Bacon's Quintessential Mouth

Original research by Luis Mariano Akerman © 2008-2014 Copyright. All Rights Reserved

Francis Bacon: "I've always hoped in a sense to be able to paint the mouth like Monet painted a sunset."

"And coming out of his mouth was a sharp double-edged sword." — Revelation 1:16

Quintessential. adj. 1 Being most typical; expressing the essence of the thing or person specified in its purest or most concentrated form. 2 Representing the most perfect or typical example of something or someone. Related words: unique; absolute; par excellence; sensational; unsurpassed.

Francis Bacon
Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, c. 1944
Detail from the central Study
Tate Gallery, London
1991 Wilson's Illustrated Companion and 1998 Gale's Catalogue Entry

Francis Bacon
Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, c. 1944
Tate Gallery, London
Texto by Wilson, 1991 and Texto by Gale, 1998
"When this triptych was first exhibited at the end of the war in 1945, it secured Bacon’s reputation. The title relates these horrific beasts to the saints traditionally portrayed at the foot of the cross in religious painting. Bacon even suggested he had intended to paint a larger crucifixion beneath which these would appear. He later related these figures to the Eumenides – the vengeful furies of Greek myth, associating them within a broader mythological tradition. Typically, Bacon drew on a range of sources for these figures, including a photograph purporting to show the materialisation of ectoplasm and the work of Pablo Picasso" (2007 Tate Display Caption).

Bacon, absolutely NOT kosher

"May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands." — Psalm 149:6

Bacon was a declared atheist. He even went so far as referring to the Christ painted by Cimabue in his 1272-74 Crucifix as "a worm crawling down the cross."[1] The most celebrated and best known book on Bacon's viewpoints reproduces an image of Cimabue's Crucifix, but intentionally inverted and thus printed upside-down.[2] In that book, facing such "undulating forms" can be seen the right-hand panel of Bacon's 1962 Three Studies for a Crucifixion, where the figure of Christ is drastically transformed into an open mouthed, hanging carcass.[3] However, Bacon's suspended carcass is certainly not that of a bovine, for it has prominent, Dracula-like fangs.

The resignation of Cimabue's Christ has all vanished from the hanging carcass painted by Bacon, which has evidently died stressed and screaming, like the animals in slaughterhouses, whose awareness and fear to die Bacon so eagerly loved to recall, often in full detail.[4]

Some sort of Imitatio Christi. Bacon: "If I go into a butcher's shop I always think it's surprising that I wasn't there instead of the animal."[5]

Bacon was fond of declaring, "I think of life as meaningless."[6]

Significantly, the praise of God was certainly not in Bacon's mouth. Yet, the British painter had a double-edged sword in his hand. Such weapon was his extraordinary imagery, both visual and verbal. Bacon was frequently and prevalently ambivalent while expressing himself. He liked posing, provoking, seducing. Above all, he loved risk. In his case, as he himself put it, art was no more than a game.[7] To play such game he had fundamental weapon, a double-edged sword. Even if having nothing to do with the moral dimension of the Book of Revelation, Bacon's sword also had the power to save and to destroy, simultaneously. Bacon's imagery indeed functions as double-edged sword, because involves "The Grotesque".

Mariano Akerman, researching Bacon since 1977.

1. David Sylvester, Interviews with Francis Bacon, London: Thames & Hudson, 1987, p. 14.
2. Ibid., fig. 9
3. Ibid., fig. 10
4. Bacon, interviewed by Sylvester, 1962: "I've always been very moved by pictures about slaughterhouses and meat, and to me that belong very much to the whole thing of the Crucifixion. There've been extraordinary photographs which have been done of animals just being taken up before they were slaughtered; and the smell of death. We don't know, of course, but it appears by these photographs that they're so aware of what is going to happen to them, they do everything to attempt to escape. I think these pictures were very much based on that kind of thing, which to me is very, very near this whole thing of the Crucifixion. I know for religious people, for Christians, the Crucifixion has a totally different significance. But as a non-believer, it was just an act of man's behaviour to another" (Ibid., p. 23). On Bacon's familiarity with Bataille's Documents, see the essay Dawn Ades, "Web of Images" in: London, Tate Gallery, Francis Bacon, 1985.
5. Ibid., p. 46
6. Ibid., p. 133.

Mariano Akerman's posts related to this topic
Bacon: Painter with a Double-Edged Sword
Inspired by Dr Grünwald
A Telling Clipping amid Bacon's Working Documents

Another text that may interest you as well:
Kent L. Brintnall, Ecce Homo: The Male-Body-in-Pain as Redemptive Figure, University of Chicago Press, 2011, chap. 4. "Images of suffering male bodies permeate Western culture. Drawing on perspectives from a range of disciplines, Ecce Homo explores the complex, ambiguous meanings of the enduring figure of the male-body-in-pain. Acknowledging that representations of men confronting violence and pain can reinforce ideas of manly tenacity, [...] Brintnall also argues that they reveal the vulnerability of men's bodies and opem them up to eroticization. Locating the roots of our cultural fascination with male pain in the crucifixion, he analyzes the way narratives of Christ's death and resurrection both support and subvert cultural fantasies of masculine power and privilege and delineates the redemptive possibilities of representations of male suffering" (Google Books).


Ezequiel Pen said...

Truly original and most enlightening. Thanks :)

Joan Dann said...

Amazing post. Congratulations!

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