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Five decades of Mr Bacon

This week I saw Francis Bacon: five decades at the AGNSW. And was surprised by much of what I saw.

Firstly, I had not expected to see so much raw canvas. Admittedly as the decades went by this lessened, but the pert brown of the raw linen in those early paintings really impressed me. I could feel how the dry, raw linen would have affected the pull of his loaded brush and I can see how it helped him hone the wipe and the smear – descriptors, incidentally he would approve of, I think. And it’s these marks which in turn assist Bacon to define his gnarly three-dimensional forms so fully. His bodies, and they are much more bodies than figures, are so tied up with angst and emotion and twanging with muscle and sinew and flesh that it’s hard to see how he would have achieved that without this signature mark. It would have been a physical and demanding way to paint.

Nor did I expect to see such mastery of colour. Accustomed to seeing those distorted grey, blue figure forms in books and the like, I did not expect to see them supported and lifted and suspended by a vibrant palette of orange and green and lavender. It’s an unusual palette, but one that really works.

I also did not fully comprehend Bacon’s skill at defining three-dimensional space within a canvas until I saw this show. With a few sketchy and hastily drawn lines he creates amphitheatres for his bodies to perform in – curved walls, circular plinths, deep recessed rooms are all expressed simply and easily by well placed and often casual line. And on these painted stages Bacon places his figures – to hang, to roll, to dance and parade in their strange distorted way.

But most surprising of all were the small portraits. So cleverly malformed and pulled out of shape that they exude an unexpected tenderness – their humanness trapped, peers from deep within an internal space to connect with us, eye-to-eye with the viewer. It made me realise that through distortion can come utter clarity.

Continues until February 24, 2013.

One Response to “Five decades of Mr Bacon”

  1. Lucas van Rijswijk says:

    You’ve given me pause to think. I’ve nit really fully appreciated the reproductions of his works that I gave seen. I will look at them again with new eyes.

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