figurative work is renowned for its boldness and barrenness that contained an unfiltered visceral intensity. Isolated, abstract figure frequently appear in distinct and desolate landscapes in his paintings.

He was born in Dublin, Ireland. His parents were of British extraction. His father had fought in the Boer War. Some have suggested that his father was a descendent of the philosopher Sir Francis Bacon’s older half-brother. His mother came from a Sheffeild family that had made its money in steel and coal.

He began painting during his early 20s and worked only sporadically until his mid-30s. Unsure of his ability as a painter, he drifted and earned his living as an interior decorator and designer of furniture and rugs. During World War II, he was deemed unfit for active duty. Still interested in serving his country, he joined the Air Raid Precautions rescue service. The particulates from the bombing inflamed his asthma. Later, he admitted that his career was delayed because he had spent too long looking for a subject that would sustain his interest.

His breakthrough came with the 1944 triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion which sealed his reputation as a uniquely bleak chronicler of the human condition. He often said in interviews that he saw images "in series", and his artistic output typically focused on a single subject or format for sustained periods. His output can be crudely drawn as consisting of sequences or variations on a single motif; beginning with the 1940s male heads isolated in rooms, the early 1950s screaming popes, and mid to late 1950s animals and lone figures suspended in geometric structures. These were followed by his early 1960s modern variations of the crucifixion in the triptych format. From the mid-1960s to early 1970s, he mainly produced strikingly compassionate portraits of friends, either as single or triptych panels.

In 1964, George Dyer broke into Francis Bacon’s residence. Francis Bacon began a relationship with the young petty criminal. This was the first relationship Francis Bacon had been with a younger man. He felt a connection to George Dyer’s vulnerability and trust. Both men were alcoholics who were concerned with their physical appearance. In 1971, George Dyer committed suisie and Bacon's art became more personal, inward looking and preoccupied with themes and motifs of death.

Two visual motifs that he returned to frequently were The Crucifixion and The Scream. In his works, The Crucifixion could be any space in which a body could be injured and in which other figures can witness. This theme could be used to open the various potential meanings. In this motif, he was originally influenced by Pablo Picasso, Diego Velazquez, Matthias Grunewald, and Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. The other motif that he returned to was that of The Scream. He became obsessed with this theme. He drew inspiration from a still from an injured woman on the Odessa steps in the Battleship Potemkin by Sergei Eisenstein and medical text books.

The darkness inherent in his work, many observers say that he seemed quite joyful in his personal life. During his lifetime, he was equally reviled and acclaimed. Margaret Thatcher described him as "that man who paints those dreadful pictures", and he was the subject of two Tate retrospectives and a major showing in 1971 at the Grand Palais in Paris. On April 18, 1992, he died of cardiac arrest that was a complication of his asthma. Since his death, his reputation and market value has steadily grown.