Art of the 20th Century

 



Art Styles in 20th century Art Map


 

 
 

BACON



 
 

 

Francis Bacon (1909-1992), arguably the preeminent British painter of the twentieth century, was also for forty years the most controversial. Bacon's art often appears deliberately disturbing. His subject was the human form. Bacon reinterpreted the physical construction of the body with a new and unsettling intensity. To him it was something to be taken apart by the artist's penetrating gaze and then put back together again on canvas. He forces us to see, perhaps for the first time, the separate shapes and stresses hidden in the familiar human figure.

Bacon's treatment of the face could be especially challenging. In his portraits, generally of people the artist knew well, the subjects are sometimes shown screaming. Even in repose the features shift and reshape themselves before our eyes, yet they never become unrecognizable despite the swirling paint.

Often called an Expressionist or even a Surrealist, Bacon himself strongly rejected both labels. He insisted that in its own way his work was close to the world we see every day, remaining true to what he called "the brutality of fact."

 

 

 

 


Self-Portraits

 


Although they are less renowned than his paintings of his intimate circle, Bacon frequently made portraits of himself. His series of self-portraits can be understood almost as a pictorial diary, but they show the same curious mixture of cold objectivity and intense immediacy as in his paintings of his friends. The method is, of course, the same as in the other portraits, dislocating the features by pulling them around the face's central axis. However great this distortion becomes, Bacon's subjects remain recognizable. Representation is pushed to that ambiguous moment when presence seems about to dissolve, but has not yet completely lost its distinguishing features.

 


Three Studies for a Self-Portrait
1972
 
Three different aspects of the face are shown, but without changing the position of the head.
Bacon employs only a few brusque marks—the blue and white strokes along the eye and nose,
and the black zone of the cheek—from which the viewer must recompose the image.
All the features are concentrated in the right half of each face,
with the other half consumed by shadow.

 


 


Self-Portrait with Injured Eye
1972
 
 The inflamed eye serves as the basis for the deformation of the entire face,
taking over one side completely and pushing the remaining features to the other side.


 

Self-Portrait
1972
 

Self-Portrait
1973
 
Two views of the painter in spatial settings frequent in his works. In the first,
space is reduced to the series of planes denoted by the differently colored rectangles.
In the second, the curved back wall makes the space a cylinder,
its floor filled with the typical accessories of the studio:
the chair, table, light switch, and the newspaper on the floor.


 

Self-Portrait
 

Self-Portrait
 

Self-Portrait
1971
 
This is perhaps the most painterly of Bacon's self-portraits:
the individual facial features are inseparable from
the clearly evident brushstrokes that depict them.
The light, too, is unusually pictorial: the countenance seems to emerge
like a spectral presence from the penumbra of the background.


 

Self-Portrait
 

Self-Portrait
 

Self-Portrait
 

Self-Portrait
 

Self-Portrait
 

Self-Portrait
 

Self-Portrait
 

Self-Portrait
 

Three Studies for a Self-Portrait
1973
 
 Bacon again concentrates the features on one side of the face,
dislocating its symmetrical structure.
The actual fingerprints on the picture surface reveal
the artist's direct manipulation of the paint,
as in a considerable number of his portraits.
They constitute the visible evidence
of Bacon's physical engagement with the pictorial material itself.


 

Three Studies for a Self-Portrait
1974
 
A series of ovals joins one side of the face with the other.
In each panel a somewhat different area of the face is emphasized
by these means, although the view from panel to panel remains essentially frontal,
as in the snapshots from automatic photo-booths that Bacon sometimes used.


 

Three Studies for a Self-Portrait
1976
 
In these studies, Bacon plays with the possibilities of a cylinder,
placed on a diagonal in each panel,
which controls the organization of the picture.


 

Three Studies for a Self-Portrait
1979
 
Though the subject is always facing forward,
a sequence from profile to front view to profile is created
by changing the lighting from panel to panel
and illuminating different areas of the face.


 

Self-Portrait
 

Studies for a Self-Portrait
 

Self-Portrait
 

Self-Portrait
 

Three Studies for a Self-Portrait
 

Studies for a Self-Portrait

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