Being & Alien
Ontological-Slime Self Portrait 2000 Alex Alien
School of Francis Bacon
Study for Head of Lucian Freud 1967 Francis Bacon
"I painted to be loved."
Francis Bacon, The Last Interview, The Art Newspaper, June 2003.
"I look at a chop on a plate, and it means death to me. I would like some day to trap a moment of life in its full violence, its full beauty. That would be the ultimate painting."
Francis Bacon, "Distorting into Reality", TIME, June 8th, 1962.
"No one else is Francis Bacon - there is an irreducible specificity to his being-in-the-world - but as with every other artists, on can read off of Bacon's work the totality of art history, a totality his work endlessly retotalizes and projects towards the future."
Dana Polan, Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, Gilles Deleuze and the Theatre of Philosophy, Routledge, 1994.
"Bacon's work is the most profoundly disquieting manifestation I have yet seen of that malaise, which since the last war, has inspired the philosophy of Sartre [There is] a literary parallel in Kafka's nightmares of frustration, which largely owed their inspiration to Kierkegaard's philosophy of despair."
Nevile Wallis, Nightmares, The Observer, 26 November, 1949.
"In a back-street behind Piccadilly, a man may sometimes be encountered wearing a huge pair of sun-glasses, grey flannel coat, tight trousers, grey flannel shirt, and black tie. He walks rapidly into the darkness. He has cropped hair, a round puffy face and looks about 35. He is in fact in his early fifties - his conquest of age at once gives him a slightly spooky, Dorian Gray quality - and he is the painter, Francis Bacon... He is, indeed, a freak."
Observer Profile - Francis Bacon, The Observer Weekend Review, Sunday, May 27th,
"If you go into one of those big butcher's shops, especially Harrods - it is not to do with mortality like lots of people think, but it's to do with the colour of meat. The colour of meat is so powerful, so beautiful really. People ask me why my pictures have this feeling of rawness and mortality. If you think of a nude, if you think of anything going on around you, think how raw it all is. How can you make anything more raw than that?.. I really work to try and excite myself. I never expected my work to sell at all. I do sell bits but not with any ease."
Francis Bacon, Carcasses and crucifixes, The Times, Monday May 20, 1985.
"Bacon is a self-taught painter but that does not prevent him from being a masterly painter. He is even a masterly illusionist. The texture of flesh is something that is no more difficult for him to render than it was for Courbet or Rubens. And that is his ultimate secret, for no sooner has he presented us with the convincingly painted illusion, so that we believe in it, optically, then he defaces it, as though he were mocking our belief. The flesh becomes ambiguous and ghostly; it becomes ectoplasm as we watch it. Bones become jelly, bodies become alarmingly vulnerable, belief gives way to doubt."
Eric Newton, Mortal Conflict, The Guardian, Thursday May 24th, 1962.
"Francis Bacon is, to me, the main guy, the number one kinda hero painter. There's a lot of painters that I like. But just for the thrill of standing in front of a painting... I saw Bacon's show in the sixties at the Marlborough Gallery and it was really one of the most powerful things I ever saw in my life [...] The subject matter and the style [are] united, married, perfect. And the space, and the slow and the fast and, you know, the textures, everything. Normally I only like a couple of years of a painter's work, but I like everything of Bacon's. The guy, you know, had the stuff."
David Lynch, interviewed by Chris Rodley, Lynch on Lynch, Faber and Faber, 1997
"Somehow Francis got to the centre of your life. Being with him was such an enlivening experience that you wanted to have him at the centre of your life. I don't think he could have got through life being as difficult as he was if he hadn't had a hugely positive and vital effect on the people around him. You tended to get swept up in it."
Michael Peppiatt, The Observer Magazine, Sunday January 29th, 2006.
"It is a cliché to say that Francis Bacon's lifelong theme has been despair. But in the light of this latest painting I think we should begin to look back on his work and ask whether the cliché is really true. There is something here more deliberate, more chosen and more willed than despair. Something vicious and purely evil."
Richard Dorment, on Bacon's 1988 Second Version of Triptych 1944, The Daily Telegraph, 3rd February 1989.
"It is Bacon's revolutionary treatment of the head that is his greatest overall achievement. No one, not even Picasso, had dared to twist and mould the skull and the face as Bacon does, smearing them, scooping great hollows out of them, turning them inside out, and yet always retaining a likeness which, as in the case especially of George Dyer and Henrietta Moraes, become more compelling and unmistakeable the more violent the distortion."
John Banville, False Friend, Exposed: Francis Bacon's secret photographs, The Sunday Telegraph, 27th February, 2005.
"Sir John [Rothenstein] mentions Nieitzsche as one of the writers Bacon constantly re-reads, and something he wrote in The Genealogy of Morals has a bearing on a recent remark of Bacon's: 'I have deliberately tried to twist myself but I have not gone far enough.' Nietzsche wrote that is the self-tyranny and delight of the artist to 'give form to himself as a piece of difficult, refractory and suffering material'. Bacon sets no limits to his elf tyranny. What more can be done he will do."
Robert Melville, Francis Bacon, Studio International, July 1964.
"For Bacon's is not fundamentally an art of exaggeration: it is the exaggerations in ourselves, or in our neighbours, which we dread to recognise. Bacon's art reveals to us, often for the first time, and with the impact of prophecy, the true nature of the world we live in... And are the events which Bacon sets before us more dreadful than those of which we read every day in the newspapers?"
John Russell, Titian Crossed With Tussaud, The World of Art, The Sunday Times, 27th May, 1962.
"The two sexes met in Francis Bacon, more than in any other human being I have encountered. At moments he was one of the most feminine of men, at others one of the most masculine. He would switch between these roles as suddenly and as unexpectedly as the switching of a light. That duality did more than anything perhaps to make his presence so famously seductive and compelling and to make him so peculiarly wise and realistic in his observation of life."
David Sylvester, Francis Bacon: The Human Body, Hayward Gallery, University of California Press, 1998.
"A great artist leaves deep traces. Francis is as much alive after his death as he was when he was here. He was a transforming person. If you met him and spent time with him, you couldn't help but be changed, and this effect goes on. I think that's one of the signs of great genius, a person who actually transforms the lives around him."
Michael Peppiatt, The Independent On Sunday, March 9th 2003.
"Very few people find their real instincts. Every now and then there's an artist who does and who makes something new and actually thickens the texture of life. But it's very rare. You have to be able to be really free to find yourself in that way, without any moral or religious constraints. After all, life is nothing but a series of sensations, so one may as well try and make oneself extraordinary, extraordinary and brilliant, even if it means becoming a brilliant fool like me and having the kind of disastrous life that I have had. That is it."
Francis Bacon, Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, Michael Peppiatt, Westview Press, 1996.
"Well, I think that Berger did a lot of damage. By promoting lousy artists instead of good ones. He had a lot of influence. He was a very effective writer and a very good broadcaster, but meanwhile, a painter like Francis Bacon couldn’t sell any pictures in this country. The standard price of a Bacon at the Hanover Gallery in the early 50s was 300 or 350 pounds, and nobody was buying them. Here was a great painter and Berger was too damn stupid to see that. Too prejudiced, too bigoted, too puritanical. He was also too simple and schematised."
David Sylvester, About David Sylvester, Frieze, Issue 30, September - October 1996.
"Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion seems derived from Picasso's Crucifixion, but further distorted, with ostrich necks and button heads protruding from bags - the whole effect gloomily phallic, like Bosch without the humour. These objects are perched on stools, and depicted as if they were sculpture, as in the Picassos of 1930. I have no doubt of Mr Bacon's uncommon gifts, but these pictures expressing his sense of the atrocious world into which we have survived seems [ to me ] symbols of outrage rather than works of art. If peace redresses him, he may delight as he now dismays."
Raymond Mortimer, New Statesman and Nation, 14th April 1945.
"He could not draw. His ability to paint was limited and the way he laid the pigments on the canvas was often barbarous. He had no ideas, other than one or two morbid fancies arising from his homosexuality, chaotic way of life, and Irish fear of death. What he did have was a gimmick, something resembling an advertising-designer's logo. In his case it was a knack of portraying the human face or body not so much twisted as smeared our of shape. It was enough. Such a logo could easily be dressed up by the scriptwriters of the Industry into an image of 'our despairing century'; it fitted their favourite words: 'disquieting', 'disturbing'..."
Paul Johnson, Francis Bacon: Myth of the Modern, The Sunday Times, 3 May 1992.
"Everything Francis Bacon depicts he distorts. And yet every depiction, even if we cannot describe or name the thing depicted, has the infallible ring of truth. An indescribable biomorph hangs down from a wire cage. A boneless, quivering mass of gelatinous flesh drowns in a sink or sits huddled over a toilet. Bacon is obsessed with movement within suspension, and with the suspension of movement. An expressionless face decomposes before our eyes into a psychotic omelette. A violent jet of water is frozen and immobilized as it streaks across the canvas. "
James Gardner, Eminent outrage - British painter Francis Bacon, National Review, August 6th, 1990.
"To tell you the truth, no abstract painting has ever given me the exhilaration of figurative painting. In fact, it bores me. Profoundly When I first heard of Rothko, I thought, well, here is going to be somebody doing the most marvelous things, like Turner, in abstraction. But the problem - with all of abstract expressionism - comes from lack of subject. I think that no matter how far you deviate from it, you need the discipline of the subject. You need the pulsation of the image, the force of the image, to go beyond decoration. Which Rothko didn't have. It was always a beautiful decoration."
Francis Bacon to Joshua Gilda, 'I Think about Death Every day', Flash Art, May, 1983.
"With a few exceptions, a few singularities like Francis Bacon, art no longer confronts evil, only the transparency of evil. And representation stops having any meaning... I am now looking over the bulk of writing on Bacon. For me, it all adds up to zero. All these commentaries are a form of dilution for the use of the aesthetic milieu. What can be the function of this type of object in a culture in the strongest sense of the word?... Bacon is officially used as a sign, even if, individually, everyone can try to pursue an operation of singularization to return to the secret of the exception they represent."
Jean Baudrillard, The Conspiracy of Art, The MIT Press, 2005.
“The thing is one can’t really talk about painting, only around it. After all if you could explain it why would you bother to do it? You always hope that the paint will do more for you, but mostly it's like painting a wall when the very first brushstroke you do gives a sudden shock of reality that is cancelled out as you paint the whole surface. What one longs to do above all, I think, is to reinvent appearance, make it stranger, and more exciting. What one wants in art nowadays is a shorthand where the sensation comes across right away. All painting, well all art, is about sensation. Or at least it should be. After all, life itself is about sensation.”
Francis Bacon, Francis Bacon - In Your Blood - A Memoir, Michael Peppiatt, Bloomsbury Circus: 2015.
"Picasso is the reason why I paint. He is the father figure, who gave me the wish to paint. In 1929 I saw some completely revolutionary pieces, Le baiser and Les baigneuses. The figures are organic. They were my inspiration in The Crucifixion. Picasso was the first person to produce figurative paintings which overturned the rules of appearance; he suggested appearance without using the usual codes, without respecting the representational truth of form, but using a breath of irrationality instead, to make representation stronger and more direct; so that form could pass directly from the eye to the stomach without going through the brain. Picasso opened the door to all these systems. I have tried to stick my foot in the door so that it does not close."
Francis Bacon, The Last Interview: “I painted to be loved”, Francis Giacobetti, The Art Newspaper, June 2003.
"He was extremely tough, Bacon, even though he could look effeminate and acquiescent. He could take a lot of punishment. At the doctors, they could take out stitches without anaesthetic. He had a high threshold for pain...He was somebody who received and gave a lot of friendship. He had a large capacity for it - a bit like his capacity for drink and life in general. He was a very, very vital person because he slept very little, you know, I mean, even though he had all that drink inside him, he just had a few hours sleep and then he'd be back in the studio working again...He was very vital but he could also be very destructive. You had to be fairly resilient to stay the course. I was fascinated with him, so he became a very central part of my life."
Michael Peppiatt, Love is the Devil; Gay Times, September, 2006.
"This Byronic aspect to his nature had something to do with a complete absence of sentimentality, a recklessness, a bleak rationality, an awareness that his lack of religious faith was in itself despair and also an intense animalism. The animalism was the first thing one felt on meeting him, a palpable magnetic field. He wanted to conduct this nervous energy into his painting, to vent its expressive power. On one occasion I was standing close behind him when an artist he disliked entered the room. Immediately he stiffened, bristled, became alert as a dog. It was the only time I have witnessed the hairs stand up on the back of a human neck. No fight ensued, or hostile conversation. It was more menacing than that. As a younger man he must have been capable of being quite terrifying..."
John McEwan, Francis Bacon, The Sunday Telegraph, May 3rd, 1992.
"Mr. Francis Bacon always paints on the wrong, the unprimed, side of the canvas and perhaps this may be considered typical of his whole approach to his art and of the way in which he always makes difficulties for himself. Difficulties for himself, but not, of course, for those of his admirers, who remain fascinated by the wilfulness of his imagination, the cryptic unpleasantness of his iconography, and his seemingly inexhaustible capacity for discovering yet more perverse and unpromising themes for large and monumental compositions. For these it would be a bitter disappointment if he turned the canvas round and painted some everyday theme in an ordinary way that would permit one to judge, as it is almost impossible to do from most of his work, the real extent and character of his talent for painting."
Mr. Francis Bacon's New Paintings, The Times, Friday November 13, 1953.
"Bacon’s true genius was realizing through an expression of jouissance the
fundamentals of what would later grow into postmodern ironies. He thrust
this idea of jouissance against the physicality of flesh, reducing us
all to meat, and translating the ecstatic moment—sensation, into a visual
expression or the literal and metaphorical violence of confronting the
awareness of our own mortality. He expressed with paint how human violence
had reached an apex that nullified its significance and left the only
alternative an embrace of jouissance. Bacon never one to deny his
connections to the sensations of the Real, fully embraced them instead.
Unlike the postmodernism that grew out Warhol’s silkscreened, star-fucking
irony, Bacon’s postmodernism grew out of a full acceptance of decadence."
Erik Odin Cathcart, The Brutality of Denial - Francis Bacon & Postmodernism, Imagine Zero - Contemporary Art in Context, 2011.
"Since the 'sixties, the painting is the torture. The scale is often epic, but portraiture is always at the centre, because it states, in its most radical terms, the contradiction between the autonomy o the paint and the identity of the subject, corralled, attacked from several sides at once. The light is switched on suddenly, to catch reality by surprise. The contortion characteristic of Bacon's forms is a hanging on to a quarry that tries frantically to escape. There ensures a seesaw struggle in which writhing pigment achieves a succession of brief and partial triumphs: those moments when we forget it because it has suddenly become, with a kind of savage presence, a foot, an ashtray, a cheekbone, a knee clasped in that inimitable British way. And at once the image dissolves into brush-strokes. Thus painting can be said, in Bacon's words, 'to be and not to be.'
Pierre Schneider, 2003.
"I 'm not sure whether I was Francis Bacon's concierge or his butler, but intrusive strangers certainly believed that I had the entrée to his domain. I used to get calls from famous photographers saying that they were great fans of my writing and could they take my picture. I knew what was coming if I didn't speedily decline. 'Would it by any chance be possible to photograph you in Francis Bacon's studio and then perhaps do the two of you together if he happens to be there at the time?' The comedy of being importuned in this way was a nice bonus for having done a book called Interviews with Francis Bacon, which had been widely translated. His love of talking about art made the recordings easy. The hard part was the editing. Interviews with artists, even when they have Bacon's turn of phrase, tend to sprawl and repeat themselves; I wanted the printed version to be economical in exposition and coherent in structure."
David Sylvester, My brushes with Bacon, The Observer, Sunday May 21st, 2000.
"Since his death in 1992, Bacon has gone through all the vicissitudes of a modern master - the disputes over galleries and suspect drawings, the ghastly biopic, and, in a muted sort of way, the critical reaction. Now that Sylvester himself has gone I think that curators and museum directors feel an inexplicable weight lifted... Bacon was an apolitical, good-for-nothing gambler with no principles to blind him to reality. And that is why it fell to him to acknowledge the real meaning of the atrocities whose photographic evidence appeared all over the world with the defeat of Germany... Bacon took the spiritual heart of high culture and stuck a knife right through it... Bacon was a very overt atheist... Bacon puts religion itself in the dock. He was Irish, after all."
Jonathan Jones, The beast within, The Guardian, Tuesday August 9th, 2005.
"Bacon himself dated his artistic coming of age to the Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion of 1944 and imposed the orange triptych (now famous, but which Eric Hall, Bacon’s companion, had trouble persuading the Tate to accept it as a gift) as the fons et origo of everything he had painted. Thenceforth by order of the artist no works prior to 1944 were allowed into the canon – although Bacon had been painting for some twenty years previously… John Russell’s perceptive monograph begins with the Three Studies, and the interviews that David Sylvester conducted and edited brilliantly make only the briefest mention of anything that happened before. Similarly, in later life, Bacon insisted that all retrospectives show nothing prior to 1944."
Michael Peppiatt, Francis Bacon in the 1950s, Yale University Press, 2006.
"There is no doubt that Bacon has a power to upset and to convey distress that reaches very far. Although he denies it, I think this has to do with a view of experience that comes close to existentialist ideas...There is certainly an enormous visceral power in Bacon's imagery. Some British critics go on now about Bacon being evil. This is the line that's being taken quite often - that the implicit negation in Bacon's work makes it impossible for him to be a truly great painter. I don't agree with this. If you read responses in the late fifties and early sixties to Bacon, you find people within the Anglican church saying that he is a religious painter because his paintings convey poignantly the absence of God. The sense of absence is so strongly voiced that it amounts to a lament."
Timothy Hyman, Under Bacon's Black Sun, Art International, No. 8, Autumn 1989.
"In black and white baseball shoes, a pink and white stripped shirt under his black leather bomber jacket, Francis Bacon looks the perfect picture of health, happiness and bonhomie. His whole body twists with a restless energy as he sits in a tubular steel and leather chair in his London gallery. Every sentence is animated by gesture... Despite international fame and great wealth (his triptychs fetch more than £2m), Bacon lives and works as he always has done: aloof, alone and as anonymous as possible... Although he will be 80 next year, Bacon's physical appearance disturbingly belies his age. His fingers are stumpy and strong like a workman's. His face is virtually unlined. His eyes can cut you dead or sparkle with a leprechaun's enchantment. There is an elegance and springiness in his step."
Geordie Grieg, Bacon's art gets the red-carpet treatment, The Sunday Times, 25th September 1988.
"A tough guy himself, Beard attributes the same machismo to Bacon. 'I hate the way Derek Jacobi minces about in that movie. I never saw one homosexual bone in Fran's body!' (At the very least, this counts as an original view.) 'He was strength on strength,' bellowed Beard. 'He was the Rock of Gibraltar, the best of British. Hell, he wasn't camp, the guy used to take a leak in the sink! One time when we were walking through Paris, a car ran over his foot. The driver jumped out to help, but Fran just shrugged like the stoic he was. Next day his foot was so swollen he could hardly walk: that's what Hemingway called grace under pressure.' ... Peter Beard noticed Bacon's weakness for uniforms made from animal skins and polished to a high shine, and drew the obvious conclusion: 'Fran sure as hell loved the Third Reich!' Bacon once gave a figure he painted a swastika armband; he disingenuously claimed that he liked the crooked shape and had no interest in what it signified."
Peter Beard, The Real Francis Bacon, Peter Conrad, The Observer Review, Sunday August 10 2008.
"I also avoided him personally. But there was another thing in that alienation from Bacon and that was, I was angry with him about his ridiculing Jackson Pollock. I thought that his dismissal of Jackson Pollock, who is a greater artist than Bacon, of course, was... I just found it impossible to take. And I felt alienated from him. Of course, Bacon never stopped pouring scorn on Pollock... Well, I don't know if it was defensive. Bacon was pretty scornful about most artists and he rejected most of his own work, too. But I mean he did reject most things. Two of the artists to whom I have been... both whom I admire most and with whom I've been friendliest, Bacon and Giacometti, I dislike the way in which they found so little other art that pleased them and that they accepted."
David Sylvester on Francis Bacon, The John Tusa Interviews, BBC 2001.
"My painting is not violent; it’s life that is violent. I have endured physical violence, I have even had my teeth broken. Sexuality, human emotion, everyday life, personal humiliation (you only have to watch television)—violence is part of human nature. Even within the most beautiful landscape, in the trees, under the leaves the insects are eating each other; violence is a part of life. You are born, you fuck, you die. What could be more violent than that? You come into this world with a shout. Fucking, particularly between men, is a very violent act, and don’t let’s even mention death. In between we fight to protect ourselves, to earn money; we are humiliated daily by stupid idiots for even more stupid reasons. Amidst it all we love or we don’t love. It’s all the same anyway; it passes the time."
Francis Bacon, The Last Interview: “I painted to be loved”, Francis Giacobetti, The Art Newspaper, June 2003.
"With Heidegger, and even more so with Sartre, Bacon has always asserted than man's being is 'being in the world'; thus, for him as well, 'beyond the body is silence, nothing'. Death means to cease being in situations; it is the moment of extreme phenomenological truth experienced by the body. In an interview, Bacon has stated that 'death is the shadow of life, and the more one is obsessed with life, the more one is obsessed with death'. This bracketing is always potential, latent, offset by the feverish tension of living, which finds, as we have seen, one of its most effective exorcisms in eroticism. But when death appears as a stark and hermetic inevitability, no future barrier can can remain between these two parallel obsessions that finally meet in the infinity 'nothingness'. Nothing remains for the painter now but the compassionate yet relentless reporting of the ultimate, the final cry."
Lorenza Trucci, Francis Bacon, Abrams, Inc., New York, 1975.
"I would like to characterize Bacon's pictures as aphoristic images, approximated by what Russell calls Bacon's pursuit of the single picture. By this I mean images concentrated into the sententiousness of the symbol, but which, because they can never be finally specified in meaning, effect a transformation of undisciplined emotion between themsleves and the spectator... The sense of oblivion of being in Bacon's pictures is due to the fact that they are meant to be nothing but appearances abstractly charged with emotion, rather than images of any reality - images with any kind of objectivity, which occurs in them only accidentally. What is normally accidental or momentary, the release of pure - undisciplined - emotion, is made absolute in Bacon... For Bacon, art is a game of emotionally charging appearance rather than a question of presenting clear meanings, of whatever kind, and certainly not the political and religious, which are usually taken literally..."
Donald Kuspit, Francis Bacon: The Authority of Flesh, Art Forum, Summer, 1975.
"Bacon's pessimistic philosophy also makes connection with the gallows of humour, the humour noir, of so much modern literature bred in the emotional climate of World War II, among which he particularly admires the prose of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter. Like these severe but tonic writers, Bacon feels his art represents the simple unalloyed truth of existence as he perceives it, no matter how hard to bear that reality may be. For him, the philosophical Existentialists and their literary followers set the tone with their perception that the basic problems of existence were loneliness, the impenetrable mystery of the universe, and death. Basically, Bacon believes in a form of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's nihilism and certainly, too, in the aspect of the Greek ideal that Nietzsche so enthusiastically endorsed, the Dionysian conquest of pessimism through art."
Sam Hunter, Metaphor and Meaning in Francis Bacon, Smithsonian Institution, 1989-1990.
"Since his death in April 1992, Bacon has rarely been out of the press. Indeed, he often seems to be more alive than ever, with his myth growing more extravagant by the year, as if his existence had been transformed, like a pharaohs, into a vast archaeological dig, with 'finds' being made regularly and reported to an eager public. Numerous paintings long thought lost or destroyed have now come to light; others have been found missing and must at least currently be catalogued with the chilling phrase: 'Present Whereabouts Unknown.' The paintings lost and found have, however, received nothing liker the attention accorded to the voluminous batches of drawings that have surfaced. Here the shades of Bacon have been taken to task since, throughout his life, the artist made a special point of repeating in interviews and to all those who would listen in private that he 'never' drew."
Michael Peppiatt, Bacon's Eyes, Francis Bacon & the Tradition of Art, Skira, 2004.
"A double drama became associated with Bacon: There was the struggle of a desperate man who destroyed most of his own work; and, there was, too, the violence of the imagery in the paintings that did survive - meat decomposing or people screaming. For years Bacon was inseparable from rumour and legend. His nonchalance towards the preservation of his own work, his pleasure in gambling, his visits to André Gidean North Africa, were all threads in the story... Bacon is in his early fifties, but does not look it. It is neither the regularity of his work habits nor the circumspection of his life that has given him his remarkable youthfulness. On the contrary, he has never spared himself, never been a man to take it easy... No other painter of Bacon's generation in England (a mild lot) has displayed the particular qualities of nerve and obsession that seems to characterise the best modern painters in other countries."
Lawrence Alloway, Francis Bacon: A Great, Shocking, Eccentric Painter; Vogue, November 1, 1963.
"The Bacon we know now is a far more rounded and believable figure than the Bacon who died in 1992, and as the man most responsible for the unbelievable Bacon, David Sylvester, is also dead, I feel able to quote what Francis, within months of death, said of him in an interview recorded in a book soon to be published (though it may yet be bowdlerised and frustrated by those who administer his estate) - 'I think David Sylvester is a very intelligent man, but I don't think he has a genuine feel for painting he has no critical sense.' This is evident enough in the many Sylvester-Bacon interviews on which recent writers on Bacon so heavily depend. For the most part these were conducted on the premises of Marlborough Fine Art, Bacon's eximious dealers, in the presence of one of its directors, Valerie Beston, and the early drafts were not only much corrected and adjusted by her, but contain interpolations that are hers rather than theirs. Who was Miss Beston, and what her right to be both Bacon's recording angel and, occasionally, his voice?"
Brian Sewell, Miss B's secret shrine to an unrequited love, The Evening Standard, 27th January 2006.
"Bacon's vision from the late 1930s to his death in 1992 was of a pitiless world. He repeatedly painted the human body or parts of the body in discomfort or want or agony. Sometimes the pain involved looks as if it has been inflicted; more often it seems to originate from within, from the guts of the body itself, from the misfortune of being physical. Bacon consciously played with his name to create a myth, and he succeeded in this. What is different in Bacon's vision is that there are no witnesses and there is no grief. Nobody painted by him notices what is happening to somebody else painted by him. Such ubiquitous indifference is crueller than any mutilation. In addition, there is the muteness of the settings in which he places his figures. This muteness is like the coldness of a freezer which remains constant whatever is deposited in it. Bacon's theatre, unlike Artaud's, has little to do with ritual, because no space around his figures receives their gestures. Every enacted calamity is presented as a mere collateral accident."
John Berger, Prophet of a pitiless world, The Guardian, Saturday May 29th, 2004.
"Events of a terrifying brutality unfold in these sumptuous paintings. What are we to make of them?... Should we indiscreetly turn to Bacon's own tormented life story in search for a key to his work? Francis Bacon's nature undoubtedly concealed considerable depths of suffering and conflict. To realize this one only need take note of the poignant asymmetry of his features.. But even if his life experience was more painful than that of many other people, this alone is not enough to invest his work with any peculiar relevance... Dr Moreau tortured animals to reshape them in his image. In Bacon's paintings it is the very image of man which is taken apart, and its bleeding flesh brought up from the 'depths' and laid before one... Bacon's art, with its admirable form and heartrending subject-matter, may thus be compared to the symptom which, in the deep of night, harrows and plagues one until one awakens from a heavy philosophical sleep. The suffering victim in these works is not Bacon alone, but man in his essence - man who has wandered, unaware, into an uncommendable road, utterly unsuited to his needs."
Michael Gibson, A Question of Terror; Bacon - A Special Issue of Connaissance des Arts, 1996.
"The painting of Francis Bacon (1909-1992) is of importance to contemporary thought because it shares with contemporary theory important insights concerning the real. Bacon understood, as did thinkers like Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007), that we never know the real, merely the appearances behind which it hides. Art, for Bacon, was about feeling and sensing until an appearance could be rendered which stands in for the real. According to this view, the simulation – the painting – is understood as more real than what we see. It is these characteristics of Bacon’s work that are most appealing to contemporary theorists who, like Baudrillard, believe that theory is a challenge to the real. For Bacon the artists 'feelings' (and what he often referred to as 'sensations') are very much what Baudrillard saw as vital to 'the soul of art'. By looking at the ways in which the thought of these two radically independent thinkers dealt with the real we see how artists and theorists can share important epistemological insights. In the case of Bacon and Baudrillard it is an epistemology which values enigma, unintelligibility, and a resistance to collective meanings or truth."
Dr. Gerry Coulter, Overcoming the Epistemological Break, Euro Art Magazine, Issue 05, Winter 2007.
"Accident, instinct, sensation, the unconscious - these concepts were central to Bacon's aesthetic reflections... Accident, as Bacon understands it, is not manifested in the sort of beauty that Lautréamont described as the 'fortuitous encounter of an umbrella and a sewing machine on a dissecting table', Such anticipation of the the Surrealsists' collages shows Bacon's lack of interest in uniting two apparently irreconcilable realities on a plane where they seem not to belong, in the manner of Max Ernst... Accident's territory is essentially in the palpable signs of the artist's work process; it manifests itself in the traces and marks of the paint-saturated brush on the canvas... In any event, Bacon endeavours to take accident as a departure point, to accept what has arisen spontaneously as the initiation, yet then to modify, to transform, to control it and finally to ascribe some function and hence some of the apparently meaningless, be it a sense of the resistant, the unassimilable, the disconcerting or the grotesque...The element of chance that Bacon invokes obviously has nothing to do with automatism or spontaneity; in his terminology the accidental is bound to the force of instinct, which plays a central role in his thinking."
Armin Zweite, Accident, Instinct and Inspiration,
Affect and the Unconscious; The Violence of the Real, Thames &
"To understand the force of Bacon's images we have to understand the way in which they undercut the regime of representation. Now this regime is described by the fact that it ties together my wish to see and what is presented to me, a unity of the scopic field and the spectator. But when the gaze as an object becomes detached from this scene, a dislocation occurs. A gap opens up—the circuit is broken. The illusion of wholeness has been, as it were, castrated. In fact we can treat Bacon's images as just that—castration erupting within our wish to see, within the scopic field... One no longer has vision, but the eye lives on. The function of vision has been subtracted from the eye. The violence of sensation has squeezed out a literal essence of being, the lamella, a puddle of being. To claim that the lamella appears in Bacon's work is to claim that he has taken the detachment of the gaze to its limit. The painting are as far as possible withdrawn from the painting of everyday life, while yet capturing the 'appearance' of a human being. The violence of the painting is the correlate of the violence of appearing. What is at stake is not violence but paint."
Parveen Adams, The Violence of Paint; The Emptiness of the Image, Routledge, New York, 1996.
"Francis liked to say, 'I'm only attracted by men at least 30 years older than me.' But there came a time, rather a lot later, when he said, 'The awful thing is that now the people older than me are too old to do anything.' ... He had a boyfriend - an ex-fighter pilot who, since Francis had got older and his tastes had changed, was younger than he was. He really fell in love with him. He was a rich fighter pilot, or certainly well off, and he was sadistic, which Francis liked. He knocked Francis about and beat him up. Once, when I saw Francis, one of his eyes was hanging out and he was covered in scars. I didn't really understand the relationship - after all, you don't. But I was so upset seeing him like this that I got hold of the pilot's collar and twisted it around. He would never have hit me because he was a 'gentleman' - do you see? - he would never get in a fight. The violence between them was a sexual thing. I didn't really understand all this. Anyway, I didn't talk to Francis for about three or four years after that. The truth is, Francis really minded about this man more than anyone."
Lucian Freud, On Francis Bacon, The Sunday Telegraph, 24 September, 2006.
"The paintings of Francis Bacon embody his passionate and determined challenge of 'fate' in its various guises. His marked fascination for Aeschylus' Orestes or Christ rests with their having questioned fate, while the Eumenides or Furies of Greek mythology, first presented in Three Studies for Figures at the Base of Crucifixion (1944), became a leitmotif in the English painter's work. Even the manner in which Bacon approached the canvas was described by him as a struggle between the artist's will and the 'inevitability' of the paint. But what is fate for many of us Bacon preferred to call chance or accident. The distinction for him rested with the artificial explanations or beliefs we impose upon life. Bacon attacked these relentlessly because they engender an unquestioning and destructive acceptance of the vagaries of life, or, simply put, they result in a fantastic approach to life... In large part what Bacon admired of the writer he read was not what could be appropriated and re-formulated through the language of paint, but rather what could not. "
John G. Hatch, Fatum as Theme and Method in the Work of Francis Bacon, Artibus et Historiae, Vol. 19, No. 37, 1998.
"A dozen or so years ago Bacon himself was still alive. He was extremely successful and, by the standards of the day, very rich. Millionaires scrambled for his work and endured long waiting lists at Marlborough Fine Art, his dealer... Here is England's most celebrated recently dead painter. He is probably the best-known one, and possibly the most popular, since JMW Turner. But Turner painted things the English love: landscape, grand and tender effects of weather and light, images of mountains and the sea which are saturated with primordial, romantic power. He couldn't draw a portrait or paint a figure that didn't look like a worm or a spindle, but that had no effect on his reputation. Whereas Bacon's main subject and primal obsession is the human figure, radically reshaped and engaged in an activity that, before 1969, was punishable in England - and quite often was punished - by criminal prosecution, social obloquy and jail. A small step for a man, but a giant leap for (consenting, adult) mankind. This painter of buggery, sadism, dread and death-vomit has emerged as the toughest, the most implacable, lyric artist in late 20th-century England, perhaps in all the world."
Robert Hughes, Horrible!, The Guardian, Saturday August 30 2008.
"He took the Crucifixion, stripped it of all its Christian implications, and invested it instead with the universal beastliness of man and abattoir, running with blood, deafened with screams. As a ortrait painter he was not the friend with insight but the harsh interrogator, the man outside the ring of light with lash and electrodes close to hand. His prisoners, presidents, popes and old friends squirmed. He used the ideas of the trap, the cell, the cage, the X-ray and heavy fall of light to imprison and torment his subjects to distil the violence, and to assault complacent senses with graceless nakedness on the lavatory pan and vomit in the wash basin... Bacon took the vile, sexually and politically obscene, and shudderingly visceral, and lifted them with paint so that we might contemplate ferociously profane images of cruelty and despair and see in them inheritance from the great Renaissance themes of religious and temporal power. Titian, Rembrandt and Velázquez might not have cared for Bacon's work but they would have recognised kinship in his astonishing mastery of paint and the profound pessimistic atheism of his images. He was the perfect mirror of the spirit of our age."
Brian Sewell, Francis Bacon - Obituary, The Evening Standard, 28th April, 1992.
"Being there almost guarantees that the gruesome and horrific are disregarded in the heat of the moment. Bacon's work aspires to this condition, to the status of reported or recorded real-life. The real world is played up whilst precedents in painting or ideas of modern art are played down... Bacon encourages accidents whilst making the images in order to produce a deeper memory of the event. The encouraged accident may produce forms and shapes that trigger in the artist and the spectator heightened emotional responses, 'I think the whole process of this sort of elliptical form is dependent on the execution of detail and how shapes are remade or put out of focus to bring in their memory traces' (The New Decade: 22 European Painters and Sculptors)... Given this ambition Bacon could not be satisfied with abstraction; he needs the human form as subject... Memory is destructive since it is most powerful when it remains hidden from our conscious mind and appears to us unresolved in our unexplained actions. Bacon, like Proust is striving to make himself and us aware of these 'memory traces' and excites himself to provoke their reception on his canvases. Perhaps this is his subject matter, the concern to discover our hidden memory and to stimulate its approximation in paint."
Richard Francis, Memory Traces - Francis Bacon Tate Galley Liverpool, 1990.
"Bacon himself has often suggested that his distortions clear away veils and screens, and reveal his subjects, 'as they really are'... Manifestly, Bacon does not idealise: but , in a similarly universal way, he denigrates. It really does not matter whose likeness he exploits: their face will emerge as that of 'a gross and cruel monster' 'and nothing else'. For Bacon, an individual's face is no more than an injured cypher for his own sense of the irredeemable baseness of man... Bacon's numerous critical supporters have repeatedly insisted that he is a great 'realist' who paints the world as it is. Michel Leiris has recently argued that Bacon 'cleanses' art 'both of its religious halo and its moral dimension'. Bacon himself has said that his paintings can offend, because they deal with 'facts, or what used to be called truth'. Yet Bacon is indifferent to particular truths concerning the appearance, and character, of his subjects. No one could accuse him of being a respecter of persons: in his view, men and women are raw and naked bags of muscle and gut, capable only of momentary spasmodic activity... Whether one accepts Bacon as a 'realist' or not will depend upon whether one shares his particular view of humanity. Bacon is an artist of persuasive power and undeniable ability; but he has used his expressive skills to denigrate and degrade. He presents one aspect of the human condition as necessary and universal truth."
Peter Fuller, Nature and Raw Flesh - Sutherland and Bacon, Modern Painters, Volume 1, Number 1, Spring 1988.
"At the heart of Bacon's attitude towards man - his almost invariable subject - is the conviction that 'man now realizes that he is an accident, that he is a completely futile being, that he has to play out the game without purpose, other than of his own choosing'; the conviction, too, that the circumstances in which the artist lives and works today make painting (and the pursuit of any art) difficult to the verge of impossibility... Within a few years of his devoting himself fully to painting Bacon was able to find a solution to the difficulties of his own situation: namely to ensure that the paint itself should make an even greater impact than the theme - which he is apt to term the 'story'. The 'story' he cuts down to the barest essentials... Bacon is not only a pessimist about the human condition but about the virtual impossibility of his realizing his own aims as a painter; he has come in fact to believe that they cannot be realized without the aid of chance... By the arresting originality of his representation of reality - an originality that owes much to his reliance on chance to the audacity of his forays across the frontiers of the irrational - Bacon may portend the revival of an art which, unlike the predominant art of today, makes no claim to be self-sufficient but seems instead to communicate, however ambiguously, truths believed to transcend it."
Sir John Rothenstein, Francis Bacon - The Masters, No. 71, Knowledge Publications, 1967.
"Francis opened the door, smiled and said: 'The portrait's finished! I want you to sit in that chair over there and look at it.'... In front of me was an enormous, coloured strip-cartoon of a completely bald, dreadfully aged - nay senile - businessman. The face was hardly recognisable as a face for it was disintegrating before your eyes, suffering from a severe case of elephantiasis: a swollen mass of raw meat and fatty tissues. The nose spread in many directions like a polyp but sagged finally over one cheek. The mouth looked like a painful boil about to burst...The hands were clasped and consisted of emerald green scratches that resembled claws. The dry painting of the body and hands was completely different from that of the wet, soggy head...The head and shoulders were outlined in a streaky wet slime. Francis expected that I would be shocked. He was a little disconcerted. He said it gave him a certain pain to show it to me, but if I didn't like it I needn't buy it...To me the picture was of an unusual violence. The brushwork, the textures, the draughtsmanship were against all the known rules... I was baffled. Could I ever hang the canvas in any place that I live in? The harshness and ugliness would surely give me a 'turn for the worse' each time I saw it... I came a way crushed, staggered, and feeling quite a great sense of loss."
Cecil Beaton on Francis Bacon's portrait of Beaton, 1960; Self Portrait with Friends, Book Club Associates, 1980.
"In Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera there’s a wonderful moment when the scene shifter describes to the girls of the corps de ballet that he has seen the ghost in box five he describes the ghost to the girls and he says, in a way in which logic itself can’t tolerate, but clearly we know exactly what he means, he says: and the ghost has no nose and that no nose is a horrible thing to look at. It’s something that isn’t there but should be. Iwant to suggest that one dimension of the achievement of Bacon is in a sense to take this problem on board directly... What people describe as being ugly we should consider it a defence and if you can undo this defence, if, like Bacon, you can propel the spectator into the midst of meat and find it not only human but essentially human, then, as it were, you remove some of the defences which so often kind of disable, I don’t mind putting it bluntly, disable public taste. It is a struggle. Now if something like this is the case, that I’m more than aware that I haven’t said directly anything about architecture and texture, then one of the ways we might consider the issues this evening is to think within the scope of Bacon’s adult career what also happens within architecture to be able to do that: at the level of a certain materiality and at the level of texture, that is to say, to undermine the public defence against the ugly and actually to propel it towards something new and powerful and human not in a humanistic way but human almost in a somewhat unnerving way.”
Mark Cousins, Architecture & Design in the Bacon Era: Texture, Tate Britain Auditorium, 1st. October 2008.
"Seeing a work by Francis Bacon hurts. It causes pain. The first I saw a painting by Bacon, I was literally left speechless. I was touched so profoundly because the experience was one of total engagement, of being dragged along by the work. I was perplexed about the level on which these paintings touched me: I could not even formulate what the paintings were about, still less what aspect of them hurt me so deeply...This inability to reflect upon the very aspects of works that touch one most seems to be caused by a momentary loss of self... According to most critics of Bacon, his works are about violence, torment, fragmentation, loss... No critic has admitted that the violence itself exercises a particular attraction for him or her; yet when one asserts the thematic centrality of violence, while at the same time, expressing admiration, such an inference is hard to avoid... Bacon's work is often seen as destructive and scary. But once we engage in the work this opinion seems warranted only by the superficial appearance of the images. Bacon's view of the self is, ultimately, uplifting. For his refusal to allow his figures to be defined by the 'other' results, paradoxically, in a loss of self that re-subjectifies the body. The self is secured by resisting gender-positions and by resisting any discourse on identity. And this resistance, seen as an ongoing bodily movement, is the self."
Ernst van Alphen, Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self, Reaktion Books, 1992.
"Bacon has always denied that he set out to emphasise horror or violence. In a chilling series of interviews conducted by David Sylvester, he qualified this by saying: ‘I’ve always hoped to put over things as directly and rawly as I possibly can, and perhaps, if a thing comes across directly, people feel that that is horrific’. He explained that people ‘tend to be offended by facts, or what used to be called truth’. He has repeatedly said that his work has no message, no meaning, or statement to make beyond the revelation of that naked truth... No doubt the ‘horror’ has been over-done in popular and journalistic responses to Bacon. But it is just as naïve to think Bacon is simply recording visual facts, let alone transcribing ‘truth’. Creatures like those depicted in Three Studies can no more be observed slouching around London streets than haloes can be seen above the heads of good men, or angels in our skies. Of course Bacon’s violent imagination distorts what he sees. But the clash between Bacon’s supporters and the populists cannot be dismissed as easily as that. The question remains of whether Bacon’s distortions indeed reveal a significant truth about men and women beyond the facts of their appearances, or whether they are simply a horrible assault upon our image of ourselves and each other, pursued for sensational effects. And this, whether Bacon and his friends like it or not, involves us in questions of interpretation, value and meaning."
Peter Fuller, Roulette Realsit - The art of Francis Bacon, The Age, November 1st., 1983.
"Bacon's painterliness is a way of getting under the skin of things, of destroying their matter-of-fact surface appearance and revealing the flesh of feeling they are made of... The unlocking of the feeling in form, as Bacon calls it, does violence to the image. For Bacon, this violence is a way of forcefully referencing reality, as well as an emphatic statement of his assumption that reality in general is violent... The flesh of Bacon's figure shows the mad music of uncontrolled or undisciplined sensation rebelling against any conformity to the outer order of things - symbolized by the mask of the face - and becoming a kind of idea in itself... There is no harmonious togetherness in Bacon's world, only conflict and self-conflict, self-torture and torture of the other. Perhaps this is why the couplings never do depict anal intercourse, but only the inconclusiveness of their struggle. The one figure cannot really take the other from behind, nor do they confront one another. Their union is, literally, a stalemate and dead-lock... In general Bacon's handling of flesh can be understood as the climactic act of his attempt to fuse fact and feeling, the conscious and unconscious, the critically controlled and accidentally instinctive, the illustrative and imaginative, the photo-slick technically reproducible and the singular texture of particular sensation. All the dichotomies come together in the flesh, which is simultaneously commonplace, and charged with rare personal feeling."
Donald Kuspit, Francis Bacon: The Authority of Flesh, Art Forum, Summer, 1975.
"Since the death of Picasso, Francis Bacon has more than any other painter provided the age with an image, in Ezra Pound’s phrase, of its accelerated grimace. The key to his work is its ambition. He has taken on the great masters of the past without their mythological resources or their requirement to record events. At the same time he has turned his back on the abstract artist’s indulgence in decorative introspection: the painting whose principal subject is itself and the fact that someone painted it. Although his subject matter, the visual impulse which triggers his attempts to fashion an image on canvas, derives from his own sensibility and is to that extent egoistic, Bacon is the least narcissistic of artists. He uses some recollection or preoccupation which is at hand, so to speak, as a prompt for an act of painting. But it is the paint alone, and what happens as a result of its being pushed around on the canvas, which can provide an image of great externality and force, influencing the viewer with a life of its own and doing this independently of the artist. Bacon is in some respects closer to being a sculptor than a painter. The background to his paintings, which are applied at the end, act as a kind of plinth for the images poised upon them. It is sad that Bacon’s eminence occasions, as is often the case with major artists, so much photographic reproduction of his work. The physical grandeur, the sensual texture of his paint outweighs the often horrifying imagery it encapsulates. In reproduction it is the imagery that tells."
Grey Gowrie, The Accelerated Grimace, The Alligator, 16th January 2009
"Two naked figures, faces obscenely eroded by electric-blue shadows, sprawl on a bed. A man huddles like a baboon on the edge of what might be a swing, a coffee table or a hangman's drop. A Pope howls silently behind glass. There is little need to say who painted them. At 62, Francis Bacon is one of the most immediately recognizable painters in the world. For the past 25 years, critics have predicted the collapse of his reputation. Yet by now it seems that Bacon is one of the very few living artists whose work can (but does not always) exhibit the mysterious denseness of meaning, the grip on experience, which are the conditions of a masterpiece. 'Who ever heard,' he once sarcastically asked, 'of anyone buying one of my pictures because he liked it?'... Bacon's work is the kind that invites stereotyped reactions. He is seen as a master of crisis, directing a horror movie. The adjective most often given to his work, nightmarish, is not quite true to Bacon's intentions; it does not go far enough. For nightmares, like movies, end. Bacon's images, on the other hand, are thrust at us as the enduring substance of reality. They are not fantasies, but observation slits into a Black Hole of Calcutta, in which man thrashes about, stifled by claustrophobia and frustration, stabbing with penis or knife at the nearest body. This, Bacon insists, is the real world; it defines the suppressed condition of actual life ... Bacon's work is not pessimistic (or optimistic, for that matter), for it lives outside these parentheses on a terrain of amoral candour about the most extreme situations."
Robert Hughes, Out of the Black Hole, TIME Monday, December 13th, 1971.
"The late Francis Bacon might not appear to have very much in common with an anonymous 15th- century painter of devotional art from Pskov but his Small Portrait Studies at the Marlborough Gallery share a lot of the characteristics of holy Russian icons. If the icon-painter's conventional treatment of the human face makes the saint seem like a being suspended between this world and the next, real yet also holy, Bacon's self-created figurative conventions tend in the opposite direction. Rendering people as restive blurs of swiped paint, he makes of them an odd blend of the human and the animal. Bacon's portraits, like icons, use the transfiguring capacities of painting to talk about the capacity to be transfigured that is inherent within all people - but the difference is that, whereas the icon speaks of an upward transfiguration, an ascent to holiness, Bacon's paintings see only the possibility of people becoming still less than they are. For the abstract gold ground of the icon, symbol of holiness, Bacon substitutes lurid grounds of dark red, green, pink or yellow: his people exist not in a sacred void but simply in a void. But these paintings are less despairing than they are often made out to be. At their best (up until the late 1960s), Bacon's small portraits have a kind of savage, joyous vigour and carnality which communicates not existential gloom but a weird form of celebration - something like the manic exuberance of someone who knows he does not have long to live but has decided (what the hell) to enjoy being alive while he can. These pictures find a kind of spiritual strength in the denial of spirituality."
Andrew Graham-Dixon, From icon to Bacon , The Independent, 26 October, 1993.
"The experience of a work of art's formal unity has, since Kant, been seen as a manifestation of some metaphysical unity: the unity of the faculties of cognition, or as an intuition of the unity of the Spirit. It is seen, in other words, as a symptom in one way or another of man's at-homeness in the world. 'I hate a homely atmosphere', Bacon has said discussing the disjuncture between his painterly painting of forms and figures and the flat and linear handling of the backgrounds and inanimate objects with which they co-exist. 'I always feel that malerisch painting has a too homely background ... I want to isolate the image and take it away from the interior of the home'. Another device Bacon has used to isolate figures is the space-frame, those perspectival lines that seem to demark often invisible enclosures, but which sometimes become part of the architecture in which figures or forms exist. Bacon's is an emotive pictorial space, the space-frames are spatially incoherent. They refuse a consistent depth as well as two-dimensional pattern. They help to deny the integrity of the picture plane, that connoisseur's happy ending, that banality of good taste. Bacon's space is unsystematic, renegotiated, tested against affective resonance, against its imaginative life... In the discontinuities of pictorial language and space, Bacon articulates a rhetoric of the closed circle of the soul in a world that has lost meaning, lost coherence. But the isolation of figures within the space-frames is only an intensification of the predominant characteristic of most of his paintings; the isolated figure within the actual frame. Figures and forms alone within the rectangle of the canvas."
Andrew Brighton, Why Bacon is a Great Artist, ART Monthly, No. 88, July/August 1985.
"The experience of viewing paintings through glass is, of course, common for older works. The shift towards an emphasis on surface that characterized much avant-garde picture-making of the twentieth century, however, meant that the use of glass in framing became a rarity. In this context, Bacon’s insistence upon retaining it, despite employing complex facture in his own works, acts to call attention to it.25 The unusualness of seeing an avant-garde painting mounted behind glass makes the spectator aware of what is a relatively common but usually overlooked visual phenomenon. The mirroring effect of the framing produces a disturbance in the field of vision. If the required act of filtration is not performed then the spectator must see their reflection in place of the work of art and thereby confront their act of seeing. The glass includes the beholder and the gallery space in the painting as a kind of interference or noise. It works to produce what can be described as a ‘making strange’ both of seeing and of the picture surface. In his essay ‘Art as Technique’, Victor Shklovsky wrote that the ‘technique of art is to make objects ‘‘unfamiliar’’, to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged’. Bacon could be said to cultivate just such an aesthetic, a teasing, perhaps even sadistic, one in which the pleasure of visual comprehension is, at least initially, deferred. The way Bacon’s paintings are framed does not detract from the pictorial surface for beholders but actually draws them to attend to it through the labour of divining what lies behind the darkling glass. The unruly reflections that thwart easy looking also constitute an assault on vision. The spectator is made to think about what it is to lose sight, to reflect on the invisible. "
Nicholas Chare, Upon the Scents of Paint: Bacon and Synaesthesia, Visual Culture in Britain, 20o9.
"Bacon demands from his viewer an intense and appalling involvement with the 'figure' in his paintings. Distorting a celebrated motif nevertheless also implicitly cites the image as official artistic doctrine and precedence; Bacon hereby violates the aesthetic 'nervous system' (his metaphor) of the spectator through the formal qualities of his craft: form and paint and surface. Casting the pant as the protagonist in this artistic vision, Bacon is very much in line with the Abstract Expressionists and the modernists more generally... The 'smear' characterising much of Bacon's middle and late work conveys the mobility of the image in the painting; its compulsion to 'free' itself from its imprisonment within representation, what Bacon himself calls 'the energy within the appearance'... The leaking and bleeding in Bacon's portraits make the figure's struggle for formal presence palpable. On the other hand, the transparent box ensures a formalization that contains the threat of total collapse... The smear frees the viewer as well, who finds herself not only viewing the figure and the subject matter, but also participating in their 'liberation' from their own defining qualities - form and paint - through her own consciousness of the acts of painting and viewing... Reality is no longer a visual issue but a sensational (in both senses of the word) and experiential one... The action of leaking involves the spectator in a most deliberate and specific way. In a manner evocative of Antonin Artaud's ideas for a theatre of cruelty, Bacon's work assaults the viewer's sensibilities in a visceral manner."
Claudia Clausius, Francis Bacon: Retrospective Uncertainties; Time & Uncertainty, Brill Academic Publishers 2004.
"By nature as well as avocation Bacon is a gambler. His ability to take a risk and win his wager, whether it be with life or art history, is part of his genius. John Russell (in his book Francis Bacon) has characterized his approach to painting as shooting for 'the National Gallery or the dust-bin.' The risk he takes in his large triptychs is dictated by the goal he sets himself: to achieve the freshness, the instinctive spontaneity of a small sketch without sacrificing any of the formal grandeur inherent in a well-composed large painting. To do this, he works directly on the full-size canvas, without benefit of preliminary drawings. In bypassing the step of adjusting scale, he eliminates the labored planning and cautious execution that result in diminished vitality in many large paintings. Once a background has been summarily blocked in, the figure or figures are fully painted in a rash of semi-controlled marks. If the result is worth preserving, more background is then added around the finished figure. When unsuccessful, the canvas is destroyed in the way other painters tear up their sketches. At a time when museums are tending to remove the glass from all but the most valuable paintings and when artists are shying away from notions of fine art and precious objects, it is rare to find a painter who wants his work to be presented in so formal and even sumptuous a manner. Bacon explains that the glass is to 'remove the images further. I don't think art is available; it's rare and curious and should be completely isolated. One is more away of its magic the more it's isolated.' The dualistic nature of Bacon's art - the ability to maintain a balance between the 'vivid' and the 'formal,' to achieve the integration of small-sketch sensibility and large-canvas grandeur, to exploit the tension between figurative resemblance and the abstract accidentalism of technique - accounts for his success in eluding categorization."
Hugh M. Davies, 'Bacon's “Black” Triptychs', Art in America, vol.63, no.2, March-April, 1975.
"The elusiveness of Francis Bacon's paintings to critical analysis are a measure of their success. As much as one is tempted to examine a particular influence on Bacon's work, and the temptation is great since Bacon has been quite forthcoming in acknowledging his sources, it is practically impossible to draw direct and, consequently, revealing parallels. Furthermore, focusing on any single element in one of Bacon's paintings usually undermines the meaning of the work rather than clarify it. In a sense, though, this was Bacon's objective. In one of his last Interviews, Bacon observed: Most of the time when one talks about painting, one says nothing interesting. It's always rather superficial. What can one say? Basically, I believe that you simply cannot talk about painting, it just isn't possible. Yet, Bacon's paintings have been talked about a great deal with varying success, as one might expect. Part of the problem is that Bacon himself could not refrain from talking about them, fueling an interest in possible links between his work and that of painters like Van Gogh and Degas, or writers such as Aeschylus, Shakespeare and T. S. Eliot. That poets and playwrights are mentioned frequently by Bacon is rather curious since he prefaced the passage cited above by noting: Painting is a world of its own, it's self-sufficient. In addition, his desire to allow narrative to play only a very minor role in his work seems to preclude any parallels with literature. But bacon stressed his favourite authors too often for them to simply be ignored in the context of his own work... In large part what bacon admired of the writers he read was not what could be appropriated and re-formulated through the language of paint, but rather what could not."
John G. Hatch, Fatum as Theme and Method in the Work of Francis Bacon, Artibus et Historiae, Vol. 19, No. 37, 1998.
"Bacon couldn't stand the sight of his own features. Those puffed-up cheeks made him look like a fat toad. The haunted expression of his eyes transformed the toad into a charming monster. He was one of those artists who spend their lives trying to discern their own image in alien things. Maybe homosexual cravings include the desire to see oneself in the mirror of another's eyes...When we came face-to-face for the first time (ahead of his Moscow exhibition), our hectic conversation, lubricated by a bottle of Famous Grouse, left me feeling that he wasn't talking to me but through me—to himself—as if he was reacting not to my words but to the echo of his own thoughts. I might just as well have stood up and walked away, leaving him with a tape recorder... Every artist is a despot of a kind, like all tyrants. Bacon was particularly sensitive regarding his image in the eyes of others. He seemed almost to have a mortal fear of being taken for someone he didn't want to be, and of being unmasked as someone he didn't suspect he was. Paradoxically, that Godlike terror of a clearly defined identity made a ferocious atheist of him. The person who believes in his own uniqueness cannot believe in the existence of an afterlife. The existence of an afterlife implies that your life will be reshaped all over again in a similar vein. That, in turn, means that your life in this world, as a work of art, was a flop. After all, how can a work of art be regarded as unique and perfect if it can be repeated somewhere else, re-created and emulated by someone else, even if by the hand of God?"
Zinovy Zinik, A Pickled Nose; Mind the Doors: Long Short Stories, Context, 2001.
"Bacon's images present the fragmentation that the viewer as subject should recognize as the original inner-sense experience. Their condition is not the result of violence, but conversely, their independence from the violence normally wrought by visual perception. Van Alphen assures us that the only place violence arises as an issue is in the viewer, in whom a temporary loss of self creates pain...Surprisingly perhaps, he focuses upon Bacon's use of the painted blur just as Russell does, and for rather similar reasons. That blur, he feels, articulates the fragmented state of the figures presented, and as such, it visually traces their various sense perceptions. In Reclining Woman for example, the swirling pigment and the figure's position express the rapture of orgasm...Russell aesthetically appreciates the visibility of Bacon's paint, while van Alphen philosophically lauds it. While Russell appreciates Bacon's space for its increasingly convincing quality, however, van Alphen appreciates its ever indeterminate character We can see this indeterminacy in mirrors that don't reflect but alter, frames of images that don't contain but release, and shadows that do not project but redefine. The space in Bacon's work absorbs the figures as they spill from their corporal confines, a process seen most clearly in Two Figures in the Grass, where the figures and space merge into one entity. Van Alphen feels that this lack of figural-spatial boundaries creates a pool into which visible traces of the figure's sensations can spill and accumulate, enhancing viewer awareness of the figure's sense perception. The viewer's enhanced awareness guarantees a loss of self."
Andrés Mario Zervigón, Remaking Bacon - artist Francis Bacon; Art Journal, Summer, 1995.
"Bacon is the man of the moment. But will his reputation last? The impact of his paintings is is unforgettable - coming on one of his huge, horrific canvases is like being hit in the crotch - but it is not the kind of sensation that normally reverberates down the centuries. Yet it seems more and more likely that bacon will be the big British painter of our age. Few painters share his power to conjure up a shape without literally describing it, to create images which are in tangible but at the same time vividly arresting, to create a world of his own in each picture so that you seem to be peering into it through a mental keyhole... Bacon is slightly fey-looking, soft-moving, soft-speaking man, civilised and intelligent, with that elusive anonymity which creates a stronger personality than hairy-chested forcefulness. He slips through any kind of labelling... The slash of paint with which he transforms the features of a friend is a gesture of love so fierce that it makes a revolting wound. 'Each man kills the thing he loves,' quotes Bacon from Oscar Wilde - and he adds, typically, 'Is that true? I don't know.' Tension breeds violence, and violence is everywhere in Bacon's work. You feel the presence of a sensibility so delicate that the gentlest stimulus is an assault. 'I believe that anything that exists is a violent thing. The existence of a rose is a violence.'... Bacon has dredged deeply and agonisingly into the spring of existence. What he brings up is murky, rich, even rank, but it is certainly one aspect of truth. I believe that future generations will continue to be moved by it, and even, which might alarm Bacon, find it totally beautiful."
Nigel Gosling, Francis Bacon: Genius of Violence, The Observer, 5th March, 1967.
"Bacon is an artist who works slowly and whose self-criticism forces him to destroy much. He produces perhaps eight or ten canvases a year… Without formal art training, Bacon did not begin to paint till he was thirty. His inspiration lies in the things of the world: cheap post cards of Monte Carlo, the banner headline. Photographs of Goering and Goebbels, and the photography of Muybridge. A Bacon painting is eloquent of the terror of real life; it is unglamorous, very real, very heartless… When Bacon’s paintings began to appear in the 1940s, the adjective most commonly used to describe them was ‘disquietening’. He had, at first, a cold reception and many critics wrote hostile or frivolous reviews… It might also be said that his paintings have a case history quality. In 1953 Bacon started his series of paintings based on Velázquez’s Pope Innocent X. In these paintings – he does not know the number of them - he used a face smear technique. One would be inclined to say the face had been meticulously painted, then partly rubbed out by great strokes of a gigantic eraser, in order to confound the eye. What are the hyena-cardinals doing – delivering hysterical sermons or diabolically quizzing an unseen prisoner? We cannot say. These shattered pillars of the church are seen variously. The Seated Cardinal, for instance, wears a pinkish-blue cape and vestment, painted in sick dirty colours. Irresistibly the strangeness of Bacon’s vision imposes itself on you."
Howard Griffin, Francis Bacon - Case History Painting, Studio, May 1961.
"Since the death of Picasso, Francis Bacon has, more than any other painter, provided the age with an image, in Ezra Pound's phrase, of its 'accelerated grimace'...He himself dates his career from the 1944 triptych Three figures at the Base of a Crucifixion in the Tate Gallery. At first glance, this work still owes much to Picasso. It is a stud, like the paintings and sketches of the Guernica period, of how to assault the nervous system of an onlooker with formal equivalents for pain, mental stress, distortions not of art merely but of daily living and his own hold upon it...Like Eliot's early poetry, a direct influence, Bacon's paintings are documentaries of nervous stress. Given the era in which we find ourselves living, this comes as no surprise. What is surprising is the attempt to endow our diminished psychological circumstances with painting that can achieve the formal grandeur and the beauty of texture of the greatest Old Masters. These characteristics remain, in his best paintings, long after the initial assault on the system has worn off. When things work, therefore, the quality achieved is joy, which is, as Bacon said it should be, the purpose of art."
Grey Gowrie, Francis Bacon, Modern Painters, Volume 1, No.4 Winter 1988/9.
"Francis Bacon was sui generis. He didn't even have precursors in the Borgesian sense of the word - meaning precursors who were 'created' by him, whose work is amended and endowed with previously unperceived meaning because of what it has inadvertently engendered... Bacon came from nowhere and led nowhere; indeed he might have elected to take such a course. His boasts of bibulous gregariousness and his aptitude for acquaintanceship hardly disguise his solitariness nor his concomitant lack of solidarity with other painters. He painted what he had to paint, what chose him. More wittingly, he painted what other painters didn't. He disliked the illustrative, the 'literary' and the narrative as much as he did abstraction. It was the gap between these poles that he occupied. Bacon was, however, part of a tradition of representational experiment and of painting as something more than drawing by other means. He was even perhaps the culmination of that tradition, the last great modern painter, a manipulator of marks and thence of sentience, of visceral and dorsal antennae. He addressed the core questions of human existence with a grotesque wit and a high seriousness that are entirely atypical of English practice... It is arguable that Bacon never painted anything but himself. "
Jonathan Meades, Francis Bacon; New Statesman, Vol. 127, February 6th, 1998.
"Bacon can't paint a foot or an ear or a hand. Some of the curves he used to describe physical forms are so slack they would have got him fired from a Disney workshop. So Bacon smudged and threw paint and turned forms back in on themselves and disrupted their logic, instinctively hiding his own deficiencies. These smears of paint describing swollen and distended shapes, especially in the portrait, seize attention and distract the eye from what lies between. Which is nothing. Nothing will come of nothing. And Bacon's nothing isn't even a black hole, it is a break down in communication. The painting stops dead between the smears of pigment. There is nothing there because it hasn't been described or constructed or placed...The process, an eruption, sounds unpleasant, and it was; because the secret of Bacon's successful work was the paint, like a gigantic eructation of pus. The Grand Guignol apparatus of screaming heads, the sides of raw meat, the smeared visages underpinned this visceral sense of horror... He borrowed motifs, fair enough, but imposed sketchily realised pictorial devices, like the frame crudely articulated to impose some sense of control over the central images sprawling like something from under a stone."
Michael McNay, Just a pile of paint and a nightmare of chic thrills, The Guardian Weekend, 2-3 May, 1992.
"Some art is wallpaper. Bacon's is flypaper, and innumerable claims stick to it: over the past 40 years it has attracted extremes of praise and calumniation. There are still plenty of people who see his work as icily mannered, sensationalist guignol. He is the sort of artist whose work generates admiration rather than fondness... The truth is that the Bacon one sees this time at the Tate has much more in common with old masters than with contemporary painting. The paint acquires a wonderful plenitude in becoming flesh. One thinks of the coruscated light, the Venetian red interstitial drawing, in Tintoretto. This kind of paint surface is part of the work of delivering sensations, not propositions, and it is neither idly sumptuous nor 'ironically' sexy... None of this would be possible without Bacon's mastery of the physical side of painting. Much has been made of his reliance on chance, but it seems to have affected his life (he is an inveterate gambler, an addict of the green baize) more than his art. One could say the ejaculatory blurt of white paint in a painting like Two Studies for a Portrait of George Dyer, 1968, is chancy, but that kind of chance is easily manipulated with practice, and it rhymes suspiciously well with other curves in the painting (like the back of the chair in the picture within a picture to the left)... No one could imitate Bacon without looking stupid. But to ignore him is equally absurd, for no other living painter has set forth with such pitiless clarity the tensions and paradoxes that surround all efforts to see, let alone to paint, the human figure in an age of photography."
Robert Hughes, Singing Within The Bloody Wood; At the Tate, a second celebration of Francis Bacon, TIME, 7th July, 1985.
"Bacon frequently said that he would like to paint pictures that affected his nervous system with the raw violence of life itself - what he once called, in a famous phrase 'the brutality of fact'. 'We nearly always live through screens,' he told Sylvester. 'When people say my work looks violent, perhaps I have been able to clear away one or two screens.'... He was, as Sylvester puts it, 'interested in crisis. He would always tend to consider how people behaved, or might behave, in an extreme situation, when people's real quality was put to the test. So he was interested in violence and the extreme. But I think violence, as against horror.' This love of extremity was balanced by a fastidious, hypercritical streak - just as important to him as an artist and a man... A lot of people have missed that beauty. 'I think Bacon has been misunderstood, ' Sylvester insists. 'But, after all, most art is misunderstood because people think it's like story-telling.' Sylvester takes the case of the paintings which deal with the ghastly suicide of Bacon's lover, George Dyer, found dead seated on the lavatory. 'The thing about them which is so amazing is that even when somebody is being sick into a basin, there's a kind of serenity in the composition. This is the tradition of great art.'... Bacon gambled with paint, and didn't always win, but Sylvester admires his nerve. 'I like about Bacon that craziness and courage and lack of fear of being absurd. He really didn't care what people thought. Well, he cared and he didn't care. I think that's a tremendous force in an artist.' So, as time goes on, Bacon doesn't get smaller? The answer is clear: 'Oh, he gets bigger, for me. He gets bigger.'..."
Martin Gayford, Agony or the Ecstasy?, The Daily Telegraph, 1997.
"Bacon's earliest paintings were mostly pastiches of Picasso; though attractive, they failed to sell. Since this driven, as yet unformed artist had no desire to be perceived as a pasticheur, he destroyed most of them. He continued sporadically to paint and decorate, but devoted most of his energies to gambling. Successive stays at Monte Carlo—hence the glimpses of Mediterranean vegetation in the early works—financed by a lover, enabled him to become an expert roulette player as well as a canny croupier in private games. He would approach painting in much the same way as he approached gambling, risking everything on a single brushstroke. Never having attended an art school was a source of pride to Bacon. With the help of a meretricious Australian painter, Roy de Maistre, he taught himself to paint, for which he turned out to have a great flair; tragically, he failed to teach himself to draw. Painting after painting would be marred by his inability to articulate a figure or its space. Peppiatt recalls that, decades later, so embarrassed was Bacon at being asked by a Parisian restaurateur to do a drawing in his livre d'or that he doubled the tip and made for the exit. After Bacon's death, David Sylvester, the artist's Boswell-cum-Saatchi, attempted to turn this deficiency into an advantage. In a chapter of his posthumous miscellany, entitled Bacon's Secret Vice, he proposed an 'alternative view' of this fatal flaw: 'His most articulate and helpful sketches took the form of the written word.' The 'precisely worded' examples that supposedly demonstrate the linguistic origin of Bacon's paintings turn out to be a preposterous joke: offhand notes scrawled on the endpapers of a book about monkeys: Figure upside down on sofa; Two figures on sofa making love; Acrobat on platform in middle of room; and so on. Sylvester's contention that this shopping list constitutes 'Bacon's most articulate and helpful sketches' raises doubt about the rest of his sales pitch."
John Richardson, Bacon Agonistes, The New York Review of Books, Volume 56, Number 20, December 17, 2009.