This past Thursday, I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the current special exhibition featuring the work of iconic artist, Francis Bacon. The Dublin Born painter lived from 1909-1992 and the exhibition features 130 works that are both paintings (sixty) and archival materials. I remember the first time I saw a series of paintings by Francis Bacon at the Tate Modern in 2000. I remember scurrying to the “Body” floor and marveling at the painted portraits and figures that have been dissected and decomposed with shapes. The exhibition at the Metropolitan does not disappoint. The artworks, hanging in chronological order, are a working, almost breathing visual diary of the artists life. When first seeing Bacon’s paintings in London, I marveled at the compositional decisions and geometric shapes. This experience didn’t change that original observation, but also brought with it a new resonance of melancholy. The works accompanied by written descriptions not only give documentary information about the paintings, but also reference where Bacon was in his life at the time the work was made, and his life was tumultuous to say the least.
Francis Bacon was interested in painting his muse and longed for the partner who would keep his attention and appear on canvases immortalized in oil. He was an atheist who believed in mark-making and the existential philosophy of writers such as Nietzsche. Based for the most part in London, he had two major relationships with men who succeeded in capturing his heart and attention but both ended in tragedy. In viewing the paintings at the Met the remnants of love decomposed and translated in forms of animal and carcasses, communicate in both loud and quiet voices. I felt the push/pull of the work often stepping up close to the canvases to admire particular strokes and technique. It was this particular technique that Bacon had down pat. Throughout his career, and after an early destructive period where he massacred a series of paintings, he was able to both explore and remain consistent in his images. At the Met I found myself marveling at this consistency and yet also wondering about the possibility of his misses.
A volatile mix of alcohol and perpetual desire for the attention of other men, on canvas Bacon focused on screaming mouths, open and toothy. He had extensive catalogue of photographs and magazine tears which he referred to when making a painting. He didn’t like to work from life and instead chose to utilize photographic representation in lieu of models. The Met has a large wallpaper image of his studio in all its disorganized glory as well as some of the original now faded and torn photos that were tacked to studio walls and affixed to scraps of board.
In this exhibit you will see the triumph and tribulation of an artist who wasn’t afraid to take risks in regards to his own personal emotional battles with life. The paintings are proof of the delicate balance between personal space, narcissism and projection of ownership. The works speak of a distinguished measure of calm versus chaos and it is in these moments of chaos and blood that you may find pause, as I did.
Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective commenced at the Tate Modern, traveled to the Prado in Madrid, Spain (the place of the artists death) and will be on view at the Met until August 16th.
All photos taken with my iPhone.
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