Sunday, 18 April 2010

Francis Bacon - In Camera @ Compton Verney

Compton Verney... where? That's what I thought when I saw this exhibition advertised in the Independent. It's a pleasant country house in the middle of Warwickshire is where. (I imagined Royston Vasey...)

Francis Bacon is one of my favourite artists, and as the journey to get there wouldn't be too unpleasant on a lovely sunny day, I drove up to Compton Verney to have a look. I went to the Tate exhibition a couple of years ago, which was a brilliant and fairly representative collection of his life's work and although this exhibition was small and therefore there wouldn't be much "new" work on show it did provide some insight into how Bacon worked. How he was influenced and inspired by photography, and also touched on his influences from other artists :Michelangelo for instance, of which there were some torn out pages exhibited from a book owned by Bacon showing Michelangelo's anatomical sketches, splattered with the paint of Bacon's brush. And of course there was Velazquez (although there are no popes in this exhibition, screaming or otherwise)

(Page from a Muybridge book owned by Bacon - messy pup, got it smudged)

When Bacon died, a lot of his resources came to light within his studio (amazingly this was archeologically and painstakingly moved in exacting and brilliant detail from West London to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin), photography from the late 1800's by Eadweard Muybridge for instance, showing the althletic motion of people and animals in stop motion frames. On top of this he had more contemporary resources, cuttings from sports magazines, bloodied boxers, footballers, cricketers stretching for a shot as well as photography from his friends, most notably John Deakin.

Bacon's style, the contorted and tortured figures, writhing, seething into one form, sometimes melting away into nothing, other times reduced to pulped meat really make me feel something. There's violence and sexual energy in a lot of his work, which reflected his upbringing and journey into adult relationships. And an intense sadness. It's hard not to feel something.
It was interesting to see what he did with photos, he'd crush them, rip them, tear them up and then repair them for instance, thus this patchwork repaired photo was what he sometimes used to spark the creative energy to create the painting it ultimately became. This is one of the works on show (I don't believe this was exhibited in the Tate) of his model Isobel Rawsthorne which was based not on a sitting but on three photographs provided by Deakin. I would have taken a picture of the photographs it was based on which was exhibited side by side with the painting, but the beady eyed old security lady with the walking stick would have told me off as there was a strict no photography rule.... and I fancied she was faster than me over 10 yards...

The exhibition also touched on Bacon's inspiration by the moving image. They were showing the "The Battleship Potemkin" a silent soviet propoganda movie where a characters scream inspired Bacon to paint screaming popes (mashed up with Velazquez's popes). Interesting film, especially the way the Tsarist soldiers march down the steps like faceless automatons, lacking compassion, mercilessly butchering the wailing masses (Cossack mo-fo's!) and the use of shadow and light was awesome in the film, especially the way the shadows of the soldiers bayonetts seem to push the crowd in terror down the Odessa steps. Would have been nice to squeeze in a screaming pope painting in the exhibition, as it would have looked cool side by side with the movie still....

I'll be spending the rest of my birthday money on a couple of books now
Francis Bacon: Incunabula by Harrison a lovely hardback book which loosely covers the exhibition and
Francis Bacon: Anatomy of an Enigma, by Peppiatt, a biography of the tragic artist, his life and lovers

To summarise, well worth a visit! Now until 20th June.

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