Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon’s painting has been characterized as accentuating a latent state of things, as writing (in many works we see a character seated on a stool), as frozen action, petrified in those images of water jets or in the use of small red, black, or white arrows. Despite this dynamism and impulsive vitality, the configuration of closed spaces, prevails in Bacon’s works. Precisely on this stage of inner doors, ordered like an oppressive huis clos, Bacon establishes a web of sensitive relations that visually mark the limits of pictorial space. It is a question of a net formed with permanent indicators: the electric cable of a light bulb; straight or curved lines that make a box; arrows; circles that surround the isolated figures; paintings within the paintings; paper left on the ground.

This exhibition was drawn from the paintings of the last decade. Nine of them displayed a certain calm, a serene quiet. We were not standing before a series of images surprising in their novelty (something that did not seem to worry him), rather, in these last works, Bacon offers quietude and contemplation.

It would be easy and simplistic to read these works as an omen of death. There are no echoes of decadence nor forced signs of decrepitude that allude to his end. Bacon does not permit a teleological reading, rather, his works are filled with historicity. He was no stranger to the chaos of World War II, for example, nor to personal pain due to the death of his friend George Dyer, as exemplified in his series of triptychs, Triptych. August., 1972, Triptych. May-June., 1973. Triptych. March., 1974. The horror, the abjection that oozed from the crucifixes has been transformed in his last paintings into quiet solitude. The masculine bodies entwined in a carnal embrace have given way to the solitary figure leaning over the washbasin, standing firm on the smooth ground, neutral, bald-headed, his convex back deformed, his testicles contracted in a fold.

Bacon’s concept of space has not been modified: the same sparse, even walls of horizontals and verticals and a similar chromatic treatment characterize these late works. The confined space in which his figures move or their apparent immobility are no more asphyxiating than in previous periods. Even in works like Study for Self-Portrait, 1981, a mocking smile begins to be seen on the face split in two.

Conscious of the deterioration that time and experience leave on bodies, Bacon does not hide the wear and tear left by the years—above all the marks on the face, the wrinkles, the thinning hair—in his self-portraits. Folding back into himself, his gaze explores the pulse of life, the internal fissure. He is not interested in the immediate contour that envelops his figures; the gaze is not fixed on the objects. The simple, spare atmosphere of the rooms indicates this, contradicting the golden, lustrous frames in a ridiculous even absurd manner. In a statement to Richard Cork, Bacon declared: "I used to think of making dozens of things that I have never made. Our energy fluctuates and there is never enough time.

Since time passes so quickly, one can never speak in definitive terms, one can never plan the future. It simply happens . . . suddenly. Everything else seems superfluous."

Juan Vicente Aliaga

Translated from the Spanish by Vincent T. Martin.