Everything You Never Wanted to Know about Francis Bacon, in HD

This 2017 movie is available on YouTube in glorious HD.

Bacon is probably my second favorite painter after Van Gogh, and then I don’t even have a #3 (unless it’s me). Bacon’s sordid personal life, however, is not my cup of tea (there’s a very heavy dose of sado-masochism in that brew). The film lovingly details some of the more startling or even shocking aspects of Bacon’s private life, including a crime he’s involved in. The footage of him at a retrospective trying to play the role of “Francis Bacon” while his former lover lay dead in his hotel room is about the most unsettlingly revealing live documentation I’ve seen of an artist. [Perhaps I’ll do a tribute painting based on one of the stills.]

I’d read several books on Bacon, including the famous interviews by David Sylvester, which are truly outstanding and the best artist interviews I’ve read, period. However, of the most more savory, or shall I say unsavory bits have been left to discover after the artist’s own death. And here they are unveiled for you.

There is excellent integration of his artwork, and overall it’s a superb documentary that kept this Bacon fan on the edge of his seat. In the end Bacon is ever more human, as are the people in his paintings. Even though I knew that one of his famous triptychs was dedicated to a lover who committed suicide (found dead on the toilet), the film really hits this home.

Perhaps the best part, other than seeing Bacon the mortal and vulnerable human being, was that certain paintings, even ones I’ve studied over and over, suddenly looked a little different, in a different light, and I was surprised anew by old paintings at how amazing new they truly are.

I came away marveling at Bacon’s accomplishment and contribution. I was also inspired by his continuing to paint and develop past his 80th birthday.

[And for you Bacon fans out there here’s a feature article I wrote defending Bacon against his biggest contemporary critics and ripping them to shreds: In Defense of Artist, Francis Bacon.]

~ Ends


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13 thoughts on “Everything You Never Wanted to Know about Francis Bacon, in HD

    1. Maybe, well, probably, but you can like his art without liking his darker obsessions, or sharing his sexual orientation for that matter. A while ago I wrote a defense of him because certain critics were condemning his art because of his lifestyle, which I reject as a form of art criticism.

      I would be much more inclined to judge artists by their art rather than the other way around. And the latter seems a very prominent mistake these days, and probably perpetually (ex., Chuck Close).

      Thanks for reading and commenting. 🙂

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      1. Well, yes I agree. I think its interesting to understand what has driven the artist
        However, it’s always difficult when the artist is deemed to have been dodgy – I still love Gauguin’s work despite his teenage “wife”.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, I think your are very much right there. It is interesting and relevant to know what motivates an artist. What motivates someone to make art, and what colors the way they make art? These answers are not, however, necessarily to be found in the artist’s biography. Millions of people will share the same sort of experiences, proclivities, obsessions, habits, interests, and so on, but not make similar art.

          Artists may not be so different from scientists. They may be motivated by a hunger for discovery, and their achievements the result of self-control, hard work, and perseverance. In the same way it might be peculiar to try to credit a scientist’s achievements to his biography, rather than his industriousness, so it is with the artist. A creator is not merely driven by circumstance, but might succeed in any number of circumstances, and with different habits (good or bad).

          Bacon’s greatest gift is his high aesthetic sensibility couple with the technical ability to bring it to realization. One might be a gift of sorts, and the other primarily hard work. Whatever he does in his spare time, might be as little relevant as what anyone else does when they’re not working.

          John William Waterhouse, of recent “censorship” fame, was a very private individual, in which case we know next to nothing about him. Does it change how we understand his painting? Facts about the artist or author’s or musician’s life may give us an inroad to their art, or pique our interest in it, but, ultimately, it needs to be understood directly.

          Thus, in the case of Bacon, his art makes his life interesting because it’s his, but not the other way around. Well, here I’ve given you the devil’s advocate position. I think the reality is somewhere in the middle and varies depending on the artist in question.

          I do prefer that the art stands on its own without any external information at all.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Lots of interesting points. Maybe it’s worse for living artists. Those dead ones we can say “things were different then”. Put it this way. Is there still a demand for Rolf Harris’s paintings, now he’s in prison? What did the queen do with his portrait of him? Is it in storage now? I don’t know the answer to that.

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            1. I had to look up Rolf. Never heard of him before. This is a slightly different issue because he actually engaged in criminal behavior. We were talking about what motivates an artist. And so here, in the case of this guy, and his child assault cases, would we say that’s what motivated him artistically anymore than we would say that sexual assault or harassment is what motivated Bill Clinton to be a politician, or Bill Cosby to be a comedian. Rather, it would appear that some men take advantage of their positions of power over others for sexual gratification, and this isn’t connected to their career choice. Power seems to be the operating principle here, not career choice. Thus, these activities and even criminal activities may have little to no real bearing on how the individuals performed their jobs or various tasks.

              The next question you raise is whether the art of Rolf Harris is still valued, including his portrait of the Queen. I doubt it’s still on display, but who knows for sure? His style seems indistinct relative to mainstream figurative painting, from the little I’ve now seen. I wouldn’t judge his art based on his criminal cases, but from an artistic standpoint it seems OK but uninteresting to my eye.

              I’m hesitant to pass too harsh judgment on individuals in very different circumstances than myself. It’s easy to NOT abuse power when you don’t have it. It’s easy to condemn horror committed on the battle field from the comfort of ones couch. It’s easy to say, “I would never have been a Nazi” in America in the 21st century. It’s easy to say, “I would never have had slaves, or abused them” when one has only been a glorified wage slave oneself (hand goes up). We can all safely say we would never indulge in cannibalism, but we are not members of a cannibalistic tribe.

              I would tend to leave the judgment up to the law, but in the past even the law was so biased that miscegenation and homosexuality were illegal, and in other cultures still are while things are legal (such as polygamy) which are not in America.

              How much can people help who they are? I tend to strongly believe in free will, myself, though others such as Sam Harris insist it’s an illusion, and there is probably a degree of free will (we don’t have absolute free will, such as to choose our parents…).

              Judging others is probably about as easy as gossip, where compassion is more challenging. It seems like we are in an era where people are behaving very badly and where people are anxious to hurl stones (and proverbial throwing stones can easily be another form of behaving very badly).

              So, when it comes to athletes, musicians, artists, and so on, I do separate their work from whatever else they do. Partly there is a cowardice in cutting down someone’s achievement because of their morality (or, rather apparent lack thereof). If Mike Tyson or Floyd Mayweather have abused women but are still among the best boxers, can I deny their skill at boxing on moral grounds? As a moral person, if I cannot win at a given contest, than I cannot claim that my morality helped me to win.

              Thus, as an artist, I won’t disqualify other artists from competition because I don’t approve of their morality or something they have done. If they are better artists than I have to live with that. If Bacon is a better artist than I am but I find some of his personal behavior, for instance, unappealing, than, again, I just have to live with it. The proof is in the pudding, not the other way around.

              I have this quandary when thinking about war. I like to imagine a peaceful society. But then, my ideal society would be rather helpless against marauding, murderous, raping, pillaging invaders. Kindness, fairness, morality, and goodness are helpless agianst that kind of viciousness. And so one can only afford to be moral and good in a society in which someone else is assigned to the job of violent warfare, which is quite likely to lead to various abominations.

              Well, I can say fairly confidently that I don’t like mob behavior. And because there are a lot of stones being thrown, I’m not anxious to pick one up myself at the moment.

              Opps. Got me thinking and I went on a bit of a rant.

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            1. Hi Emma. I kind of have a flat spot for Cezanne. I’ll have to give him (or me, perhaps) another try next time I see some of his work in person.

              But, yes, he was a very hard worker. As was Monet, whose work is much more accessible.

              Meanwhile I’m still thinking about some of the ideas you shared yesterday. I’m really chewing the cud on that whole moral quandary about artists and immorality. I may have to write an article about it to try to wrap my head around it.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Yes, It went to an exhibition of Cezanne work in Paris once (I just happened to be there, I didn’t go specially) . They were his early paintings and I thought they were all dull paintings except his “House of the Hanged Man”. which I suspect I liked because of the title. His later stuff is better. There is a nice painting of his in Cardiff National Museum along with several fabulous Monets, Manets, a Renoir but I dont think there’s any Lautrecs there from what I remember. Always better in the flesh. Please do write a blog about artists and morality -its a big topic…does the “glamour” of a dissolute life also add to the artists’ reputation? I was discussing Maurice Utrillo and his alcoholism with another blogger the other day. Lucien Freud seems to have been a gambling addict…Francis Bacon an another alcoholic…it was probably part of what drove them to paint but I don’t know we judge them as “immoral” when we know that addiction is a form of mental illness!! So many throny questions!

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                1. Yes, and I have noticed that there is a very strong tendency to critique art on a moral basis these days, and including in my graduate school. All of the political, and politically correct critiques of art are moral ones. And there is also a very strong idea that if the art or artist is immoral than the art is bad. This is more obvious if you followed the whole controversy about Dana Schutz’ painting of Emmett Till, for example, and the demands to destroy it and shut down one of her shows. It’s in the closing down of a Chuck Close shows the taking down of the Waterhouse painting, the dismantling and burying of the Sam Durant sculpture, and even the objections to the Wiley “beheading” portraits.

                  Incidentally, Jackson Pollock was also an alcoholic, and when he died speeding, crashing his car into a tree, one of the passengers dies as well.

                  What interests me is not the idea that artists are immoral, or when they are (accordin to this or that morality), but that art is so frequently evaluated on moral grounds. If you can attach a “should” or “shouldn’t” to a style of work, as in “an artist should paint …” than it is already in the territory of morality.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  1. This is all very interesting. I thought the fuss about Dana Schultz’s painting about Emmett Till was that she was white and therefore she was appropriating someone else’s culture etc. I was not familiar with the controversy surrounding Chuck Close and Sam Durant but I looked them up. Sam Durant’s work and Wiley’s beheading portraits I think are really interesting and deliberately provocative (maybe getting a slightly different reaction to the one the artist intended). I really like that. They made people argue and discuss issues. Well done.

                    Chuck Close’s work is impressive even if he’s a foul mouthed old git. What kind of artist are you if you are always well-behaved, never swear and are always polite?

                    People are easily upset. I would say that my work is very uncontroversial but I managed to upset a local school when I painted 3 pupils outside a local bakery and called it “Clueless” (in reference to the film of the 1990s). I later got an angry email from the head teacher – I could see why they were upset. I apologised and changed the title and everyone moved on. Maybe I shouldn’t have but I didn’t think it was that great a painting to make a fuss over. I wasn’t making a political point or trying to create a controversy!

                    Liked by 1 person

                    1. There’s something a bit more vicious about the attacks on Dana Schutz. People tried to shut down one of her shows (didn’t have anything objectionable in it) on the grounds that she needed to pay the consequences for her Till painting, which they insisted incited violence against POC and upheld centuries of genocide. Quite the accusations, but needed if one is going to justify destroying someone’s career.

                      Durant’s piece was moralist, the attacks on it were moralistic, his decision to agree to have it destroyed was moralistic, and the critics who said destroying it was performance art and part of his practice were moralizing. It’s all a game of moral oneupmanship masquerading as art criticism (and art).

                      In your case, I wonder if you painted the kids on their smart phones :-). But you have made a distinction between the quality of the painting and the implied morality.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    2. No the kids weren’t on their smart phones. The implied morality wasn’t intended. I should have thought more carefully about the title. It was more a comment about teenagers in general than these three in particular. It was sloppy, to be honest.

                      Poor Dana Schultz. Such anger is frighten. Emmett Till’s mother decided to have an open casket to reveal the terrible violence that her teenage son had experienced. I did not for one moment think that Dana was celebrating that violence or inciting violence against POC, in fact the very opposite. I assumed that her work was a comment that Emmett Till’s brutal murder was a relevant today as he was in the 1950s. Still, what do I know? I am far away from the the USA and I am probably missing a lot of the nuances.

                      I find all of this very interesting (if not slightly terrifying).

                      Liked by 1 person

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