Francis Bacon is back again in London – Tate Britain (11 Sept. 2008 – 4 Jan. 2009) – or, as I should write – he strikes again in this major retrospective show, displaying the formidable panorama of his paintings right from the first attempts (1940s) to the last experiments executed before his death in 1992. The exhibition fills in ten rooms with the most of the representative works present. Additionally – what I fully appreciated as a student – there is one room devoted to the methods and materials of the artist’s research and another one – called the “Crisis” featuring his artistic mistakes. And it’s probably from Bacon’s mistakes that one should start to view his art (maybe right after the impressive early period) – they clearly show how perfectly balanced his masterpieces are and how incredibly difficult had to be to find that fine line – between the genius audacity/ an outstanding quality of suffering portrayed and a pure, cheap melodrama/grotesque strangely embodied into it.
There are different sorts and qualities of suffering, to mention only few: the one, which glows with inner nobility and sophistication; other, which is low and attention-seeking, flirting with itself and seeking self-approval; the one, great and intense, which has no name until some kind of a higher/different level of self-recognition takes place and the one, which cannot be named at all – simply because is beyond human capacity of the verbal expression and anything you can do is to be silent in its presence. And Bacon’s paintings actually look like those, by a default, silent companions of their creator’s inner turmoil – giving it voice by the artistic language yet, paradoxically, communicating or conveying nothing beyond its own captivating void. The vision presented is the Alpha and Omega in itself, a riddle not to be explained – only accepted, with all the courage and emotional maturity it demands. For this Irish-born painter, alike Peter Handke in his autobiographical story, where he tries to reflect on his mother suicide (“It’s about the moments, when the mind boggles with horror so brief that speech always comes to late. Horror seems real and meaningful only when it is incomprehensible…” ) – leads us at the very edge of what the typical cognitive system perceives as ‘human’.
What is utterly fascinating in all this, is that that enigmatic, powerful monster and alien encaged into Bacon’s canvases keeps the modern viewer under his spell, even wins the claim as ‘genius’ instead of, as the common sense whispers -to provoke a total rejection or simply, to scare him away. Just like with Shakespeare’s murderers and witches – one cannot simply apply wrong/right brackets, we are suspended in the unnamed and the dark, hold there by the sheer magic of the art… Only very few artists out of dozens who were trying to confront the man with his own shadows succeeded, only few suffered – in an outstanding manner – through their art, teaching us – perhaps unwittingly – how to acknowledge and express our own pain. Bacon belongs to those few and that will probably sound shamelessly, but … I’m glad that he happened to exist, in the very unique way of his. His story casts as much shadow as it illuminates – it’s good to have it ‘documented’ in the great artworks, it’s great to have those audacious screams in paint among us.
See the virtual, interactive tour of the exhibition here, yet – for the better results, see it in life…