Thursday, 19 September 2013

Sides of Bacon: 3. Back

Francis Bacon: Five Decades
Art Gallery of New South Wales
17 November 2012 - 24 February 2013

Three Studies for Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne
Frnacis Bacon embraced the triptych form, which gives many of his portraits the sensibility of mug shots with their front and two profile aspects. This was a format popular with devotional works and Christian altarpieces, which Bacon subverted, placing the secular (and what some considered ‘deviant’ images of homosexuality) in a religious arrangement designed to shock. This stylistic device also allowed him to construct a narrative through consecutive frames. Of Three Studes for Portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne he wrote “What I want to do is distort the thing far beyond the appearance, but in the distortion to bring it back to a recording of the appearance.”

Many of his triptychs are of George Dyer as he appears to work out his grief and anger on canvas. Three Studies of Male Back (1970) reveal a man reading or shaving reflected in a mirror, except in middle picture the mirror is symbolically a dark void. The figures in Triptych (1970) echo earlier themes of wrestlers but now the protruding spine points to vulnerability and the swinging hammock with distorted shadow and no background highlights loneliness and isolation.

Three Studies of male back (1970)

Triptych (1970)
Triptych (August 1972) seems to be a memorial as the figures on the outside are seated on a wooden chair while the one in the middle is in a foetal position. The flesh melts in puddles of pink and lilac, representing life flowing out of the body as shadows seem to escape from the figure.

Triptych (1972)
Bacon’s paintings of this period often feature mirrors and we see backs of heads and people examining themselves. He was also keen on radiology in this era, with its textbook blue circles pinpointing internal workings. In Triptych, 1973 there is an element of self-portraiture, of a figure looking critically at himself, at who and what he is. He examines his bodily functions (defecating and vomitting) and his inner demons. He claimed, “The sitter is someone of flesh and blood and what has to be caught is their emanation” but he often portrays his figures as though through glass tables with pornographic and sadomasochistic overtones.

Triptych (1973)
By the 1980s the sense of chaos and drama is replaced with a more sober control. Most of his friends were dead, and his paintings have become flat yet vibrantly coloured with solid, fleshy shadows. By 1987 the Triptych reveals bullfighters’ wounds as if seen through a blue window against a bright orange background.

Triptych (1987)
Francis Bacon’s work is puzzling both figuratively and literally. Confusion is created by his use of generic titles, renaming paintings with different titles, destroying of canvases, and inability to predict how many pictures he will exhibit so they cannot be included in a catalogue but arrive at the gallery with the paint still wet. Pictures of his studio reveal an overwhelming muddle and yet he insisted plaintively, “I work best in chaos”.

Perry Ogden's photo of Francis Bacon's studio

No comments: