21.12.12

Britannia Awakes



Nick Clark and Adam Sherwin, "Disturbing, raw and graphic – so was Francis Bacon inspired by the Nazis? Evidence of fascist imagery in artist's most important paintings has been ignored," The Independent, U.K., 29 August 2012 (online).
Francis Bacon appropriated Nazi propaganda for some of his most important paintings to explore "man's capacity for savage violence", a leading art historian claims.
Critics have long ignored the depth of inspiration the painter drew from fascist imagery despite "compelling" visual evidence, Martin Hammer says. Several of Bacon's most violent works, which are generally interpreted as sexual and autobiographical, actually contain "submerged" attempts to deal with the horrors of Hitler's regime, he argues in his book, Francis Bacon and Nazi Propaganda.
It aims to shed new light on one of the greatest British artists of the 20th century. Hammer, professor of history and philosophy of art at the University of Kent, said: "The use of Nazi imagery in Bacon's work was an important aspect of his creativity; it is present in many works. It was something that hadn't been addressed."
Bacon was born in 1909. He experienced the Blitz in London, but unlike many of his contemporaries he did not participate in the Second World War or become a war artist. Professor Hammer said: "Bacon started working with this imagery, looking at the true nature of the regime that had emerged. He used it to explore the instinctive, savage, bestial nature that was dominating everyone's lives."
The influences came from photographs and posters, often by Heinrich Hoffmann, a photographer close to Hitler. Many of the German images were recycled in books and magazines in the UK, Professor Hammer said.
"There was a horrified fascination with the image of Hitler and the Nazi leadership." The book refers to a painting of a "screaming orator-like figure with a military helmet, it clearly sets up the Nazi leadership as these grotesque creatures. You get a sense of his horrified reaction to this culture."
The professor added: "His earliest pictures using Nazi imagery were pretty obvious, which is why he abandoned them. Increasingly these references were submerged."
In his book, published next month by the Tate, Professor Hammer addresses the question of how and why Bacon appropriated the Fascist imagery. The trigger for the book, was the major Bacon exhibition at the Tate Britain in 2008.
"It started a purely visual observation. I noted the parallels between one or two of the paintings and certain Nazi images I was aware of," he said. That started a process of research that accumulated a whole series of other images. "It got to the point where I felt this was a consistent feature of Bacon's work from the 50s and 60s."
Bacon never referred to the Nazis, "largely because he wasn't asked about it. Interviewers either didn't recognise it or thought it shouldn't be talked about," Professor Hammer said.


Jennifer O'Mahony, "Francis Bacon inspired by Nazi propaganda," The Telegraph, 29 August 2012 (online).
Art historian Martin Hammer's new book argues that the creative potential of photographs and posters from Nazi Germany were "an important aspect" of painter Francis Bacon's work.
The artist Francis Bacon dealt with "man's capacity for savage violence" by using elements of Nazi propaganda in his work for more than two decades, a leading art historian has claimed.
Professor Martin Hammer, who studies history and philosophy of art at the University of Kent, told The Independent newspaper:
"The use of Nazi imagery in Bacon's work was an important aspect of his creativity; it is present in many works. It was something that hadn't been addressed."
Professor Hammer believes works including Bacon's Figure Study II were primarily inspired by the photographs of Adolf Hitler's close associate Heinrich Hoffmann, whose images were circulated in British magazines at the time of the second world war.
In Francis Bacon and Nazi Propaganda, Professor Hammer analyses Bacon's paintings from the angle of his "horrified fascination" with the Nazi regime.
"Bacon started working with this imagery, looking at the true nature of the regime that had emerged. He used it to explore the instinctive, savage, bestial nature that was dominating everyone's lives," Hammer said.
"There was a horrified fascination with the image of Hitler and the Nazi leadership," he added, in particular a "screaming orator-like figure with a military helmet," an image from Figure Study II, which "clearly sets up the Nazi leadership as these grotesque creatures. You get a sense of his horrified reaction to this culture." Bacon's chronic asthma exempted him from military service during World War Two, and he spent the early war years in Hampshire, and later in London during the Blitz.
Hammer believes Bacon's work shows elements of fascist imagery until well into the 1960s, when he shifted his focus away from extreme imagery and onto portraits of close friends.
On the subject of why fascist elements have remained unnoticed for so long, and why the artist himself never spoke of his precoccupation with Nazi imagery, Hammer claims he "wasn't asked about it. Interviewers either didn't recognise it or thought it shouldn't be talked about."


Martin Hammer, Francis Bacon and Nazi Propaganda, Tate, 2012. "Born in 1909, Francis Bacon's entire early adulthood was penetrated by the tragedy of the Second World War. Unlike many of his contemporaries in Britain, he did not participate in the war or become a war artist. Rather, he is unique amongst his generation of artists as independently choosing Hitler, Nazi Germany and Fascist propaganda to be one of the most influential sources for his practice. In this new scholarly study, Martin Hammer addresses the question of how and why Bacon appropriated the photographs and documentation of Fascist imagery to his own expressive ends, emphasising how it was used technically in his painting as a visual aid, and how, far from being an artist of private spaces and personal anguish, he in fact found inspiration from mass circulated media and the use of it for the promotion of global ideals. Featuring an extensive selection of colour and black-and-white reproductions of both paintings and source material from Bacon's own collected archive, Hammer uses focussed visual engagement with Bacon's work, illuminating the artist's aims to comment and reflect on the wider contemporary world."


TATE. "Francis Bacon is one of the most important and internationally renowned British artists of the twentieth century. what is little known, is that Bacon was heavily influenced, and made extensive use of, Nazi propaganda photography as a springboard for his paintings. In this original and compelling book Martin Hammer presents Bacon as a ‘painter of modern life’; a man who wanted to distil the feelings, sensations and memories associated with living through the rise of Fascism in the 1930s, the second world war, the revelations of the Holocaust and then the early Cold war and post-Colonial struggles. Bacon was able to show the ugly face of power and its corruptive nature, how it the gives to its possessors the capacity to inflict savage violence on others. He emerges from this account as a deeply serious artist, of international significance and stature.
In the first in-depth study of its kind, Hammer focuses on Bacon’s creative processes, looking at how he appropriated and transformed Nazi propaganda in his work from the early 1940s into the first half of the 1960s. His work is set against the evolving backdrop of an initial impulse to bury wartime memories and the gradual resurgence of interest, associated especially with a new focus on the Holocaust. Bacon’s pictorial project is also understood in the context of contemporary writers and thinkers, such as W.H. Auden, Berthold Brecht and Hannah Arendt, who likewise reflected on the deeper psychological significance of traumatic events."



Jonathan Jones, The Guardian Blog, 4 September 2012. "Francis Bacon was a shock merchant, not a Nazi. Reports that the artist was influenced by Third Reich imagery have missed the point: Bacon loved nothing more than to challenge and disgust the world with his work.
[...] A silly-season art story has it that Bacon made massive use of Third Reich imagery and that champions of his work deliberately ignored this. The story, inspired by a new book, is misleading in two ways. First, Bacon never concealed his interest in such imagery, and nor did critical admirers in his lifetime. Second, the "discovery" changes nothing about how Bacon's art ought to be interpreted. A man who painted his closest friends with vicious intimacy was never a sentimental liberal type full of good will. The malignity in Bacon is self-evident. What makes him a great artist is the visceral force of his sense of human life as a godless disaster area. The Nazis fit rather well into that vision.
Bacon's Nazi references are no mystery, and no surprise. It is false to pretend his admirers glossed over them. In [a] radio programme, his most famous champion, David Sylvester, discusses how Bacon used the swastika as an artistic image. And here is Sylvester again, on swastikas and cricket pads in Bacon's art.
The sensational speculations now being relished about Bacon hinge on the idea that, in seeing his second world war tropes as formal painterly effects, his fans have ignored the underlying issue – that Bacon was promoting Nazism, or sympathetic to it. This is a childish, glib, and leaden way of hitting a poetic artist on the head with the rolled-up newspaper of literalism. Bacon created a monstrous, surreal imaginative world of enclosed rooms and private hells. Nazi armbands fitted naturally into his vision too.
The impact of Bacon's art after the second world war had a lot to do with the fact that he was the first artist who captured what the war revealed about the terrible truths of human capabilities. The opening of concentration camps such as Belsen in 1945 and the images of industrial mass slaughter that were Hitler's ultimate legacy left most artists incapable of matching horror with horror. Picasso's painting The Charnel House barely hints at the real nightmare of the Holocaust. Yet when Bacon's wartime masterpiece Three Figures for the Base of a Crucifixion was first exhibited, it caused a familiar shudder: here was an art that rose, or rather sank, to the challenge of representing the worst crimes imaginable.
In his later paintings, Bacon shows people enacting brutalities on one another in a terror that never ends. It was not the Nazis who obsessed him. It was their crimes."

4.10.12

Francesco Pianta


Il Furore
On the base of his portrait of Tintoretto, Francesco Pianta signed as "FRANCISCUS PIANTA IUNIOR VENETUS" (Francesco Pianta the Younger of Venice). Pianta (1634-1690) belonged to a Venetian family of stonecarvers but the list of books left to his heirs documents a level of culture ununsual for a stoneworker.
Pianta was prominent among a group of sculptors active in Venice who worked exclusively in wood. Their fanciful or bizarre carvings for prominent patrons in Venice can still be seen today. The work for which Francesco Pianta is remembered most is the large series of wooden panels with allegorical secular figures for the large hall of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, 1657-58.
The Scuola Grande di San Rocco is often referred to as Venice's Sistine Chapel, because of its two floors with more than 50 paintings on the walls and ceilings, but the carved wood sculptures by Francesco Pianta are stunning. At the sides of the extraordinary Library (alone sufficient to demonstrate the artistic stature of Pianta), one prceives the convincing effect of the realistic illusion, which includes "antique bound volumes" flanked by allegorical figures.

Francesco Pianta, The Libreria: Allegories of Fury and Curiosity, wood carved sculptures, 1657-58​. Sala Capitolare​, Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice
image source

Blindfold and chained, Fury presents gnashing teeth and, in the words of Mario Praz, "inspires in his torment a grim dark beauty" (Le bizzarre sculture di Francesco Pianta, [Venezia]: Sodalizio del libro, 1959).

Fury
image source

The Spy is almost a caricature, enveloped in his ample cloak and with his hat pulled down and partly covering his eyes.

The Spy
image source

PIANTA IL GIOVANE FRANCESCO
Lived between 1630 and 1690
Sculptor

He belonged –as Mario Praz affirms– to a generation later than Emanuele Tesauro, the essayist of the recondite wit, and for him too, emblems and hieroglyphics were a real science. His erudite and scientific pretences are proclaimed in the long parchment which Mercury displays beside the entrance door. The parchment is in wood and very closely imitates vellum... While commenting the sculptures of Francesco Pianta in the Sala Superiore of the Scuola di S. Rocco, Mario Praz indicates how scientifically allegorical themes were depicted in Baroque art, and are similar to those in the introduction to the famous Iconologia by Cesare Ripa (first published in Rome in 1593).

Francesco Pianta, The Library with Allegories of Fury and Curiosity, wood carved sculptures​, 1657-58. Sala Capitolare​, Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Venice

Works displayed at San Rocco:
THE SCUOLA GRANDE (Upper Hall)
Wooden Dossals and statues of characters and allegories: Mercury
Melancholy
Honour
Avarice
Ignorance
Science
The Difference between good and evil
Fury
The Libraria
Curiosity
Scandal
Honest pleasures
Cicero defending sculpture
Caricature of Tintoretto, defender of painting
Abundance – Stratagem
Immoral Blame
Female Figures (Caryatids)
Hercules

Francesco Pianta alla Scuola grande di San Rocco

The MET Search the Collections

1.5.12

Bacon: Painter with a Double-Edged Sword

by Mariano Akerman
Original research by Luis Mariano Akerman © 2012 Copyright. All Rights Reserved


His pictures are ambiguous and among the most expensive ever brought to auction. They easily sell for millions of pounds and maintain a top position in the art market. Bacon is the UK’s most expensive artist at auction. Last week a single painting reached £21.6m ($33.3 million). Bacon's artwork is provocative and perplexing. With a British Council Grant, Argentinean researcher Mariano Akerman investigates the artist's imagery in England and Europe. He discovers a most extraordinary element in his paintings and explores its ultimate raison d'être.

Motifs painted by Francis Bacon

An Outstanding Twentieth-Century Painter

The Anglo-Irish artist Francis Bacon (1909-1992) was one of the most original and powerful painters of the twentieth century. He was particularly noted for the intensity and paradoxical nature of his pictures. His figurative work is renowned for its boldness and visceral intensity. Bacon achieved fame and notoriety for his disturbing figures and his constant preoccupation with the torment of the human condition, including an unusual interest in bare flesh, wounds, and fluids. His imagery speaks for loneliness, violence and degradation. And it does so in a grotesque manner. Not in vain commentators hold that Bacon seemed quite joyful in his personal life, but the fact is that he also gained reputation for being a perceptive observer of the darker aspects of humanity.

Francis Bacon was born October 28, 1909, in Dublin. At the age of 16, he moved to London and subsequently lived for about two years in Berlin and Paris. Although Bacon attended no art school, he began to draw and work in watercolor around 1927. Picasso’s work decisively influenced his painting until the mid-1940s. Upon his return to London in 1929, Bacon established himself as a furniture designer and interior designer. He began to use oils in the autumn of that year and exhibited a few paintings as well as furniture and rugs in his studio. His work was included in a group exhibition in London at the Mayor Gallery in 1933. In 1934, the artist organized his own first solo show at Sunderland House, which he called Transition Gallery for the occasion. Bacon painted relatively little after and in the 1930s and early 1940s he destroyed many of his works. However, he began to paint intensively again in 1944. His work gained prominence only after World War II. By this time he painted the human figure, subjecting it to extreme distortions that made it look bizarre and disturbing. His first major solo show took place at the Hanover Gallery, London, in 1949. From the mid-1940s to the 1950s, Bacon’s work reflected certain influence of Surrealism. The pictures that made his reputation were of such subjects as an opened-mouth figure bending over and partly covered by an umbrella or a vaporizing head in front of a curtain. These startlingly original works were considered to be powerful expressions of anguish, remarkable because of the grandeur of their presentation and unusual painterly quality. Bacon was interested in suggestion. In 1952 he declared, "I would like my pictures to look as if a human being had passed between them, like a snail, leaving a trail of the human presence and memory trace of past events, as the snail leaves its slime." Crucifixion and scream were recurrent two motifs in his work. He wanted to paint a smile, but he never succeeded. "I've always hoped in a sense to be able to paint the mouth like Monet painted a sunset." Yet, the mouths he painted convey unprecedented tension. By the 1950s Bacon had developed a treatment of the human figure and based his work on clippings from newspapers and magazines and from the nineteenth-century photographs of humans and animals in movement by Eadweard Muybridge. He also drew on such sources as Diego Velázquez’s famous Portrait of Pope Innocent X of 1649–50 and Sergei Eisenstein's film Battleship Potemkin of 1925. A combination of motifs drawn from completely unrelated sources was usual in Bacon's imagery. At the same time the contemporary imagery he developed was given a grandeur presentation akin to that of Baroque masterpieces. Bacon's first solo exhibition outside England was held in 1953 at Durlacher Brothers, New York. His first retrospective was held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, in 1955. From the 1950s through the end of Bacon's painting career and life (in the early 1990s), the recurrent theme of his work was the isolation and anguish of the individual. He often painted a single figure, usually male, seated or standing in a windowless interior, and framed by a geometric construction, as if confined in a private hell. His subjects were his friends, lovers, and himself. Working almost without preliminary sketches, Bacon used expressive deformations to convey every possible nuance of feeling and tension. His painting technique consisted of using rags, his hands and whorls of dust along with paint and brush. In 1962, the Tate Gallery of London organized a Bacon retrospective. Other important exhibitions of his work were held at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1963 and the Grand Palais, in Paris, in 1971. Paintings from 1968 to 1974 were exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 1975. Although Bacon had consistently denied the illustrational nature of his paintings, the facts of his life led art critics and historians to draw links between the personal life of the artist and the subject matter of his paintings. An example of this was the suicide of his model and closest friend George Dyer. One of Bacon's triptychs evokes Dyer’s suicide and shows him shadowed in a door frame, vomiting into a sink and dying hunched fetus-like on a toilet. Bacon admitted that painting to be a most personal work and one which verges on illustration. Yet, he also kept each panel of the triptych framed individually and arranged it so to alter a logical sequence and avoid storytelling. In a period dominated by abstract art, Bacon stood out as one of the greatest figurative painters. Often large in scale, Bacon's works bring back traditional themes, but in an iconoclastic way that involves grotesqueness and the meaningless. In 1962, he said, "Man now realizes that he is an accident, that he is a completely futile being, that he has to play out the game without reason." And significantly, "all art has now become a game by which man distracts himself." Bacon wanted to make "not illustrations of reality, but images which are a concentration of reality and a shorthand of sensation." His paintings were supposed to be "a deeply ordered chaos." The artist died of heart failure brought on by asthma in Madrid, on April 28, 1992.

The Grotesque in Francis Bacon's paintings

Three self-portraits by Bacon

Perhaps one day I will manage to capture an instant in all its violence and all its beauty. — Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon's paintings are mysterious and suggestive. They are ambiguous in nature and tend to constitute symbols of multi-leveled significance, being this is conveyed through the artist's manipulation of the Grotesque.

In Aesthetics, the Grotesque is a category that comprises ambiguous, abnormal and uncanny configurations, which suggest the monstrous (defamiliarization, abnormality, dehumanization). The Grotesque has a long tradition in the visual arts. Initially this type of imagery was ornamental and playful, but later was to become prevalently distorted, visceral, and unsettling. Significantly, the Grotesque is neither attractive nor repulsive, but both at once. Moreover, as an art critic once put it, the Grotesque involves "certain things that are deformed, and thus please by giving great displeasure." In this sense, the Grotesque is a problematic, double-edged realm where the one aspect always goes hand in hand with the incompatible other thus creating a visual paradox.

As configurations of the ambiguous, Bacon's mysterious pictures engender both curiosity and perplexity. The often produce mixed feelings such as attraction and repulsion at once. For a well-balanced yet disquieting interplay between fear and desire, vulnerability and cruelty, suffering and apathy is characteristic of Bacon's idiosyncratic imagery.

Tension and intensity, the combination of incompatible elements, and suggestions of the monstrous or the inhuman abound in the artist's imagery.

Bacon uses the grotesque as a means of self-expression that enables him to ambiguously communicate not only a fascination with power and violence, but also his haunted condition. The grotesque thus becomes a means of purgation and transcendence.

Even if extravagant, Bacon's double-edged figures are far from being accessories. It is appropriate to think of them as inalienable personal reports encapsulating a private truth, in other words, the artist's contradictory feelings and sensations, which are neither ornamental nor entirely evasive.

Through what Bacon has called instinctive painting (1966), he willingly walks along the border of an emotional precipice, suggesting an obsession with sex and death, apathy in matters of vulnerability and suffering, and a fascination with power and aggressiveness.

The suggestiveness of Bacon's art simultaneously reveals and conceals the artist's ultimate intentions, and in such a blurred way that identity itself becomes problematic in his imagery. By depicting the ambiguously combined and the equivocally suggestive Bacon disorients the viewer, who can establish no precise meaning in his ever-changing images. Various readings are thus possible and they may be all equally valid.

Considering that instinct implies the abolishment of morals, at the time of contemplating Bacon's paintings, we are to arrive at our own moral conclusions, certainly irrelevant to the artist and his calculated lack of concern. At this point, everything melts under our feet, because in Bacon's paradoxical realm the only safe given is insecurity.

Besides, Bacon’s instinctive paintings are certainly not the product of accident or chance, as the artist liked to claim from the 1960s onwards. They constitute carefully planned compositions which are inextricably related to the artist's personal life and also function as mysterious, anti-illustrational traps which suggest the monstrously cruel.

In this context, one realizes Bacon's manipulation of the grotesque and the artist's fundamental intervention in turning it into a useful vehicle for self-expression. Bacon's instinctive images are profound but also problematic—a grand manner of painting that merges the defiantly powerful, the disquietingly extraordinary, the suggestively monstrous, the sarcastically allusive, the theatrically manipulative, and the extremely personal.

As a species of confusion par excellence, the grotesque suspends belief and invites a search for meaning. Pushing one to consider alternative possibilities, the grotesque paralyses language and challenges categories. Grotesque art is thought-enlarging art. This is true in Bacon's peculiar case, whose grotesque art conveys immediacy and suggests multilayered ideas that grant one an active role as spectator and interpreter. This is possibly the ultimate meaning of the artist's pictorial freedom, which he has undoubtedly achieved through an admirable manipulation of the grotesque.

The ambiguous element that inhabits Bacon's instinctive paintings has an immense capacity to open the valves of feeling. It is this expressive, ever-changing element of Bacon's suggestive art which proves to be extraordinarily rich. For, expressed as paradoxical and grotesque, pictorial freedom becomes a provocative element, one that coherently unites Bacon's truth and our freedom.


Inspiration in a Clipping

Francis Bacon prized intensity and had an obsession with being able to paint a mouth as Monet painted a sunset. In a considerable number of his paintings the mouth seems to be an important element. The snarling mouth of one of Bacon's Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion 1944 has its referent in a clipping that was found in the artist's studio when he died in 1992. The visual referent, which is part of a bigger plate, was published online as a black and white image in 2000. It was then that I detected a significant formal similarity between the mouth Bacon painted in the 1944 Tate picture and the one in the work document later found in his studio. Showing a strange mouth, the clipping was a fragment of a plate taken from a book the painter said he bought in Paris in 1929.

He was only nineteen or twenty years-old then. In a 1966 interview with David Sylvester, Bacon recalled that second hand book which had "beautiful hand-coloured plates of diseases of the mouth." It was in 2000 that I detected a significant formal similarity between the mouth Bacon painted in the 1944 Tate picture and the one in the work document later found in his studio. In 2003, the clipping was reproduced once again, this time in colour.

The coloured fragment suggested that Bacon’s assertions of 1966 were true. Julian Bell referred to that clipping in an article written in The New York Times Review of Books in 2007: "Some 40 percent of a plate has been ripped out of the Atlas-Manuel des maladies de la bouche, a French translation of an 1894 German medical textbook. The torn-away trapezoid shows "Fig. 1": a heavily retouched photo of lips prised apart by forceps to reveal gums disfigured by an abscess, chipped teeth, and froth about the tongue. The chromolithograph with its flesh reds stands as an oval vignette on the creamy fragment of coated paper. But then the scrap has been scuffed by brushes loaded with green and cerulean; there are fingerprints to the right in blue-black and mauve, little splats of yellow and scarlet. The paper’s edges are frayed and nicked, it has a riverine crack where those clutching fingers have bent it: a vertical sever being a further result of decades of overhandling."

As an invaluable work document, Bacon's clipping is preserved in the Hugh Lane Gallery, in Dublin (F105:140). A copy of the very book the painter bought in 1929 (and to which he referred to in the 1966 interview) is kept in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, in Paris.

The volume was written in German by Dr. Ludwig Grünwald, indeed in 1894, and subsequently translated into French by Dr. Georges Laurens, as Atlas-Manuel des maladies de la bouche, du pharynx et des fosses nasales. The French version was published in Paris in 1903. Among other things, Grünwald's medical manual contains 42 chromolithographs and 106 hand-coloured plates of diseases of the mouth. They are impressive. After having myself examined the various illustrations in that manual (which can be found online), I have no doubt that the much disfigured mouth reproduced in Grünwald's book as "Tab. 5, Fig. 1" cannot be other than Bacon's predictably grotesque source of inspiration.

Mariano Akerman
The mouth by Francis Bacon compared with its visual referent
Digital plate, 2008
Motif from the central panel of Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (Francis Bacon, 1944) and its visual source of inspiration from Maladies de la bouche (Ludwig Grünwald, 1903).

Mariano Akerman
"Bacon: Painter with a Double-Edged Sword"
Blue Chip Magazine
Vol. 8, Issue 88, Islamabad, February-March 2012, pp. 29-33

Blue Chip Magazine Online, retrieved 1.5.2012

Blue Chip Magazine on Akerman's article: "Most Popular"
Excerpts from the article
repr. 14.5.2013

Other Available Resources
Bacon's Studio Item in Context
Work Document Ultimate Referent

25.3.12

Distortion

The new figurative idioms that co-existed with abstract informalist movements were responsible for the new images of contemporary man. To create these images artists looked to automatism and expressive freedom derived both from Expressionism and Surrealist automatism. Starting with Picasso’s portraits of Dora Maar, the most violent images within his work, we see the start of a new chapter of tragic and monstrous beauty that functions as the metaphor of new, modern consciousness. This paradigm would be crucial for a series of artists working in the second half of the century who were marked by a widespread feeling of pessimism and angst. They used different modes of distortion and at times of metamorphosing the body.



Distorsión. Los nuevos lenguajes figurativos, que convivieron con los informalismos abstractos, configuraron las nuevas imágenes del hombre contemporáneo a través de los patrones de automatismo y libertad expresiva derivados tanto del gesto expresionista como del automatismo surrealista. A partir de los retratos de Dora Maar, que marcaron el punto de máxima violencia en la obra de Picasso, da comienzo un nuevo capítulo de belleza trágica y monstruosa como metáfora de la nueva conciencia moderna. Este paradigma sería esencial para una serie de artistas de la generación de la segunda mitad del siglo, marcados por un sentimiento generalizado de pesimismo y ansiedad. Se imponen distintas maneras de deformación y, en ocasiones, de metamorfosis del cuerpo. Madrid, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, El espejo y la máscara: el retrato en el siglo de Picasso, February-May 2007, pt. 8: Identidades metafóricas, http://www.museothyssen.org/thyssen/exposiciones/WebExposiciones/2007/retratos/index.htm (12.02.09).

14.3.12

Triptych 1976


Francis Bacon (1909-1992), Triptych, 1976
Oil and pastel on canvas, each panel 198 x 147.5 cm
Private collection, Europe

Sotheby's Catalogue Entry. Triptych, 1976, is without question one of the most important works in Bacon's oeuvre and a landmark of the 20th century canon. Of the precious few large triptychs remaining in private hands, it is critically regarded as one of the best. Michael Peppiatt concludes that "Triptych, 1976 surely ranks among the greatest of Bacon's paintings" (Exh. Cat., Lugano, Museo d'Arte Moderna, Francis Bacon, 1993, p. 106). Arguably Bacon's most ambitious and most enigmatic triptych, many of the motifs that appeared separately in his work combine into a layered masterpiece of new allegorical complexity. At the zenith of his career, Bacon revisited the same classical text that inspired Three Studies for Figures at the Base of the Crucifixion, 1944, which announced his debut on the world stage and is now in the Tate Collection, London. A parallel to that early triumph, Triptych, 1976 reveals in a single work the entire range of Bacon's iconography developed over three decades of painting. A masterpiece of the first order, Triptych, 1976 provokes a range of interpretations, matching the tragic grandeur of the Greek playwright Aeschylus in a 20th century setting. Most poignantly, the role of Prometheus, the tormented figure punished for bringing fire to mankind, is an echo of Bacon's confrontations with his inner demons.

A Majestic Triptych. Bacon created this monumental work as the centrepiece for his show at the Galerie Claude Bernard in Paris in 1977, a presentation of twenty new paintings which was the key exhibition of new work in his later career. One of only three full size triptychs in the show, Triptych, 1976 was illustrated on the cover of the catalogue and symbolized a watershed moment in the evolution of Bacon's style. It was the highlight of the exhibition, as Peppiatt recalls, "The picture and the show caused an immediate sensation" (Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, New York 1996, p. 276).
In part, this was a result of the sheer density of the imagery and the vigour of the paint-handling, unlike anything previous in Bacon's output. In the central panel, a headless body is savaged by a swirling bird of prey whose wingspan spirals downwards. This Prometheus figure is reminiscent of the headless, armless goddess identified as Leto or Hestia of the 5th Century B.C., among the Elgin marbles in the British Museum. Bacon admired the disrepair of ancient Greek sculpture caused by centuries of ruin. In Bacon's interpretation, the time-worn marble form is flayed beyond recognition, appearing more as meat than human flesh, reminiscent of Chaim Soutine's depictions of sides of beef in slaughterhouses. The base of the spinal column is scrutinised in detail, as in the diagrammatic illustrations of vertebra in one of Bacon's sources, K. C. Clarke's manual, Positioning in Radiography (1939). The microscopic detail of an exposed and twisted spine appeared in Three Figures and a Portrait (1975) which also included elements of a perched bird and an ominous head that gain prominence as brooding components of Triptych, 1976.
As Peppiatt remarks, "The birds that alight on the headless, eviscerated body in the central panel suggest a whole flock of scavengers descending with wings aflail – a fine example of the kind of 'continuous accident' of image making that Bacon prized above all" (Op Cit. Lugano, 1993, p. 108). The tornado of birds is derived by Bacon from magazine photographs of pelicans diving, Eadweard Muybridge's photographs of animals in motion, and the blur of early sports photography. In the left foreground, a second wingless creature clasps a rail with its talons and to the right, a third avian makes off with its prey. This triumvirate represents the Three Furies or Eumenides described in Aeschylus' Oresteia, a text that Bacon knew well and referenced liberally. Like the three composite beasts in Three Studies for Figures at the Base of the Crucifixion, 1944, the birds symbolize both the restless mind of the artist and the existential anxieties of civilisation. The atmosphere of pagan sacrifice is augmented by an overflowing chalice of blood, symbolising a Christian Sacrament and recalling the story of Orestes who purified himself in pig's blood.
The iconography and composition of the central panel was already in place thirty years prior in Bacon's early masterpieces, Painting, 1946 which was bought by Alfred J. Barr in the late 1940s for the recently inaugurated Museum of Modern Art in New York. The central figure in the guise of a crucifixion, the avian beasts perched on a rail and the torrent of blood in Painting, 1946 find their corollary here, their significance amplified by the triptych format. Pendant to this drama, two faces loom large, implicated by their proximity to such violence. Like altarpiece patrons, they survey the scene: perpetrators or judges, their menacing presence heightens the tension. The face is based on an image of Sir Austen Chamberlain, seen in a distorting mirror, published in Amedee Ozenfant's Foundations of Modern Art, 1939, found among Bacon's studio effects. The British wartime Chancellor has a foreboding aspect, his monocle distorted into a white elliptical form. The same figure to the right is in a state of undress emphasized by the exposed raw canvas. Each is mounted on converging rails, establishing a machine-made counterpoint to the organic human body. Mounted on blocks, they are new forms for Bacon and their rigidity enhances the inescapable surveillance of authority in these omnipotent Orwellian Big Brothers.
Each oversees an imbroglio of human flesh, among the best painting of the human form to be found in Bacon's oeuvre. In the foreground of the left panel, a half-clothed figure bleeds down from the portrait, a muscular forearm discernible in the organic mound of flesh. Crouched on a stool, he stoops over an open case filled with paper evocative of the torn ticket stubs of shattered dreams, crumpled newsprint created with Letraset at his feet. The bag is an echo of Triptych Inspired by T. S. Eliot's Poem "Sweeney Agonistes" from 1967. Its zipper is as evocative of a primal scream as the open mouth – caught between pleasure and pain – in the right panel. Here, two contorted nudes are locked in physical embrace. Whether they are fighting or copulating, or manifestations of a psyche in conflict, is deliberately unclear, much like in the Sweeney Agonistes picture. All that can be discerned is a clenched haunch and the open mouth replete with teeth, a motif that looks back to Bacon's series of Heads and screaming Popes from the late 1940s and 1950s. Bacon scumbles the paint, draws it across the canvas, exploiting the nearly dry elasticity of the pigment to create chance effects. Daubing ridges of oil with corduroy, he takes lessons from photographs of rare skin disorders to communicate the physicality of flesh. Bacon's use of colour is here dramatic: set against a glacial mint green, an entirely new colour for Bacon, his palette is heightened to a new intensity, with oranges, blues, purples and reds vying for supremacy against his more habitual and subdued hues.
Offering insight into this complex painting, Peppiatt says "The picture surely treats of sexual love – that 'crime' as Baudelaire put it, in which one is fated to have an accomplice – and the suffering it frequently sets in motion...The themes of crime, guilt and punishment are all strongly represented in this magnificent work." (Op. Cit., Michael Peppiatt, 1996, p. 276). Over five years had passed since George Dyer – Bacon's lover – had died on the eve of the opening of Bacon's retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris. Feelings of loss and guilt inhabited the artist still. Bacon moved to Paris in 1974, in part because of the high acclaim he received there, but also to be close to the memory of Dyer which, by tormenting him, produced some of his most breathtaking paintings. Unlike the so-called 'Black Triptychs' of the early 1970s which directly dealt with the feelings of loss, Triptych, 1976 transmuted his personal experience into a sophisticated painterly discourse on the universal theme of the human drama. This triptych maintains the pathos of Bacon's personal story while elevating it to universal significance through the exclusive reserve of high art.

Modernising Mythology. In elevating his subject to epic existential proportions, Bacon referenced the earliest stories recorded by mankind, Greek and Christian mythology. In Triptych, 1976, Bacon used the foundations of Greek and Christian myth as an 'armature' on which to 'hang' his own sensations and feelings, communicating fundamental human concerns. As Peppiatt remarks: "As if impelled by the force of his emotions, Bacon the atheist ransacked the central rituals of both the Greek and the Christian faith: only there, he was convinced, could he find a structure to convey the extent and the implications of his own drama" (Op. Cit., Michael Peppiatt, 1996, p. 276).
In particular, he drew on two stories by the 5th century B.C. tragedian Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound and the Oresteia, that have inspired masters of history painting from Peter Paul Rubens in the 16th century to William-Adolphe Bouguereau in the 19th century. The titan Prometheus is chained to a rock where his perpetually regenerating liver is daily pecked by an eagle as punishment for stealing fire from Zeus and giving it to mortals. Like Rubens' painting of the subject, Bacon's central eviscerated form is subjugated to the black wrathful creature descending from above. In Rubens' picture, every muscle in Prometheus' body is tensed, including his clenched toes which are echoed by Bacon in his figure's right foot.
Bacon's theme of divine punishment is also found in Aeschylus' most famous trilogy, the Oresteia, in which Clytemnestra murders her husband Agamemnon in revenge for the sacrifice of their daughter, Iphigenia. When the son Orestes finds out, he kills his mother to avenge his father's death, provoking the avenging Furies, also called the Eumenides (which ironically means 'the benevolent ones'), who determine to drive Orestes insane as punishment. They are foul, terrifying creatures: "Black they are..... Their heavy, rasping breathing makes me cringe...., and what they wear – to flaunt that at the gods, the idols, sacrilege!". In Bouguereau's masterwork, the act of Orestes' murder is still present in the figure of his dying mother, but this tragedy recedes in the face of the swooping Furies, hectoring Orestes as he attempts to flee from their passionate vengeance.
Bacon received a copy of William Bedell Stanford's Aeschylus and his Style: a Study in Language and Personality soon after it was published in 1942 and Aeschylus' imagery provided Bacon a vehicle for expressing "something very powerful and very fundamental about existence" (the artist in Miriam Goss, 'Bringing Home Bacon', The Observer Review, London, 30 Nov 1980, p. 31). From Aeschylus' imagery, Bacon compiled motifs that struck a chord with his own experience and filtered into his art. As he explains, "I'll tell you what I really read: things which bring up images for me. And I find that this happens very much with the translations of Aeschylus... they open up the valves of sensation for me" (David Sylvester, Looking Back at Francis Bacon, 2000, p. 236). For the same reason, he admired the poet T. S. Eliot, who adapted the Aeschylean tragedy in his play The Family Reunion which Bacon saw more than once. Like Eliot's poetry, Bacon's art is one of compression and fragmentation, a visual analogue to Eliot's assemblage style, with its fragmentary memories, myths and idioms.
Bacon used literary references to jolt his own imagination, having no interest in the lofty goals of narrative history painting. David Sylvester questions whether Bacon read the text in its entirety, "I imagine that in his passion for Aeschylus in translation he did not read the whole plays... so much as reread or recall the quotations so wonderfully translated in Stanford's Aeschylus and his Style" (Op. Cit., David Sylvester, 2000, p. 192). By paraphrasing and mixing aspects of Greek tragedy, Bacon's images achieved a deeper content by tapping into the ancient and vital myths that course through successive centuries and civilisations. As Peppiatt observes, "It seems clear that having worked through the possibilities of creating a modern godless myth out of Christian symbols, Bacon was drawn in later life to absorb and reinvent the stark grandeur of Aeschylean tragedy'' (Op. Cit., Lugano, 1993, p. 106).
In choosing the Greek theme of nemesis on an epic scale, Bacon confronted his seminal opus Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. In this work's ostensible Christian subject-matter, the pagan creatures of the underworld were interpreted as symbols of mankind's degradation in the aftermath of war; in this latter version, it is his private artistic demons that are the modern version of the Furies, tormenting the artist's soul. The harpies of Triptych, 1976 are the metaphorical manifestation of Bacon's existential anxieties and self-doubt. Bacon confessed, "We are always hounding ourselves. We've been made aware of this side of ourselves by Freud" (Exh. Cat., Washington D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Francis Bacon, 1990, p. 33).
Thus, Prometheus, the Eumenides and Orestes' guilt are a framework for Bacon's own emotion. The goal of Greek tragedy was to incite catharsis in the viewer and in appropriating its iconography Bacon exorcised something in himself. However, Bacon's triptych is not sequential and has no progression or resolution of plot, thereby precluding the catharsis of Greek tragedy. As Peppiatt explains, "From this stasis no outcome is possible, no purging of the turbulent passions, almost as if, in his deep seated masochism, the artist had chosen constant pain over catharsis" (Op. Cit., Michael Peppiatt, 1996, p. 276). This unparalleled potency is Bacon's exclusive domain in twentieth-century art. The enduring appeal of his work is its power to endlessly provoke the most fundamental of human emotions. His unknowable narratives tap into our basic impulses which are as valid today as they were for Aeschylus thousands of years ago. Matching the epic grandeur of the progenitor of tragedy, in Triptych, 1976 Bacon recorded something primal about the 20th century and in so doing created a masterpiece of the modern age.

"Sotheby's Auction No. 8441, Lot 33," Sotheby's Catalogue, New York, May 2008, Contemporary Art Evening Auction
http://www.sothebys.com/app/live/lot/LotDetail.jsp?lot _id=159456705

Sotheby’s, auction no. 8441, lot 33, New York, 14.05.08
Sold for $ 86,281,000

Auction record. Francis Bacon fetches $ 86,281,000 - A post war artist now gains first place in a line up of record breakers of post war and contemporary artists. It was an auction record for the artist as well as the highest price ever achieved at auction for a post-war work (Michele Leight, Sotheby’s, Sale 8441, 14 May 2008, The City Review, New York, 12-14 May 2008, Art/Auctions, Contemporary Art).

Resources
Jarrett Martineau, Francis Bacon Triptych Sells for $86 Million, Now Public, 14.5.2008
Carol Vogel, Bacon Triptych Auctioned for Record $86 Million, New York Times, 15.5.2008
Souren Melikian, $86 million for a Bacon triptych leads record sales at Sotheby's, New York Times, 15.5.2008
Rob Davies, Francis Bacon 'masterpiece' sells for £43m, Times Online, 15.5.2008
A 1976 triptych by Francis Bacon auctioned for $86.3 million, Luxury Launches, 15.5.2008
Bacon triptych goes for record $86M at NYC auction, CBC News, 15.5.2008
Francis Bacon triptych breaks record at NYC auction, World Amazing Information, 16.5.2008
Elena Lanzanova, Triptych 1976 By Francis Bacon Is The World’S Most Expensive Work Of Contemporary Art, Arcadja, 19.5.2008
Francis Bacon 1976 triptych Sells for $86.3 million, Breaks NYC Auction Record, Elite Choice, undated

Sotheby's catalogue entry
Francis Bacon's Triptych 1975 Sells for Record 86.3 Million at Sotheby's in New York, Art Daily, undated
Alain Truong, Le "Triptych, 1976" de Bacon vendu 86.2 millions dollars chez Sotheby's New York, Les cahiers, 16.5.2008

Francis Bacon (1909-1992), Tríptico, 1976

Bacon creó este trabajo monumental como el eje de su exposición en la Galerie Claude Bernard de París en 1977. Tríptico 1976 era sólo uno de los tres trípticos en esa muestra e ilustraba la tapa del catálogo. En el panel central, un cuerpo acéfalo es atacado por una arremolinada ave de presa que planea hacia abajo. Esta figura que se parece a Prometeo es reminiscente de la diosa acéfala y carente de brazos a la que se identifica como Leto o Hestia (siglo V a.E.C.; mármoles de Elgin, Museo Británico). Bacon admiraba el estado vetusto de la antigua escultura griega causado por centurias de plena ruina. En el primer plano, sobre la izquierda, una segunda criatura sin alas se aferra con sus garras a un riel y, sobre la derecha, una tercera ave se lleva una presa. Este triunvirato introduce las Tres Furias o Euménides en la Orestíada de Esquilo, un texto que Bacon conoció bien y al que hizo referencia liberalmente. En el primer plano del panel izquierdo, una figura medio-vestida se desangra desde un retrato, [mientras que] un antebrazo musculoso es discernible en un orgánico tumulto de carne. Agazapado sobre un banco, tal personaje se inclina sobre un bolso lleno de papel que evoca unos talonarios de boletos a sueños hechos pedazos. En el panel derecho pueden verse arrugados impresos creados con Letraset, a los pies de dos desnudos retorcidos y trabados en un abrazo físico. [...] Bacon entremezcla la pintura, dibuja líneas que cruzan el lienzo, explota la elasticidad casi seca del pigmento y crea efectos azarosos. Estampa pliegues de óleo con corderoy y aplica lo aprendido de las fotografías que muestran raras anomalías de la piel para sugerir así la materialidad de la carne. Texto del catálogo de Sotheby’s; traducción y adaptación de Mariano Akerman

Subasta récord. Francis Bacon alcanza U$S 86.281.000 – Artista de posguerra logra el primer lugar entre los artistas rompe-récord de posguerra y contemporáneos. Fue una subasta récord para el artista así como también el precio más elevado que se alcanzó en una subasta por una obra de posguerra (Michele Leight).

12.3.12

Artworks, Sources, Comparisons

1887 Muybridge Animal Locomotion
1927 Picasso PersonnageAnthropomorphs
1927 Dix Newborn baby
1928 Lerski Bacon
1929 Rug
1929 Miklos, Gray and Léger
1930 Picasso Nude standingBather with arms raised
1930 Gouache
1930 Furniture and rugs
1930 Self-Portrait
1930 Picasso Self-Portrait
1931 Picasso Figures on a beach
1933 Crucifixion
1933 Rembrandt Slaughtered ox
1941 Man in a Cap
1944 Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion
1944 Right-head
1946 Painting
1947 Giacometti The Nose
1952 Deakin Bacon with Meat
1953 Study after Velázquez Portrait of Pope Innocent X
1953 Velázquez Innocent X
1953 Eisenstein stillOdessa steps
1962 Three Studies for a Crucifixion
1962 Cimabue Crucifix
1962 Figure Turning
1963 Three Studies for Portrait of George Dyer • A
1963 Walsh Pin-Up
1966 Lying Figure
1968 Second Version of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe
1968 Portrait of George Dyer in a Mirror
1969 Study of Henrietta Moraes Laughing
1971 Lying Figure in a Mirror
1971 Second Version of Painting 1946
1971 In Memory of George Dyer
1972 Self-Portrait
1973 Two Figures with a Monkey
1974 Triptych 1974-77 • A
1976 Triptych
1976 Portrait of Michel Leiris
1983 Figure in Movement
1985 Study for Self-Portrait


10.3.12

Francis Bacon the Painter


FRANCIS BACON (1909-92). The British artist Francis Bacon (1909-1992) was one of the most original and powerful painters of the twentieth century. He was particularly noted for the intensity and paradoxical nature of his work. Bacon achieved fame and notoriety for his disturbing figures and his preoccupation with bare flesh, wounds, fluids and the torment of the human condition. His imagery communicates loneliness, violence and degradation. Significantly, it does so in a grotesque way.
Bacon was born October 28, 1909, in Dublin. At the age of 16, he moved to London and subsequently lived for about two years in Berlin and Paris. Although Bacon attended no art school, he began to draw and work in watercolor about 1927. Picasso’s work decisively influenced his painting until the mid-1940s. Upon his return to London in 1929, he established himself as a furniture designer and interior designer. He began to use oils in the autumn of that year and exhibited a few paintings as well as furniture and rugs in his studio. His work was included in a group exhibition in London at the Mayor Gallery in 1933. In 1934, the artist organized his own first solo show at Sunderland House, London, which he called Transition Gallery for the occasion. He participated in a group show at Thomas Agnew and Sons, London, in 1937. Bacon painted relatively little after his solo show and in the 1930s and early 1940s destroyed many of his works. He began to paint intensively again in 1944. His work gained prominence only after World War II. By this time he painted the human figure, subjecting it to extreme distortions that made it look bizarre and disturbing. His first major solo show took place at the Hanover Gallery, London, in 1949. From the mid-1940s to the 1950s, Bacon’s work reflected certain influence of Surrealism. The pictures that made his reputation were of such subjects as an opened-mouth figure bending over and partly covered by an umbrella (Figure Study II, 1946) and a vaporizing head in front of a curtain (Head II, 1949). These startlingly original works were considered to be powerful expressions of anguish, remarkable because of the grandeur of their presentation and unusual painterly quality. By the 1950s Bacon had developed a less elusive treatment of the human figure and based his work on clippings from newspapers and magazines or from the ninethinth-century photographs of humans and animals in movement by Eadweard Muybridge. He also drew on such sources as Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1649–50), Vincent van Gogh’s The Painter on the Road to Tarascon (1888), and Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (1925). The combination of motifs drawn from completely unrelated sources was usual in Bacon's imagery. At the same time contemporary imagery was given a grandeur presentation akin to that of Baroque masterpieces. Bacon's first solo exhibition outside England was held in 1953 at Durlacher Brothers, New York. In 1950–51 and 1952, the artist traveled to South Africa. He visited Italy in 1954 when his work was featured in the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. His first retrospective was held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, in 1955. Bacon was given a solo show at the São Paulo Bienal in 1959. From the 1950s through the end of Bacon's painting career and life, in the early 1990s, the recurrent theme of his work was the isolation and anguish of the individual. He often painted a single figure, usually male, seated or standing in a windowless interior and framed by a geometric construction, as if confined in a private hell. His subjects were his friends and lovers, and himself. Working almost without preliminary sketchs, Bacon used expressive deformations to convey every possible nuance of feeling and tension. His painting technique consisted of using rags, his hands and whorls of dust along with paint and brush. In 1962, the Tate Gallery, London, organized a Bacon retrospective, a modified version of which traveled to Mannheim, Turin, Zurich, and Amsterdam. Other important exhibitions of his work were held at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1963 and the Grand Palais in Paris in 1971; paintings from 1968 to 1974 were exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 1975. Although Bacon had consistently denied the illustrational nature of his paintings, the facts of his life led art critics and historians to draw links between the personal life of the artist and the subject matter of his paintings. An example of this was the suicide of his model and lover George Dyer, whose death was the result of ingesting a mix of drugs and alcohol and occurred just before the opening of Bacon's major retrospective in Paris in 1971. Bacon's Triptych May-June 1973 evokes Dyer’s suicide and shows him shadowed in a door frame, vomiting into a sink and dying hunched fetus-like on a toilet. Bacon admitted this painting to be a most personal work and one which verges on illustration. Yet, he also kept each panel of the triptych framed individually and arranged it so to alter a logical sequence and to avoid storytelling.


Bacon's 1973 triptych

In a period dominated by abstract art, Bacon stood out as one of the greatest figurative painters. Often large in scale, Bacon's works bring back traditional themes but in an iconoclastic, involving the grotesque and the meaningless. Retrospectives of Bacon's work were held at the Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1989–90 and at the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, in 1996. The artist died of heart failure brought on by asthma in Madrid, on April 28, 1992

This text is partly based on Francis Bacon: Biography, Guggenheim, New York, Collection Online.

8.3.12

Educathyssen

Investigación y Extensión Educativa del Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

Retrato de George Dyer en un espejo (detalle), por Francis Bacon
Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Retrato de George Dyer en un espejo. Ejemplo de la capacidad de Bacon para acercarse al interior de la mente de sus retratados, la anamorfosis en el espejo sirvió en esta obra para confrontar al modelo con su retrato y su reflejo, al tiempo que no deja su papel como recuerdo aterrador de la amenaza del tiempo y de la muerte. El espasmo retorcido del rostro de Dyer se contrapone a la cara reflejada en el espejo, escindida en dos por una franja de espacio luminoso que parece un reflejo en el cristal. Al igual que todos los personajes de Bacon, George Dyer está representado en solitario, aislado en un espacio vacío, para simbolizar la soledad del hombre en un mundo hostil y demostrando el clima existencialista de la Europa de entreguerras en el que se formó (Recursos educativos).

Francis Bacon, Portrait of George Dyer in a Mirror, 1968. Oil on canvas, 198 x 147.5 cm. Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Ficha obra 764. Sólidamente enraizada en la tradición figurativa británica, la obra de Francis Bacon suele vincularse a la genéricamente denominada Escuela de Londres, un grupo heterogéneo de artistas —entre los que, además de Bacon, se encuentran Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff y Michael Andrews, todos ellos presentes en la colección del Museo— que comparten la exaltación de la individualidad, un interés común en la figura humana, un cierto expresionismo y el rechazo del naturalismo academicista.
En el doble Retrato de George Dyer en un espejo, de 1968, la única obra de Bacon en la colección Thyssen-Bornemisza, el modelo aparece aislado en medio de un espacio vacío. George Dyer (1934-1971), un ex criminal casi analfabeto, que fue el amante de Bacon durante varios años hasta que se suicidó con una sobredosis de drogas en 1971, está sentado en una silla giratoria frente a su propia imagen reflejada en un espejo colocado sobre un extraño mueble con peana, una mezcla de televisor o de aparato de rayos X. La violencia y brutalidad de la imagen, centrada en la distorsión de la figura principal con la cara retorcida por un espasmo, como si estuviera expuesta a una serie de fuerzas de las que no se puede desprender, está agudizada por un halo de luz circular que proviene de un foco situado fuera del cuadro. En contraposición, la cara reflejada en el espejo, escindida en dos por una franja de espacio luminoso, que parece un reflejo en el cristal, no sufre las distorsiones propias de los personajes de Bacon; de hecho, si pudiéramos unir las dos mitades, tendríamos un retrato bastante naturalista de la cara de Dyer, con su perfil anguloso de nariz ganchuda y una expresión que combina deseo y muerte.
Bacon supo dar al género del retrato una solución muy personal, eliminando cualquier individualidad física y enfatizando en cambio el destino único de cada hombre. El cuerpo, en su calidad de carne, supone el elemento esencial de sus retratos, y siempre esconde un doble sentido de representación y alienación. El pintor británico vuelve a los personajes del revés, mostrando sus vísceras, deformando sus caras, con una distorsión que les borra las facciones. Con una personal iconografía, creada de manera instintiva, intentaba atrapar, según sus palabras, «un instante de vida en toda su violencia y en toda su belleza», y logró traducir los aspectos más sórdidos y aterradores del ser humano, por lo que su pintura podría considerarse una interpretación algo convulsiva del existencialismo europeo. Por otra parte, las deformaciones carnales a las que somete Bacon a sus personajes se relacionan con la violencia de los retratos más dislocados de Picasso de los años centrales del siglo xx.
La técnica expresionista utilizada en esta obra es una combinación de óleo aplicado con pincel y trabajado con los dedos. Con las gruesas pinceladas blancas salpicadas brutalmente sobre la imagen, Bacon rompe intencionadamente con las convenciones técnicas y asume riesgos que pretenden producir efectos desconcertantes. Estas salpicaduras pueden ser una especie de alegoría incluida en el cuadro y que el pintor nos deja oculta, pero también nos hablan del componente de azar que Bacon no quiere dejar olvidado: «Mi ideal —decía— sería coger un puñado de pintura y lanzarla sobre la tela con la esperanza de que el retrato estuviera ahí». Francis Bacon logró atrapar ese «instante de la vida» y nadie como él consiguió traducir los aspectos más sórdidos y aterradores del ser humano. Con su talante existencialista, Bacon ha sido el pintor que mejor ha representado plásticamente la alienación del hombre contemporáneo, su vulnerabilidad (Paloma Alarcó).
_____

La pintura en relación con el teatro

L.F.M. de los Santos Alonso, "El espacio", EducaThyssen, Madrid: Thyssen-Bornemisza, 2008, libro de alumno 4, capítulo 3: La pintura en relación con el teatro

Francis Bacon, Retrato de George Dyer en un espejo, 1968. Óleo sobre lienzo. 198 x 147cm

Francis Bacon es un pintor de retratos de amigos y de sí mismo. El cuadro expuesto en de la colección el Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza es un retrato descarnado de su amante, el cual que terminó suicidándose. Es un artista de difícil clasificación, [... mas a] su pintura [...] él la consideraría realista. Su obra trata sobre la carne estremecida, mutilada y desgarrada pero viva en la pintura, para indagar los límites del yo y del cuerpo humano. El cuadro hace alusión a la intimidad del retratado sacando sus vísceras exponiendo su interior al exterior. Representa el conflicto visceral del cuerpo y la búsqueda desesperada de su propio rostro. Admirador del teatro de Shakespeare, Bacon retrata la violencia de la vida y cada uno de sus retratos no deja de ser reflejo de sí mismo y de la confusión interior que tiene lugar en todo ser humano.
En el retrato la obra de Bacon de la que nos ocupamos contrasta el tratamiento compulsivo de la figura retratada con la pulcritud del espacio contenedor del fondo, aunque no sea siempre así en todos sus retratos. En nuestro cuadro, el espacio de la estancia es circular y se representa con una línea curva. En el suelo hay una alfombra circular que recuerda a los nenúfares de Monet, creando cierto aire bucólico. Puede haber una cierta y extraña similitud con una plaza de toros y el espectáculo taurino.
La asimetría se impone en la composición del cuadro. A la izquierda, hay un espejo o pantalla que refleja o proyecta el rostro del retratado. Sentado en una silla giratoria, el cuerpo del retratado, contorsionado, mutilado y sin rostro, se sitúa en el eje central del cuadro, pero queda dividido en dos mitades claramente desiguales. La mitad de la derecha es todavía reconocible. El traje, la camisa y la corbata se dejan ver pero terminan confundiéndose a la altura del abdomen con unas formas blandas que, como si de vísceras se trataran, asoman entre las dos mitades en conflicto. Igualmente, vemos el muñón de la mano izquierda apoyándose en lo que parece el posabrazos de la silla o la prolongación de las vísceras. La parte de la izquierda queda más desfigurada. El brazo derecho está seccionado por encima del codo. La pierna desaparece para confundirse con lo que bien puede ser la pata de la silla giratoria. Parece como si las dos mitades se fagocitaran persiguieran la una a la otra sin saber cuál devora a cuál. Así mismo, la cabeza se gira al extremo de alcanzar una posición inverosímil. Parece buscarse a sí misma en el reflejo o proyección del espejo-pantalla de la izquierda. Al unirse la cabeza a una de las partes del cuerpo, es como si buscara su imagen en la otra mitad. Sin embargo, en el reflejo, vemos cómo se rompe en dos la cabeza en un movimiento antagónico al del cuerpo mutilado, cuyas dos partes se buscan y devoran mutuamente. El cuerpo y el reflejo están enlazados por el movimiento de la cabeza, la cual, girada sobre sí misma, mira su imagen fragmentada y descarnada. Las sombras están muy marcadas y acusadas, lo que, además de dar mayor dramatismo y acentuar las distintas partes, insiste en la dualidad del modelo.
En el resultado final del cuadro, Bacon concede al azar y la improvisación un papel significado. Bacon trabaja a partir de fotografías evitando el contacto directo con el modelo mientras pinta. Entiende la pintura del mismo modo que trata el cuerpo de sus personajes. Da plena autonomía a la pincelada, otorgando gran importancia al azar. Cada pincelada surge sin seguir un plan previsto, conformando un cuerpo pictórico y orgánico de tendones, músculos y vísceras. Con ello, Bacon consigue reflejar la confusión humana dejando que el azar, como principio natural de todas las cosas, confiera un orden a la pintura.
El cuadro configura un tejido de formas orgánicas y de dimensiones anatómicas: cada pincelada adquiere un valor visceral corporal y orgánico para hacer del cuadro un cuerpo. El cuadro es el retrato y la carne, transformada en pintura, es el verdadero rostro. En definitiva, Francis Bacon pinta anatomías atormentadas. Sus retratos son una disección de la intimidad del retratado y de sí mismo. Descuartiza y desfigura al retratado para entrar en el interior del personaje y recomponerlo en forma de pintura. En el presente cuadro, la ambigüedad que rodea al cuerpo termina por cuestionarnos [y] hacer que nos cuestionemos si el rostro que vemos es el reflejado en un espejo o el proyectado por una pantalla. No se sabe si éste es el reflejo del retratado o la proyección del propio Bacon sobre su amante y amigo, George Dyer.

Detalle de la pintura de Bacon en el Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza
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El drama de la carne o el espacio del cuerpo

Javier Navarro de Zuvillaga, El drama de la carne o el espacio del cuerpo, Educathyssen, Madrid: Thyssen-Bornemisza, 2008, Historia de la representación del espacio en la pintura, itinerario IV, capítulo 5.

Francis Bacon, Retrato de George Dyer en un espejo, 1968

"Los retratos de Bacon son la interrogación sobre los límites del yo. ¿Hasta qué grado de distorsión un individuo sigue siendo él mismo? ¿Hasta qué grado de distorsión un ser amado sigue siendo un ser amado? ¿Durante cuánto tiempo un rostro querido que se aleja en una enfermedad, en una locura, en un odio, en la muerte, sigue siendo aún reconocible? ¿Dónde está la frontera tras la cual un yo deja de ser yo?" Milan Kundera.[1]

La obra de Bacon trata fundamentalmente de la carne estremecida, convulsa, retorcida, atormentada, lacerada, desgarrada, despellejada, mutilada, masacrada, vuelta del revés, expuesta, en metamorfosis, pero viva. Muchos de sus cuadros son retratos, algunos sólo de la cabeza y poco más. Dicen que "la cara es el espejo del alma", pero la cara sólo es, manos aparte, lo más visible del cuerpo, aunque también la parte más significativa. Desde luego en el caso de los retratos de Bacon que son sólo de la cabeza y poco más, esa cara es de lo más reveladora, porque es algo más que cara, como dice France Borel: "las vísceras por rostro".[2] Otros de sus retratos son de cuerpo entero, como el que nos ocupa. Este cuadro de Bacon trae a la memoria unas palabras de Mark Rothko: "Para mí, las grandes realizaciones de los siglos en las que el artista se inspiró en lo verosímil y lo familiar, son los cuadros de la figura humana, sola, aislada en un momento de inmovilidad absoluta".[3] Rothko escribió esto más de veinte años antes de que Bacon pintara este cuadro. A pesar del dinamismo de la pose retorcida en que Bacon ha representado a su modelo, la propia tensión de la figura le da un aire de inmovilidad definitiva.

John Deakin, Francis Bacon con piezas de carne, fotografía, 1952

Bacon nació en Irlanda, país, como España, de gran tradición católica. Fue expulsado de su casa por su propio padre, un tipo más bien brutal, que le llegó a pegar cuando lo descubrió vestido con las ropas de su madre y averiguó que se acostaba con los mozos de cuadra que cuidaban su establo.
En 1927 Bacon visita una exposición de Picasso en la Galería Rosenberg de París, en la que, según sus propias palabras, descubre "que hay todo un territorio que, en cierto modo, no ha sido todavía explorado, de formas orgánicas relativas a la figura humana que la distorsionan por completo". Esto, unido a su afición por los mataderos y la carne, a la impresión que le causaron La matanza de los inocentes de Poussin (1630-1631) y a la imagen de la película de Eisenstein El acorazado Potemkin (1925) de una enfermera que grita, mientras baja corriendo las escaleras de Odessa con las gafas rotas, parecen sugerir lo que iba a ser la temática de su obra.
Más de uno ha querido ver una relación entre la obra de Bacon y el teatro de Samuel Beckett, cosa con la que el propio Bacon no estaba nada de acuerdo, pero en cambio sí se sentía muy influido por la obra de Shakespeare.[4] Milan Kundera dice que, a pesar de las reservas de Bacon al respecto, él no puede dejar de relacionar a uno con otro y lo argumenta muy bien. Pero lo que hace es un paralelismo entre ambos artistas: "En la historia del arte moderno, Bacon y Beckett no son de los que abren camino; lo cierran".[5] No se trata tanto de la atmósfera o el estilo de las obras artísticas de cada uno como de su situación en los respectivos campos.
Desde mi punto de vista, la obra de Beckett está más relacionada con la de Rothko [...]. En cambio, la obra de Bacon en general, y este cuadro no es una excepción, me remite a algunas páginas de Antonin Artaud, como ésta: "El acto del que hablo aspira a la transformación orgánica y física verdadera del cuerpo humano/ ¿Por qué?/ Porque el teatro no es una parada escénica en la cual se desarrolla virtual y simbólicamente un mito/ sino ese crisol de fuego y de carne verdadera en el cual anatómicamente/ mediante el pisoteo de huesos, de miembros y de sílabas/ se rehacen los cuerpos/ y se presenta físicamente y al natural el acto mítico de hacer un cuerpo".[6]
Pero quien hizo realidad en el teatro estas ideas de Artaud, aunque sólo hasta cierto punto y a su manera, fue Jerzy Grotowsky, al lograr que el actor se inmolase ante el público en cada representación.
"Para pintar, los pinceles y los músculos tienen que ir acordes", decía Bacon.[7] Su pintura es una "pintura anatómica", igual que el teatro de Artaud era un "teatro anatómico", como también lo fue el de Grotowsky. No estoy hablando de influencias, ni tampoco de parecidos, sino de coincidencias en los planteamientos y en la búsqueda que concluye en los límites del cuerpo humano.
Los cuadros de Bacon y en concreto este Retrato de Georg[e] Dyer en un espejo son un sacrificio del modelo en el escenario del cuadro. La diferencia, no sólo con el teatro de Grotowsky, sino con la pintura de retrato en general, es que el modelo no está presente. Bacon prefería hacer los retratos de sus amigos a partir de fotografías: "Ves aquí en mi estudio, están estas fotografías diseminadas por el suelo, todas estropeadas. Las he utilizado para pintar retratos de amigos y luego las conservó. Para mí es más fácil trabajar a partir de estos registros que con la propia gente; de esta forma puedo trabajar solo y sentirme mucho más libre. Cuando trabajo no quiero ver a nadie, ni siquiera a los modelos. Estas fotografías fueron mi aide-mémoire, me ayudaron a expresar ciertos rasgos, ciertos detalles. Me fueron útiles simplemente como herramienta".[8]

El estudio de Bacon, mayo de 1992

En una fotografía tomada en su estudio en mayo de 1992, es decir, sólo unos días después de su fallecimiento en Madrid, podemos ver un magnífico, un prodigioso caos del que emerge la claridad, la geometría de un lienzo sobre el caballete, posiblemente el último cuadro que inició y que ya no pudo terminar. Al ver esta fotografía he comprendido mejor las anatomías atormentadas que representa en sus retratos y en sus cuadros en general; y mejor aún cuando leo lo que le dice al entrevistador en ese mismo estudio: "Esta confusión a nuestro alrededor se parece mucho a mi mente; puede ser una buena imagen de lo que pasa en mi interior, así es como es, mi vida es así".[9] Esta fotografía también me hizo recordar, por oposición, el cuadro de G. Friedrich Kersting que representa a Caspar David Friedrich en su estudio. Comparemos ambos estudios y la obra de ambos. Los dos pintan naturaleza, paisaje uno, retrato el otro. La pulcritud del estudio de Friedrich, testimoniada por este cuadro y por algunos relatos, está también en sus obras, lo mismo que está en los cuadros de Bacon el increíble caos de su estudio. Pero curiosamente este caos está centrado en la figura, ya que el escenario en que la pone suele ser un espacio ordenado y más bien aséptico, así es, desde luego, en el caso de nuestro cuadro. Quizá esto sea, en parte, una reminiscencia de su actividad como interiorista, profesión en la que destacó en Londres a finales de los años veinte y durante los treinta.
Es interesante observar ese lienzo inacabado, pues en él se muestran las figuras geométricas que utilizaba para componer sus cuadros; en éste son un rectángulo dividido en dos partes por una línea horizontal y en la parte inferior un círculo completo y parte de otro.
Borel dice que Bacon "es un solitario que violenta a sus amigos cuando los plasma en el lienzo -nunca personajes anínimos-, los asesina, los recompone para que renazcan bajo forma de cuadro".[10]
Para entender mejor esta afirmación analicemos nuestro cuadro. El óvalo que hace de suelo indica que la estancia en la que el modelo aparece es redonda. Bacon utiliza esta forma para situar sus figuras en varias de sus obras; en parte es un recuerdo de las habitaciones curvas de la casa de su abuela materna en Farmleigh, donde vivió después de la Primera Guerra Mundial,[11] pero quizá sea también una reminiscencia del redondel de la plaza de toros, como el Estudio de Corrida I (1969) (Fig. IV.5.4), ya que naturalmente el espectáculo taurino no podía dejar de interesarle: músculos en acción, tanto los del toro como los del torero, sangre y connotaciones sexuales. Por otra parte, este cuadro tiene algo de ritual sangriento.

Estudio de corrida I, 1969. Colección privada

Que la estancia es redonda queda confirmado por la línea curva que aparece encima de la figura: Ésta muestra la unión de la superficie cilíndrica de la pared con el plano del techo, y es el único indicio de que existen esas dos superficies, ya que el color es de la misma tinta, casi plana, común a las dos. Las formas y los colores que decoran el suelo y que le dan calidad de moqueta o de alfombra me recuerdan a los tondos con nenúfares de Claude Monet.
La figura, situada en el centro, coincide con el eje vertical del cuadro, y está sentada en una silla del tipo de las giratorias de oficina. La relación de la figura con el asiento, como en el caso de todas las figuras sentadas de Bacon, es, cuando menos, precaria, por no decir imposible; prácticamente la mitad de las posaderas queda fuera del asiento. El espejo es extraño, por cierto: tiene aires de televisor, si bien con poco fondo e inclinado, y no se sabe si está sujeto, ni cómo a un extraño pie, tipo atril, que tiene debajo a otro, lateral e inclinado, que se pierde en el margen izquierdo del cuadro.
La situación del espejo, detrás y a la izquierda de la silla, obliga a la figura a volverse, a retorcerse, para poder mirarse en él; pero ¿es eso lo que está haciendo realmente? En cualquier caso, la imagen del espejo no es para nada la que se supone que debería reflejar, si tenemos en cuenta primero el tamaño y luego la orientación de su plano y su posición relativa con respecto al personaje. Así, la relación entre imagen reflejada y figura viene a ser tan precaria o imposible como la que se da entre ésta y la silla en la que se sienta.
Si nos centramos en la figura lo primero que salta a la vista es que es una figura dual, claramente partida en dos por una línea recta, ligeramente inclinada, que la recorre en casi toda su longitud. No en toda, pues por arriba la cabeza acaba siendo -aunque no del todo- común a ambas mitades a partir de la oreja que, en principio, corresponde a la mitad de la derecha. La división también se desdibuja por abajo, a partir del muslo de la mitad derecha.
Existe un fuerte contraste entre las dos mitades de la figura. La de la derecha es más compuesta, más completa, incluso más realista; la de la izquierda está desfigurada, borrosa, desarreglada, mutilada, sólo tiene parte del brazo, un muñón, a partir del cual se abre un agujero en la chaqueta que deja ver un extraño interior que en la zona del vientre se convierte en un amasijo de formas blandas y, por último, no parece tener pierna. Tampoco es que la pierna de la mitad derecha termine muy bien, pues a partir de la rodilla, si es que eso es la rodilla, no se sabe lo que sucede. Sin embargo, sí termina en lo que sería un zapato, apoyado en el suelo por el talón, del que vemos la suela en un primer plano. Esta suela, que pertenece al único pie de la figura, hace un extraño e interesante juego con el pie de la silla y con el pie del espejo, complementado compositivamente a la derecha con una mancha sobre el suelo que podría ser la sombra de la figura, pero que tiene calidad de mancha.
Aún así, parece haber una influencia "perniciosa" de la mitad izquierda en la mitad derecha, como si la primera tratase de invadir a la segunda. Para empezar, el hombro de la izquierda se "come" o, cuando menos, tapa la cara, y la cabeza aparece sólo a partir de la segunda mitad. No sé si como resultado de esta "agresión", se produce un agujero en las entrañas de la parte derecha, a través del cual se observa el suelo y lo que podría ser un brazo de la silla, que es como un trozo de intestino ennegrecido que hubiera quedado como muestra. Esto lo podemos ver gracias a que la chaqueta se abre en esa zona para mostrarlo.
Me parece que se da una relación de antropofagia entre esas dos mitades, aunque no está muy claro cuál devora a cuál. Es como si una mitad quisiera ser la otra y viceversa.
Al volver la cabeza para verse en el espejo _cabeza que pertenece más a la mitad derecha_ busca su imagen en la otra mitad, o a través de ella, pero sólo la encuentra finalmente en el espejo, y, por cierto, lacerada y partida en dos y ¡de qué manera! Esta escisión de la cabeza en la imagen reflejada se corresponde con la escisión de la figura, aunque sólo como tal escisión, pues no en la lógica visual del espejo.
Existe una correspondencia muy clara entre la oreja de la figura y la del espejo, aunque vistas desde el mismo lado, con la única diferencia que marca la inclinación del plano del espejo.
Hay, finalmente, dos "objetos" de difícil clasificación que parecen flotar al lado de la figura. A la derecha, a la altura del codo, hay dos formas ovales una junto a otra. En muchos de los retratos y autorretratos de Bacon aparecen formas ovales y circulares flotando alrededor de la cara. Por delante del borde de la silla flota en horizontal una especie de fluido blanco, del que hay también una pequeña muestra sobre el suelo. Algo similar aparece en Estudio para la cabeza de Isabel Rawsthorne (1967).[12] No quiero hacer interpretaciones, sobre todo teniendo en cuenta la importancia que Bacon daba al azar en la realización de una obra: "Quiero que haya un gran orden en la imagen que pinto, pero que ese orden se deba al azar".[13] Por cierto, no debemos pasar por alto que este pensamiento de Bacon está muy en la línea de John Cage.

Estudio para cabeza de Isabel Rawsthorne, 1967

En cuanto a las sombras, aparte la ya mencionada sobre el suelo, existen unas pocas más, eso sí, muy acusadas en negro, que modelan la figura de forma extraña: si se empieza por arriba, está la sombra de la oreja sobre el cuello, que la resalta mucho, y da la sensación de que nos estuviera escuchando, lo que queda subrayado por la importante presencia de la oreja en la imagen del espejo. Viene después la de la cabeza, sobre el hombro de la derecha, que resalta más de lo que debiera al no existir sombra sobre el cuello. Luego la enorme solapa de la mitad derecha arroja una sombra tan exagerada, que no se sabe si hace que aquélla salga demasiado, o, por el contrario, que el pecho y el brazo queden rehundidos. Más abajo, en la zona en que la chaqueta se abre para mostrar el agujero hay una serie de sombras que ayudan a ese efecto. En la mitad izquierda hay algunas sombras que modelan el trozo de brazo, el agujero y las formas blandas de más abajo.
Este cuadro es un retrato y lo que más muestra es la dualidad del modelo, una dualidad que es como una esquizofrenia, y que está subrayada por la otra dualidad que se establece entre la figura y su imagen en el espejo.
Georg[e] Dyer, el modelo de este retrato, era el amante de Bacon y se suicidó con una sobredosis de drogas y alcohol en 1971, mientras Bacon preparaba la inauguración de una gran exposición en el Grand Palais de París. Bacon hizo varios retratos de este modelo, empezó a retratarle en 1964 en Tres estudios para un retrato de Georg[e] Dyer, y terminó con un retrato póstumo, En memoria de Georg[e] Dyer (1971).

Tres estudios para un retrato de George Dyer, 1964. Colección privada.

En memoria de George Dyer, 1971. Fondation Beyeler, Riehen, Basilea

Posiblemente, Dyer era un hombre con una personalidad escindida, pero Bacon, aparte de la dualidad del modelo, representa algo más en este retrato; quizá encarna también la lucha entre éste y el propio artista: de ahí las dos mitades que se devoran mutuamente.
Como ya he dicho, la obra de Bacon podría tener un punto de contacto con el pensamiento de Artaud, especialmente a través del teatro de Grotowsky.[14] Este punto de contacto sería el traspasar los límites del cuerpo, la inmolación del actor en el caso de Grotowsky. Para comprenderlo mejor, veamos lo que decía el director y teórico polaco sobre la interpretación del actor: "El actor debe aprender a utilizar su papel como si fuera un bisturí de cirujano, para diseccionarse [...]. Lo importante es utilizar el papel como un trampolín, como un instrumento mediante el cual estudiar lo que esté escondido detrás de nuestra máscara cotidiana _el meollo más íntimo de nuestra personalidad_, a fin de sacrificarlo, de exponerlo. Se cae en un exceso no sólo para el actor, sino para el auditorio. El espectador entiende, consciente o inconscientemente, que tal acto es una invitación que se le dirige para que haga lo mismo, con lo que a menudo se engendra la oposición o la indignación, porque en nuestros esfuerzos diarios tratamos de ocultar nuestra verdad íntima, no sólo ante los ojos del mundo, sino ante nosotros mismos".[15] Creo que esta reacción del espectador a la que alude Grotowsk[y] se podría aplicar al espectador que contempla alguno de los retratos de Bacon, en concreto a este de Georg[e] Dyer.
También veo un punto de encuentro con una de las manifestaciones pioneras y de las más tremendas realizadas por artistas que toman como soporte e instrumento su propio cuerpo: el "accionismo vienés". En este caso se trataría también de inmolación, la del artista. Como dice Piedad Solans, "el accionismo vienés desde sus inicios se distinguió por su carácter violento y agresivo, el uso cruento del cuerpo, la violencia sobre la carne y la organicidad, la alteración de los modos de conciencia y la importancia de la sexualidad, planteando tanto una exploración en las zonas desconocidas, prohibidas, del cuerpo y de la mente, como una provocación a la moral, la religión, las leyes y las costumbres".[16]
Como decía más arriba, estas experiencias artísticas tienen en común con la obra de Bacon que están basadas en el cuerpo humano y que lo exploran hasta el límite, e incluso más allá.
Bacon entra a saco en la intimidad de sus modelos y les saca las vísceras al exterior. Por eso sólo pinta a amigos, gente que conoce, y explica: "Me inhibe su presencia, porque si les tengo afecto no quiero que están delante cuando llevo a cabo el ataque que supone mi obra. Prefiero realizar en privado ese ataque con el que me parece que puedo dejar constancia con mayor claridad de su realidad".
Bacon pintó también muchos autorretratos en los que trató su rostro en los mismos términos en que trató los rostros de los demás, por ejemplo, en Autorretrato (1973).

Autorretrato, 1973. Colección privada

Me parece que la obra de Bacon es algo ineludible para todo aquél que quiera entender no sólo el arte del siglo XX, sino la tragedia del hombre en ese tiempo y en el que se avecina.
Si hablamos de body art o arte del cuerpo, Bacon debería ser uno de los referentes más importantes, y estoy seguro de que podría ser fuente de inspiración para muchos artistas en ese campo, así como lo sería en muchos otros.
Me gustaría terminar con una cita del propio [...] Bacon: "Siempre me sorprende mucho que la gente hable de violencia en mi obra. Yo no la encuentro violenta en absoluto. No sé por qué la gente cree que lo es. Nunca he buscado la violencia. Hay un elemento de realismo en mis cuadros que quizá podría dar esa impresión, pero la vida es tan violenta ¡mucho más violenta que cualquier cosa que yo pueda hacer!"[17]

1. Milan Kundera, en France Borel, Francis Bacon. Retratos y autorretratos, Madrid: Debate, 1996, p. 11.
2. Borel utiliza esta expresión para titular su trabajo sobre los retratos de Bacon.
3. Cfr. cap. IV. 3.
4. Francis Bacon in conversation with Michel Archimbaud, Londres: Phaidon, 2004, pp. 115-120
5. Borel, Retratos y autorretratos, pp. 14-16
6. Antonin Artaud, "Le théâtre de la science" en L´Arbalete, n. 13, verano 1948, reproducido en A. Virmaux, Artaud et le théâtre, París, 1970; pp. 264-67, citado en Robert Abirached, La crisis del personaje en el teatro moderno, Madrid: Publicaciones de la Asociación de Directores de Escena de España, 1994, p. 362
7. Borel, Retratos y autorretratos, p. 189
8. Bacon in conversation with Archimbaud, p. 15
9. Ibid., p. 163
10. Borel, Retratos y autorretratos, p. 190
11. Bacon in conversation with Archimbaud, p. 154
12. Sobre otro cuadro de Bacon con el mismo modelo y otro con otro modelo masculino véase J. Navarro de Zuvillaga, Mirando a través: la perspectiva en las artes, Barcelona: Serbal, 2000, pp. 56, 70, 111, 112, 134
13. Borel, Retratos y autorretratos, p. 191
14. Ha habido otros grupos de teatro que han seguido de alguna manera la estela de Artaud, desde el Living Theater hasta La Fura del Baus, pero, siendo muy interesantes en su actividad teatral, no me parece que tengan relación tan clara con la obra de Bacon como la tiene Grotowsky, incluso aunque algunas imágenes de la creación de esos grupos se pudieran llegar a relacionar con ella a un nivel formal.
15. Jerzy Grotowsky, Hacia un teatro pobre, México: Siglo XXI, 1974
16. Pilar Solans, Accionismo vienés, Hondarribia: Nerea, 2000, p. 12
17. Borel, Retratos y autorretratos, p. 9; Bacon in conversation with Archimbaud, p. 151
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Otros recursos
Costa, Guillermo da. Francis Bacon: visiones de la nueva carne, Slideshare, Salamanca, 7.6.2008
Tuergano (Universidad de Valladolid). Retrato de George Dyer en un espejo, El rincón del vago, s.f. (2009).
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Bacon NY exhibit portrays shocking human brutality

By Nick Olivari
NEW YORK | Mon May 18, 2009 3:34pm EDT

A Francis Bacon retrospective starting at the New York Metropolitan Museum on Wednesday is not for the faint-hearted.

The self-taught British painter (1909-1992), who denied the existence of God, portrays the brutality of humanity in subjects from popes to a paralytic child walking on all fours. His images illustrate that without God, humans are subject to the same urges of violence, lust and fear as any other animal.

"His wider appeal is a morbid fascination with the expression of violence in human nature," said Gary Tinterow, principal curator of "Francis Bacon: A Centenary Retrospective," which is the first major New York exhibition in 20 years devoted to the artist and includes works from throughout his career.

Bacon, an existentialist, saw man as an "accident of evolution," said Tinterow, adding that contemporary artists consistently vote Bacon as one of the great influences of the current era.

Though he drifted aimlessly early in his career, Bacon found his voice as World War Two ended and rose to prominence over the next 45 years.

With a predilection for shocking imagery, Bacon's art was dominated by emotionally charged depictions of the human body.

He painted heads with snarling mouths, images of men as pathetic and alone, and a human figure portrayed as bestial, conjuring up the demons he may have lived with.

Suffering from an abusive father, he later relived that pattern with some of his homosexual lovers.

"His early sexual experiences came by older men who were cruel to him," Tinterow said. "His familiarity with cruelty is strongly expressed."

The exhibit also includes archival materials found in Bacon's studio and only available after the death of a man who hated to paint with anyone present, including the subject. These objects include the pages he tore from books and magazines, photographs and sketches, all of which were source materials for finished paintings on view.

The exhibit, which runs until August 16, was formed in partnership with London's Tate Britain and Madrid's Museo del Prado, and previously appeared in both of those venues (Reuters).

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