Born in Ireland in 1909, Francis Bacon spent his formative years in a nation wracked by the Sinn Fein uprising, an event that haunted him long after his family moved to England. He never trained formally as a painter but began... [more]
Born in Ireland in 1909, Francis Bacon spent his formative years in a nation wracked by the Sinn Fein uprising, an event that haunted him long after his family moved to England. He never trained formally as a painter but began to pursue art in London in the late 1920s, eventually receiving recognition in the 1940s for his disturbing figure studies.
Though Expressionist in style, Bacon's distortions of the human form were based as much on his interest in medical textbooks as in art theory. His provocative blurring and highlighting of anatomy gave a new degree of physicality to classical themes such as the Crucifixion and classical works like the Oresteia; his almost painful honesty in depicting his lovers led to some of his most harrowing work, such as his "Triptych May-June 1973," which depicts the death of his partner George Dyer.
Before the onset of the AIDS epidemic, Bacon, although not blatant about his sexuality, was open for public scrutiny. A regular on the party circuit, Bacon was known for his boozing, gambling, and sexual exploits. He eventually withdrew from the scene, however, due to a just concern about being pigeon-holed and attacked as a gay artist -- even Margaret Thatcher publicly denounced Bacon's work as offensive and unnecessarily jarring. Sadly, as Lord Gowrie wrote, Bacon began towards the end of his life to understand his homosexuality as "an affliction, that it had turned him, at one point in his life, into a crook. The crookishness, not the sex, was a source of shame..."
As with all artists who have created a substantial body of work, it is possible to speak of Bacon in terms of his themes: his obsession with the physical form; his interest in wrestling, copulation, bodily movement, and impairment; or his use of religious iconography such as the Pope and the Crucifixion. But to focus on any of these categories is to miss the violent strength of each painting. For what Bacon portrays, again and again, is human frailty. The shortcomings of the physical form, rendered in smudges and whorls beneath chalky lines, imply the shortcomings of the inner self, whether the subject is the terror of his screaming Popes or the clinging fear and isolation of his "Two Figures in a Window" (1953).
Though some critics believe Bacon to be condemning humanity, what comes across in his work is the despair of a fellow sufferer. Art at its best makes its audience see the world in a different way; throughout his life Francis Bacon forced us to look at ourselves with a directness that frightens even as it mesmerizes.