Members of staff look at two triptychs by Francis Bacon, 'Triptych August 1972' (left) and 'Three Figures in a Room' (right) on display in the Francis Bacon: Man and Beast exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London which runs from January 29 to April 17 | Source: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Heart of Darkness: A Look at Francis Bacon’s Visceral London Exhibition

Man and Beast. The name of an exhibition of the 20th century Irish-born figurative painter, Francis Bacon is indicative of his carnal impression of life and death and subsequent expression of what he saw as risqué and primal.

His paintings are often vicous, confronting depictions of human forms with animal characteristics, deformed and dramatised to fit his bleak world view which depicted the carnage and violence of the military conflicts of his time with raw, unsettling imagery.

Bacon existed in the art world as a boundary-pusher, his depictions of crucifixions, portraits of popes, self-portraits, and portraits of close friends all presented the viewer with a reaction-inducing take on the prevailing ideological direction at the time, pacing them far outside their comfort zone.

The work Head, 1947-48, from his first exhibition at Erica Brausen’s Hanover Gallery, London, in 1949 is indicative of compositional elements he would go on to use for many years such as the addition of white lines in a geometric pattern reminiscent of a room or cage.

Francis Bacon Head
Head by Francis Bacon

Bacon seems to ask where the distinction is between the human-like figure in the painting and the grisly fangs as it seems to morph and transform in muted, dusty grey into some kind of deformed mouth, he seems to want us to realise our capacity for transformation, but leaves the viewer with an undesirable image of biological ugliness rather than the current, prevailing, nature-positive viewpoint.

It is not his only work that uses such evocative imagery and combines it with compelling composition.

Francis Bacon Study for Bullfight No. 1
Study for Bullfight No. 1 by Francis Bacon

The Exhibition will feature a trio of Bullfighting pieces that have never been on display before, many posit this triptych was an unfinished project and there is conjecture that a fourth, central painting was abandoned and destroyed as happened to many of his work that he was dissatisfied with.

Bacon said of bullfighting,”[It] is like boxing – a marvellous aperitif to sex.’ 

He was decades ahead of his time, discussing the complex relationships between spectacle, terror and power, and the capacity of the individual to become lost in herd mentality in the rare bullfighting triptych with his depiction of the crowd including a Nazi-like Eagle.

This exhibition is being shown at the Royal Academy London until the 17th of April.

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