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What about that Francis Bacon

On Saturday February 16th I finally got to the Francis Bacon (post 2nd world war British Artist) exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Francis Bacon's work is described as confronting, eliciting a visceral reaction, representing isolation and man's brutality to man. It wasn't an exhibition I was sure I was curious enough to see. Then I caught a documentary where he was being interviewed and was struck by his almost naive and vulnerable demeanour, sometimes like a rabbit caught in the headlights, his fascination with images, his hanging out at the pub talking, and his comment about being an optimist about nothing. Which is not the same as not being an optimist about anything. His studio was a pile of chaos. He appeared haunted, but behaved much like a precocious child trying to look grown up. It was interesting to see how the relative status of Bacon and the interviewer reversed as the interview progressed; I wondered if the interviewer was unconsciously responding to the child.

I wonder if Bacon's images are confronting because we are viewing a differently-organised collection of recognisable fragments of the human body, and carcasses, for example, which we would normally only see as injury, accident, dismembering. It surprised me that rather than shocking, the paintings were exciting and set me to thinking.

The curation of this exhibition was brilliant - particularly the vivid colour scheme of the walls.

Bacon's works are quite different in life than reproduced as small photographs. I wasn't expecting to find them so stunning.

Francis Bacon’s optimism is evident, I think, in the beautiful colours he used even in the most confronting works, when you get up close and look at the detail.


His assembly of just-on-the-edge-of-comprehensible fragments to make up a face or human form made me think immediately of the experience of people who have been blind from birth, then through medical intervention suddenly gain sight. They are not at first able to see distinct forms because their brain hasn’t yet learned how to take in all of the visual information and organise it into a chair, a floor, a face etc.. I love how Bacon’s conglomerations convey perfectly the sense of the person or interaction between figures using fragments that we recognise at almost a primitive level.


I wondered if the chaos of Bacon’s studio helped him feel less restrained with his painting practice (throwing paint at a canvas, for example) when he wanted to be. It mirrors the chaos and unexpected juxtapositions of imagery in his works. I wonder if it stimulated and inspired some of his assemblages.


Bacon’s tryptich of John Dyer after his suicide was powerful because the flesh is so alive, the figure sitting as if alive, but the closed and sunken eyes reflect the fact that Dyer is dead. It takes me immediately to a sudden death in the family when I was a child - I remember feeling the almost surreal sense that I was still in the same day when the person had been alive, but completely and irreversibly separated. To me Bacon has captured the desperation of grief, of willing life back into the almost as good as still alive body.


I'm glad I went.