Thursday, October 23, 2008


I went to see the Francis Bacon retrospective at Tate Britain. It is a comprehensive, impressive, almost awesome exhibition. But I can never 100% agree with the general opinion that Bacon is among the greatest painters of our time and right up there in the pantheon of all-time Masters.

Part of me says: yes, he does have that masterish assurance, universality, je ne sais quoi. While another inner voice snorts: yeah, but what about the Disney in him? What about that push-pull-the-flesh tricksy formula that he applies over and over again? Sometimes it really works and the way his brush manipulates oils is magnificently bravado. But at other times, isn't it just like the effects you can achieve in Photoshop? I know he never used a computer but the pictorial language Bacon devised is not unlike a software programme calculated by geeks to imitate what they assume to be the artistic process.

My doubts about Bacon's work can be summed up in Cole Porter's lyrics: " Is it the good turtle soup or merely the mock?" I think he worked really hard to produce the turtle soup but the poseur in him, the interior decorator, was never entirely overcome. The Disney factor is there, if you look long enough: those semi-circles that appear around the eyes in all the faces, the curvy-curly contours of bodies, the cartoonification. Snow White stripped, stretched, inflated, carefully messed up and laid out on an operating table.

The monographs and critiques about Bacon always stress his subject matter - the tragedy, cruelty, carnality of all those screaming, writhing, grappling, copulating, vomiting, shitting figures. Their existential hopelessness. Everybody knows about Bacon's chaotic lifestyle and we've seen photos of his chaotic studio so it all fits the concept of the decadent, tragic artist.

But I'm not convinced by this interpretation. Listening to him and watching his face on video when being interviewed I saw something else: it's not existential angst that inspired him: it's pictures.

He made pictures about pictures and he found a system for avoiding what would have been the banal copying of those photos and paintings which stimulated him - a combination of abstract expressionism's wilfully random paint-gestures and a carefully designed Picasso-esque distortion of the form. Add to that a plain, strong-coloured background and a box-like enclosure and you've brought home a Bacon.

My view is only my view and I wanted to have some fun with it so I took liberties in Photoshop for a while. Here are the results.

Francis baconised by Natalie (using Liquify and other Photoshoppery)

Master Duck and Master Bacon. Watch those curves!

Far fetched? Not if you imagine the stages between Snow White becoming the creature on the table.


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