I’m not a particularly funny person. I never remember jokes, I’m not fast enough on my feet to be witty, I would never make it as a court jester. But I was proud to have coerced a giggle out of Mr Lee on Sunday when, after completing our Francis Bacon Experience, I asked him “So, did I bring home the bacon, or what?”
I didn’t actually have anything to do with the organising of the Francis Bacon: Five Decades exhibition at the Art Gallery of Sydney. My use of the phrase had more to do with the fact that I’d won us a double pass to the exhibition, complete with private tour by curator Anthony Bond, fancy champagne breakfast before-hand, a copy of the catalogue AND a year’s membership to the gallery. I did this via a tweet I wrote as part of an ABC 702 radio competition. So yes. Bacon was brought. (Courtesy of 702 and the Gallery.)
I’d seen a few of the paintings before, at the Tate in London, I think. But never all of these together, and not grouped in this way. The curator mentioned that he wanted to put together the most significant pictures from each decade to give us a new and cohesive way at looking at Bacon’s work. I bought it. It did seem to work quite powerfully. Hard to forget the room filled entirely with giant triptychs of his recently-passed lover George Dyer. (He died from an overdose of sleeping pills in their hotel room, the night of a big show opening of Bacon’s work in Paris. S.a.d.)
Having never studied the works of Francis Bacon before, there was plenty I didn’t know and learned over the course of the tour. Here’s just a few.
– there are only about 500ish paintings in existence, because Francis Bacon destroyed quite a few works when they didn’t work out properly.
– Brett Whitely did some cool portraits of him. They both seem to have that strong, determined line in common.
– His father tried to beat his asthma out of him as a child, and once sent him to work with the stable boys as punishment – whom he subsequently seduced.
– The circles in his paintings are often done via printing the caps of his paint tubes.
– The big blobs of white paint were added spontaneously when he felt the paintings were ‘lacking something’ (e.g. Triptych 1970, in the middle painting of him and George on swings/hammocks.)
– He used spray cans to add that dappled bruising effect in some of the boxer paintings in the 80s.
– There is a tenderness I missed in the mad gas-mask like abstractions of his portraits. Sometimes an eye or a posture is so soft and warm and vulnerable. It brought me back to a Francis Bacon quote that was highlighted in the gallery: “The greatest art always returns you to the vulnerability of the human situation.”
Most interestingly Bacon claimed to be totally uninterested in telling his own story (even though his own life story is so fascinating) in his work. He wanted it to be seen as spontaneous and the result of a happy accident. Ultimately, he wanted his work to be up to interpretation by the viewer – to tell the viewer’s story. I think it’s a great exhibition to see for that reason alone. An hour spent seeing your own stories reflected in Bacon’s work. Go see it and tell me what you see.