British artist Francis Bacon explores adult themes and subjects in his wildly inventive and tortured paintings. His work reflects a life lived to extravagant extremes.
Today I stepped into the mind of a dark and twisted story told by Francis Bacon, the Irish-born British figurative painter known for his raw, unsettling imagery.
As you round the first corner, you will soon find yourself engulfed in large open-spaced rooms filled with a heavy spotlight highlighting many of the great master’s works. Picture extreme violence on a terrifyingly massive scale, bright pops of luminous colour. Blood red, pink and even yellowy-orange at times.
The purpose of this powerful exhibition was to focus on Bacon’s unerring fascination with animals. Bacon’s half-human, half-beast forms first appeared in his breakthrough paintings of the 1940s, and they continue to mutate throughout his artistic development.
Thus, Bacon’s ‘man’ frequently comes across as barely human while his ‘beasts’ disquietingly come to resemble humans in our most extreme, unguarded moments.
Highlights include some of Bacon’s earliest works spanning his 50-year career and his last-ever painting, alongside a trio of bullfight paintings which will be exhibited together for the first time.
Seen together, these raw expressions of anxiety and instinct – both animal and human – feel poignantly relevant today.
His work has been described as ‘calculated recklessness’ by Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, due to his swift economic brushstrokes that conjure a constant frantic motion.
These frantic movements are simply his way of displaying themes of power, vengeance, fury and pain. Not just due to his troubling past riddled with death and his love for sexual sadism, but his constant struggles dealing with his experiences of homosexuality, religion and acceptance.
What I found interesting was how the entire exhibit transported me into a gloomy dark atmosphere where the only sound present was the whispering chirps as people watched in silence of his spectacles.
My favourite room was the triptych’s, his way of depicting a never-ending cycle of storytelling. When Francis Bacon wanted to make a statement, he painted one of these. Paintings in threes, his enormous images, each blow to the size of a giant tower of its viewer like an overwhelming burden.
From gaping mouths depicting pain in divine pleasure to Bishops faces peering out from striations of paint to look like a cage, his paintings of pain and terror bounce from one side of the room to the other.
As I went from one room to another, I found that some of the spaces grew darker and darker as it went on.
With the focus now on his fascination with the human figure and animals, I soon discovered that his sister Winifred emigrated to South Africa with her children in 1950. Cape Town is close to the seaside town of my birthplace, which hit home when I saw how he amassed photographs of animals in motion.
Most of them are wild game he saw up close on trips to South Africa. Bacon’s early encounters with animals affected his art deeply. His obsessive interest in animals and what the close observation could reveal about the true nature of humanity was truly eye-opening.
I rounded the corner, expecting to see more, but suddenly it came to an end, just like his tragic death of a heart attack on April 28, 1992.