Francis Bacon: A Brush with Violence

Time to read
3 minutes
Read so far

Francis Bacon: A Brush with Violence

January 29, 2017 - 12:21
Posted in:
0 reader reviews
Average: 4 (1 vote)
Rate this programme

To understand the work, perhaps we need to understand the man, which this documentary bravely attempts, via a narrative mainly driven by friends recollections and thoughts, interviews with Bacon himself, as well as lots of archive footage of Bohemian London, Berlin and Paris at their very wildest.

Francis Bacon

By Phil Jones @PhilLlwynog

“All art is political in the sense that it serves someone's politics.” – August Wilson

“Everything was torn, everything was dirty, everything was wonderful” – John Richardson, talking about Bacon’s chaotic lifestyle and studio.

In April 1945 Dachau concentration camp was liberated by the American Army, coincidentally this intriguing documentary begins in the same year, as Francis Bacon’s powerful and disturbing new work, “Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion” was unveiled at the Lefevre Gallery, London. As horrific images of Nazi concentration camp victims had begun to seep into British consciousness, this triptych format, featuring open mouths, the use of painterly distortion, anger, and the theme of the Crucifixion, mixed with Nazi iconography, made little initial impact, but this was shocking work, at a time when the British didn’t want to be disturbed, as they had been deeply disturbed throughout the war.

To understand the work, perhaps we need to understand the man, which this documentary bravely attempts, via a narrative mainly driven by friends recollections and thoughts, interviews with Bacon himself, as well as lots of archive footage of Bohemian London, Berlin and Paris at their very wildest.

Born and raised in Ireland, his father, Captain Eddy Bacon, was a Boer War veteran, racehorse trainer, and sadist who apparently used to order his stable boys to whip his son. Young Francis suffered from severe asthma, and was often found gasping for breath, an image often seen in most of his most controversial pieces.

Rather bizarrely, grown-up Francis lived with his boyhood nanny, a strange looking woman, that offered guests hard drugs, was totally blind, slept on the kitchen table and organized all of Bacon’s gambling parties. Francis Bacon was different, there’s no doubt about that, how he lived so long is a mystery, as the documentary reveals the gallons of toxic cocktails he would consume. His work, although always orderly and well crafted, were accidents, but crafted accidents that were taken over by his subconscious mind, or perhaps the guy was mostly high on drugs and alcohol.

A masochist, and homosexual, he moved to Berlin in the twenties, at it’s most debauched, before moving to Paris, and back to London. Painting became his obsession, although hardly any of his early works survive, (he destroyed most of the work), luckily multi-millionaire, and working class hero Damian Hirst is revealed to own several of these early experiments.

His work tackled deep, dark and bitter personal thoughts, and often featured themes of sex and violence, a self purifying process, his work has always garnered mixed reactions. There’s plenty of ‘experts’ here telling us ‘the meaning’ of the work, as Bacon himself rarely discussed the actual content of his work, and most often, when interviewed, he’d come across as a drunken buffoon. There are some glimpses ‘of the man’ here, and although, lengthy, it’s a very interesting watch. Fellow artist Maggie Hambling (yet to be seen on TV without a cigarette) suggested that “his work can be seen as a search for God,” while art critic John Richardson reckoned that Bacon is now seen “almost as a religious painter”, I see his work more as a struggle to paint his inner fears and darkest fantasies, something to celebrate in these, less open minded times.

I can understand that a documentary such as this has limited appeal, but in a world dominated by Fake News, Brexit, and some humourless nut-job running the Whitehouse, it’s good to remember, that sometimes art has a different way of reacting to the world around us, artists provide us with a more abstract political stance, and although often produced by strange creatures such as Bacon, Pollock, Dali, Picasso and even Hirst, it’s good to remember occasionally that it takes all types to make the cogs of society turn, and although some cogs are rusty, or even inefficient, sometimes they can be the most important, or a least if you removed them, the one’s missed the most. The one’s that would halt the most creative aspects of society. As the clock strikes thirteen, it’s good to watch a documentary about a subversive and perverse painter like Bacon, I admired him more after watching this, and please Hollywood, don’t ever dare make a biographical movie about him, and cast a dork such as DiCaprio in the lead role. Leave that to someone like Ken Loach, or perhaps Peter Greenaway, he seems to enjoy the baroque and the bohemian, as do I.