Francis Bacon – an honest life’s work
I’ve always felt that I’ve never understood art, and abstract painting in particular. I could never connect with it. Whatever the artist was trying to say or express I just never quite “got” it. However having been amazed by Jeremy Griffith’s analysis of Francis Bacon in Freedom: Expanded Book 1, Part 7:5 titled How alientated did we become? I was lucky enough to visit an exhibition of his works recently. The exhibition was not like any I had ever seen. Bacon’s unnerving ability to communicate human torment and generate such uneasy emotion and feeling through his amazing portraits certainly had me relating to the pain and alienation of human life. I undoubtedly “got” what Bacon was expressing! As it states in the online introduction to the exhibition: ‘With painful beauty Bacon lays bare the struggles of the human condition’ (accessed on 10th December 2012 at: http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/exhibitions/francis-bacon/).
Bacon was able to express pure human angst through his unusual painting styles and disturbing subject matter. The half smudged faces, dark foreboding colours and screaming open mouths is an unsettling reminder of the completely alienated and twisted psychological state of humanity that lies hidden beneath our daily delusions. Viewing these huge paintings of screaming popes and distorted, disfigured bodies was an experience that left me deeply unsettled—a telling reminder of the deep frustration and wrestle with life under the human condition. Or as the Times UK stated in a review of this particular exhibition ‘His images arrive straight through the nervous system and hijack the soul’ (accessed on 12th December 2012 at: ).
But for me, the nourishing aspect about Bacon’s paintings was that by bringing the issue of our collective human struggle into sharper focus, the relevance and importance of the compassionate explanation of the human condition put forward by Jeremy takes on a clearer significance. It helps to be reminded of the problem to be able to appreciate the solution; such is the “haze of denial” in everyday life. Having Bacon bring the issue so painfully and realistically to the surface helps me appreciate how imperative it is that the explanation presented on this site is disseminated across the planet. It is a surreal experience to be viewing works of art that literally scream about the agony of living with the human condition while knowing that that condition has been completely understood, and thus is able to be resolved!
To view and appreciate an exhibition like this was such a refreshing contrast to previous exhibitions I had visited. It’s the underlying honesty of what Bacon did that I am now able to appreciate.. As Jeremy describes in Part 7:5 of Freedom: Expanded Book 1 ‘…no one has been able to visually depict the human condition more truthfully than Francis Bacon’. Mind you, there’s plenty of people that can’t stand Bacon’s work—for the same reason that his honesty is refreshing, it’s also confronting and Bacon has had enormous opposition and critical attack on his work. But what did Bacon himself think of his images of human misery? As Jeremy describes further “When Sylvester asked Bacon directly to ‘tell me what you feel your painting is concerned with’, Bacon replied, ‘it’s concerned with my kind of psyche, it’s concerned with my kind of—I’m putting it in a very pleasant way—exhilarated despair’ [p.83] (Interviews with Francis Bacon, David Sylvester, 1975 & 1980)”. Works like Bacon’s are such precious, honest reminders of the current psychological state of humanity—a state that when looked at honestly is one we all want to resolve and move on from. Thankfully we now can.