Sunday, September 03, 2006

off ya face

Self-Portrait (1971)

What sort of artist was Francis Bacon (1909-1992)? Horror-cubist? surreal satirist? ghoulish cartoon trickster with a sick sense of humour? His quintessential nature is exemplified in his portraits with their typically bizarre renderings of the human face. The influence of his hero, Picasso, is obvious in this painting, where several images seem superimposed on one another; fragments of faces are seen from multiple perspectives, like looking at an someone from varying viewpoints simultaneously.

His faces typically contain 'morphing' in the surrealist tradition - warped, melting figures & shapes defy logic - yet with a hard, sadistic edge. Vigorous 'mutilation' is a trademark; faces are grossly disfigured, as if seen through the hallucinating eye of a drunk. 'Blurring' is common: both the 'shutter-effect' of action photography (his fascination with depicting movement) or identities are smudged aggressively into near obliteration.

Overall, 20th Century painting seems largely a flight away from 'reality' and accurate lifelike depiction. Rather than portraying how things actually look, artists instead striving to capture images, visions and sensations in a painter's own mind. A sense of collage colours Bacon's work: elements of cartoon & rough sketchings merge and/or contrast with patches of realism - all applied in a pastiche of brushstrokes and painting techniques. There are often traces of gore, bloody reminders of the corporeal flesh beneath a human's observable surface. Yet mostly he sought to accurately describe the 'psychological truths' (the moods, personality and emotional characteristics) of his models. Like caricature, his portraits clearly represent and resemble real people - their identities are unmistakable - but without actually being a true or literal illustration of that person.

1 comment:

Rob Good said...

I think he was drinking Absinthe when he created that one.