Thursday, February 28, 2013


I went back to the Francis Bacon Five Decades in its last week. Noticeably, my emotional response was muted now the startle reflex had faded, and I found the early work the more interesting.

The first painting you see, on its own in a small entry room, is the 1933 Crucifixion. It quite overwhelmed me on first viewing, and I actually got a bit teary. The guide (we were on a early entry tour and were the only two) noticed, I think, and I was half embarrassed to be so unsophisticated yet half proud that at least I had some feelings left.

I had been overcome by the transparency, the evanescence of existence, the fading of animus, and the horribleness of the exaggerated suspension, but it was when I fixed on the three ribs that I became so visibly affected. Ribs invariably define the carcass. Perhaps it is just that they are so recognisable or more likely they outline a precious cavity and it is they themselves, the ribs, which are the machinary of the most elemental of the life forces - inhalation of exhalation. Little wonder the breath is the focus of much meditative technique.

Then there's the religious connotation of course, to crucifixion I mean. But Bacon's focus was on the incredible cruelty of man to man rather than sacrificial lamb.

On the other side of the entry wall the Odessa Steps Massacre - Battleship Potemkin - was screening high on one wall so we could all see again, and again, the nurse's scream that so affected Bacon (Head series), and later Whiteley.

The young Whitely spent time with Bacon as Wendy Whiteley recalls below (25 minutes admittedly, although quite interesting ones I think, covering much of what Bacon was about, technically and personally)

"Bacon didn't change what he did all that much ... "

Head I (1947-1948) shows a head with both human and animal features, the boundaries blurring.

From the catalogue: "For the philosopher Gilles Deleuze this slippage between animal and human in Bacon's work cannot be resolved: "This is not an arrangement of man and beast, nor a resemblance; it is a deep identity, a zone of indiscernibility ... the man who suffers is a beast, the beast who suffers is a man."" This was the one painting which stirred me most this visit.

And then there was the dog - Study for a running dog, 1954.

The blurred head and feet, suggest more than movement (and maybe he wasn't very good at heads, and feet, and hands, and genitals, never seen). What initially felt like menace, a slinking dog in the gutter, became, the longer I looked, a sad and lonely outcast creature in the sewers and drains of the gutters of life. Self Portrait I ?

Blurring movement interests me, along with changing the (extremely limited) time frame in which we operate (as say in Koyaanisqatsi) in its capacity to change perception and perspective, unmasking the unseen, changing emphasis, and refocusing interest.

I've tried catching my dog at different speeds. Here are two. The first photo was shot using a slow shutter speed with the camera above and following the dog walking. The effect is of a dog walking along its own time tunnel in space, the past behind and its future beyond.

The second is because I like it.


Susan Scheid said...

What a remarkable post. I've shied away from Bacon, not knowing what to think and feeling a bit squeamish. Your comments on the images move me to stay and look. So much there, so humanly inhuman. I love most of all, I think, where this led you, to the photographs of your dog in motion. Such beauty and mystery there.

David said...

Your own speeding dog shots are exhibition worthy. One I'm fond of, though it is purely of personal significance, is a shot I took at Bowood, aiming for the lake and the house, when my five-year old godson Alexander bounded into the picture. All you can see of him is a joyous, grinning blur.

How wonderful it would be to see Bacon's screaming popes alongside the cruel Velasquez original,

wanderer said...

Susan, that you feel squeamish is, I think, exactly Bacon's intention. Well, not necessarily squeamish, but any sensation, so long as it was a sense-ation. He was driven to affect the viewer via the senses, as the bodies he (invariably) painted were deformed altered and wounded by the senses they experienced in our sensory world. I must 'fess up that I see looking at the dark matter rather important, in fact critical, for the illusion of beauty can often be just that in a nasty world. Woooah, that just spilled out a bit out of context; sorry. I do like my fair dose of beauty, be reassured.

God knows, wounded they all are in Parsifal and what you wont, but should, see in the Met Ring is how completely deformed and dysfunctional the whole bloody lot of them are. (Except for Erda, gotta love Erda)

David what I found most interesting about Bacon and the Velasquez Pope is that he saw it as perfection, was driven to use it as the basis for some 40 works, but was unable to confront the reality of it when he went to Rome. He didn't ever see it in the flesh.

Perhaps we may get to see your leaping godson and the captured joy.

wanderer said...

David you prompted my to consult Robert Hughes 'Rome' for his thoughts on the Velazquez.

"Indeed, one is tempted to say that very few portraits, if any at all, approach Velazquez's Pope - even Innocent X himself, on seeing it finished, is said to have called it 'too truthful', and when one confronts its steely, interrogatory glare it is all too easy to know what he meant."

He notes that most people are familiar with it nowadays mostly through the screaming Bacons. I've been to Rome a few times and no, I've never seen it. Next time.

David said...

The collection in the Palazzo Doria-Pamphili is probably THE essential picture gallery in Rome - maybe more so than the Barberini, perhaps, but of course much smaller.

I'm glad you've got Robert Hughes's Rome in your collection - I only discovered it after my 24 hour revisit a year and four months ago.

Horrors - I spelled VelaZquez with an s for the first z...