1. Take a look at Bacon’s unusual use of architectural framing
In the 1930s Bacon began using a dramatic compositional trope which he would retain throughout his career; the ghostly lines which frame his figures. Francis Bacon: Invisible Rooms is a rare exploration of this motif.
In his writings, Bacon expressed the view that a scene represented within a ring is stripped from its narrative. It is likely he placed his subjects in ‘invisible rooms’ to remove them from their context, too. He places them on what the French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze, described as a ‘mobile pedestal’; displaying the central form just like an object in a museum.
By adding these architectural shapes to his paintings he creates a sense of confinement and isolation which emphasises his subjects’ intense emotional states.
2. See, first hand, rarely seen documents and drawings
Bacon denied making preparatory sketches, insisting on the spontaneity of his paintings, as seen in this interview with David Sylvester:
David Sylvester: And you never work from sketches or drawings, you never do a rehearsal for the picture?
Francis Bacon: I often think I should, but I don’t. It’s not very helpful in my kind of painting, as the actual texture, colour, the whole way the paint moves, are so accidental, any sketches that i did before could only give a kind of skeleton, possibly, of the way the thing might happen.
Interview with Francis Bacon, David Sylvester, 1992
However, after his death several drawings emerged. Bacon spoke of ideas for paintings falling into his imagination ‘like slides’ into a projector and these lists may represent an attempt to capture those moments of inspiration.
3. He has inspired some of the great film directors of our time.
Crucifixion 1933 inspired Jonathan Demme in 1991’s Silence of the Lambs and paintings such as Triptych–August 1972 1972 influenced Christopher Nolan in The Dark Knight Rises 2012. Here, Nolan discusses how the makeup of lead villain the Joker references Bacon’s work:
Heath Ledger [who played the role of Joker] and make-up artist, John Caglione, and myself were trying to figure out a way to take the clown make up but make it more threatening somehow; more real world, and textured. I wound up taking a book of Bacon paintings and showing them a lot of the different distortions of the way that the paint would run together and the colours would mix.
4. His work is all about being human
Bacon was a moralist and his work focuses on the human condition, as seen here:
I am a painter of the 20th century: during my childhood I lived through the revolutionary Irish movement, Sinn Fein, and the wars, Hiroshima, Hitler, the death camps, and daily violence that I’ve experienced all my life. And after all that they want me to paint bunches of pink flowers … But that’s not my thing. The only things that interest me are people, their folly, their ways, their anguish, this unbelievable, purely accidental intelligence which has shattered the planet, and which maybe, one day, will destroy it. I am not a pessimist. My temperament is strangely optimistic. But I am lucid.
The Independent 2003
5. He is a modern day master
Bacon was obsessed with the work of Michelangelo, Velázquez and Degas, as well as ancient Greek and Roman works. But referring to old masters, doesn’t make you a master. Bacon earned that title by taking these classic references and turning them on their head.
His painting Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X 1953, unapologetically refers to the old masterpiece of the same title. However, Bacon’s version is horrifying and hints at the moral corruption of the church. Meanwhile, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion c.1944, distorts this major religious event beyond recognition:
There was painting in England before the Three Studies, and painting after them, and no one…can confuse the two. John Russell.
Francis Bacon 1993
Throughout Bacon’s work you can sense him gaze unflinchingly on society, on humanity and on the world. His portrayal of people and animals is fearless and brutal but the result is a raw representation of truth. In the aftermath of the Second World War, Bacon’s paintings couldn’t have been more appropriate, or more inspired, and they continue to be today.