Too much bacon in one sitting is never easy on the digestion, and knowing this I was glad to view the Met’s centenary celebration of the work of Francis Bacon with company and not try to consume all in one small belly. Somehow spreading the load made it easier to reach the specialty ‘Bacon’ store at the end of the show still mentally capable, if a little dazed. The plastic Bacon merchandise, cups and trays in the store served as a wonderful mental leveler and brought me back to the lightness of the world at large. Thanks should duly be attributed to the Metropolitan Museum’s merchandising department for this.
Carcasses; wild, and beastly, rabid monkeys; vampirical clergy with devouring mouths and similar ideas proliferate Bacon’s work.
Curatorial notes on this show point to a reflection by Bacon on the belief that without God human’s are subject to the same natural urges of violence, lust, and fear as other animals. There is a preoccupation with the idea of vulnerability vs strength, metamorphosed in his obsession with mouths, carcasses, meat and backs. The carcasses constantly remind one of ritual sacrifice. The backs were, as Bacon had said, an area that makes one conscious of the vulnerability of the rest of the body.
Mouths also continue the tradition, perhaps because they are able to devour and dominate. Indeed his mouths almost devour the viewer, ones eyes being drawn almost immediately to the teeth, and one trying to not look at the grotesqueness and yet compelled. Compounding this is the fact that the reference point for some of Bacon’s mouths came from a photo of Joseph Goebbels [Hitler's Third Reich Minister for Propaganda] delivering a speech [such as in the painting 'Figure Study 11; 1945-46'].
The idea of the corruption of power, and it’s use in the indoctrination and domination of the weak, appears also in his studies of Popes. Standing in front of Innocent X in the work ‘Study After Velazques’ ;1950 the treatment of Innocent is expounded well in the curatorial notes with the reflection on art critic Robert Melville’s words – “The mysterious and wholly inexplicable thing…was the fact that the figure and the chair were not behind or in front of the curtain but somewhere materialized within it.” Pharisaic and hypocritical religiosity is wholly exposed and released in these works. The reference to the curtain brings to mind the completely contrasting figure of Christ, head of the church, and yet the antithesis of power and corruption. Where, on his death, the curtain of the temple was torn and rent in two, rather than acting as a hovering cage of indomitable and enmeshing illusion. “…the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom; and the earth shook, and the rocks were split…” Matt: 27; 51.
The retrospective is a massive collection of the artist’s works from the beginning of his painting life, to the long-lived end; he died at the ripe old age of 83. What is fascinating is to see the development of his ideas and the progression of the Bacon aesthetic. Works from the latter part of his life display an uncompromising commitment to grappling with his ‘demons’, and an honesty to his intellectual and emotional inner world. They also show a master of composition, paint and line.
Notable: “nine-tenths of everything is essential. What is called ‘reality’…can be summed up with so much less.” Francis Bacon.
Further reading: The Exhibition ‘Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective’ finished today, but if you missed it go online for more:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Articles on the Special Exhibition and Retrospective of Francis Bacon also include some images from the show.
Tate etc. has a fabulous chapter with articles by those who knew him well.