Francis Bacon is without a doubt one of the most important painters of 20th century. In a period where abstract painting was becoming predominant, here were figurative images that felt very current yet remained rooted in Old Master painting and ancient art. With his unique visual language, Bacon’s works are the combination and contradiction of formal spatial structure, informal, and almost like abstract mark making. Bacon's unparalleled talent is unquestionable, however his personal history, has heavily influenced the way Bacon views the world and how he chooses to portray it in his works.
Born in Dublin, Ireland, Bacon lived most of his early adolescent years moving between Paris, Berlin and London, finally making London his permanent home. After going through a series of tumultuous relationships that often left Bacon questioning his belief towards love and relationships, the artist met his longtime partner George Dyer, during the height of his career. Unfortunately, Dyer soon after passed away suddenly due to alcohol abuse , at the time Bacon was working on multiple projects such as a solo exhibition at Centre George Pompidou and an upcoming exhibition with the Royal Academy of Arts, he deeply blamed himself for not being present during the period leading to his partner's passing. The following years, he profusely focused the feelings he had towards his works by constantly trying to recreate Dyer. Although dark his works during this period also had a certain tenderness to them. Bacon's creative process was heavily involved around recreating the world he sees on the canvas, and try to capture the fragility of humanity in them.
Later in his creative process, Bacon's works showed intrinsic features into the artist's psyche. Each canvas is designed with precision, with his figures framed by cages, apertures or other geometric devices. Together with his sharp lines and color contrasts, these frames act against sentimentality. The brilliance of Bacon is how his human and animal figures are always breaking out of these devices, going beyond these frames, creating a sense of visual panic. Bacon has mastered exploiting the innate process of the viewer to break it down to reality to find explicit truth.
Bacon’s iconic body of works have inspired artist like Jenny Saville, “ It was a spirit of freedom to do whatever you wanted – as long as there was truth in it, however brutal. Bacon gave me that permission. If you liked looking at violence, if you liked looking at blood and death, Bacon showed that you could do that as an artist.” says Saville. In the spirit of Bacon, Saville painted a carcass in 2004. The canvas, Torso II (2004-05), shows the ox meat as a classic carcass hung up vertically, Saville draws inspiration from Bacon’s aesthetic of mirroring humanity through total catharsis.
Another prominent artist that has drawn inspiration from Francis Bacon is Damien Hirst. Now iconic, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991) alongside many works of Hirst, are revealed by him to be closely inspired by the themes and influences that are seen in Bacon’s works. As he said, "There has only ever been one idea, and it’s the fear of death”. Bacon like painters before him such as Goya, Soutine and Van Gogh who often explored darker subject areas with their works, aims to portray the full force of the human psyche. His work always veers to the imagination, with a continuous presence of raw, dark power, this visceral energy that is compelling. “I think Bacon is one of the greatest painters of all time. He's not afraid to: get dirty and wrestle with the dark stuff. He is complicated. It's not essentially about formal skill or technique or dexterity. It is about belief. I believe!” says Damien Hirst on Francis Bacon.
Bacon talked about the brutality of fact. His incredible bravery to take this on, to face up the catastrophes of human life makes him beautifully unique. Being his own worst and best critic, he pushed himself to the edge everytime. By looking into the void that usually is avoided by many artists, Bacon's profound way of taking on brutality and fragility under one umbrella, and continuously questioning it through decades of creative process proves his continuous relevance and importance transcending through the times.