Bacon, Francis

Bacon, Francis
   b. 1909, Dublin; d. 1992, London
   Francis Bacon was the most prominent English painter of the twentieth century until his death in 1992. Major retrospectives were assembled by the Tate Gallery in 1962 and 1985 (see Tate(s)). A selftaught artist who worked against the current of midcentury painterly abstraction, Bacon experimented with the visceral and expressive dimensions of figuration. His aim, he famously suggested, was to ‘hit the nervous system’, and this desire to shock in part explains his concentration on the grotesque and exploration of violent and disturbing images. Bacon’s first major painting, the triptych Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944), exemplifies his distinctive coun-terpointing of brutally contorted biomorphic forms and the unadorned geometric settings which confine and isolate them. The harsh flatness of Bacon’s early paintings and their traumatic iconography became points of cultural reference in postwar Europe. Bacon radically reworked particular images from the tradition of European oil painting. In his wellknown sequence of ‘screaming popes’ (1949-mid- 1950s), he transformed the formal iconography of Velazquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650) into a series of nightmarish studies in modern claustrophobia and isolation. Bacon’s practice of serial image making was informed by his study of photography, and he used newspaper photographs, radiographic images and film stills as source materials. Bacon particularly admired Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic motion studies of men wrestling (c.1885) and based an important series of male nude images on them. The motif of the male nude and copulating male bodies spans Bacon’s career from Two Figures (1953) to Triptych-Studies of the Human Body (1979), and represents his most sustained and complex aesthetic exploration of homosexual desire.
   In the 1960s–1970s, Bacon produced studies in the male nude, self-portraits and portraits of friends. In these works the mood is more personal and their style less distorted. Following the suicide of his lover and companion George Dyer in 1971, Bacon produced a series of memorial triptych paintings, including the poignant images of Three Portraits- Triptych (1973). In his late work, Bacon continued to explore uncanny images, as exemplified by the truncated male nude torso adorned in cricket pads in Study of the Human Body (1982). Bacon’s influence can be traced in the work of David Hockney and more generally in the figurative revival associated with Neo-Expressionism.
   See also: painting
   Further reading
    Sylvester, D. (1987) The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon, London: Thames and Hudson (a series of definitive interviews).

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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