The work of Francis Bacon; Flesh & Death, inspiration


‘Three studies for a Crucifixion’ 1962

(Image taken from;

A consistent influence on my artistic practice is the work of Francis Bacon; an artist who created paintings so visceral and gory, yet so distinctively human, that he is revered as a master at painting. His work is at once dark, focusing on the human experience as through black-tinted glasses; humanity is just flesh, not much more than meat, and death awaits us all. This piece,’Three studies for a crucifixion’ looks at the body as meat, and only meat. The lines and boundaries of the human body twisted in amongst one another like some gross fleshy twist-tie. The object is an amorphous lump, yet still retains all the features of the human body. Bones, Mouth, Eyes, lungs are all present, and there is a similarity to the form of the human body at times; but these specific human forms are all placed upon other areas of the body, almost as if the bodies are ins consistent motion. They shake and vibrate, obscuring the form, much like someone moving within a photograph. This motion, which is perpetual within the human body; always growing, always shifting, always twitching within it’s own boundary., is perfectly illustrated here by the blurred, almost energetic form.

The three paintings, a triptych, showcase the viewer as a part of the painting, viewing the scene from the point of view of someone within the universe crafted by Bacon; a perverted, almost voyeuristic view that showcases our own disgust at the human body; illustrated by the aspects of meat shining through our skin. The second, a possible third person view of ourselves, on the bed; a tangled mess of bone and blood, shifting, growing, never ceasing. And the third; well, a resemblance to the dissected carcass of a cow, hanging within the cold locker of a butcher’s shop springs to mind; but there are inconsistencies with this metaphor; a mouth, a spine, a cavity, all pushing this metaphor out of the picture, yet also making it so very apparent.

Figure Bending Forwards c.1957-61 by Francis Bacon 1909-1992

‘Figure Bending forwards’, 1957

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Simplistic in execution, yet expressive and realised in totality. This quick sketch, like so many of an artist’s quick, almost ineffective sketches, is striking and marvellous in it’s execution. One can see the figure bending, one can feel the flesh surrounding the skeletal form, but one can also miss the form entirely. This aspect of an object floating in space; so important to Bacon’s works, serves to highlight the form, objectifying it, and bringing it to the forefront of one’s mind. We can see the flesh, how it breathes and pulsates with life, yet this series of brushstrokes are nothing more than paint on a canvas. To do so much, with so little, is absolutely striking. And this is what interests me about these simplistic sketches; how they  grow out from one another; defining the form of something not quite human, yet once colour has been added, they become almost human, but still skewed by the lack of detail; yet we can pick up on this obvious method of painting. The need to suspend our disbelief about the materials we are perceiving, to look into the form, prompts us to look into ourselves, and experience what is within all of us; flesh, blood, as meat.


‘Study for a self portait’, 1985-86

(Image taken

Considered by many to be one of Bacon’s masterpieces, this painting is a dark and sombre introspective of a man aware of his own fragility. Stark, and simple, in contrast to the paintings often crafted throughout his artistic career, this triptych tells the story of a man who hates himself, losing the closest friends and loved ones, and being left alone. Painted shortly after the death of his lover, this is the most ‘traditional’ of all of his paintings; stark and bleak, it does not have the gaudy oranges and reds of his previous paintings, nor the surreal and visceral brushstrokes of his fleshy creations. This is a self portrait of a man who hates his own face, going so far as to say of his friends ‘dying around me like flies and I’ve had nobody else to paint but myself… I loathe my own face, and I’ve done self-portraits because I’ve had nothing else to do”. This is shown through the expressive and fluid nature of the facial brush strokes; the face is in perpetual motion, constantly worked into over and over again until it barely resembles the humanity within his own visage. Bacon lived a large and bombacous lifestyle; a gambler, sado-masochist, alcoholic, smoker and bohemian, surrounded by friends and fellow fiends, but once they had all gone away, and he was left with only himself, only his flesh, he truly realised the fragility of human existence.

My project, focused on the tumours; on the cancers and various diseases that belong to this umbrella term for the body going haywire and destroying itself, speak of this emotion; hopelessness and desolation; the forms focus on the hard, calloused flesh that is formed when the body cannot control it’s own hand, when it works without perceiving, and Bacon’s work was created in the same way; drunk and disorderly, vicious and pained, it touches deep down on a subconscious level. Fear poisons his work, and it poisons mine, and with him, I feel a kindred spirit. Bacon did not fear the final curtain until it descended upon his universe like dark, black meteorites; and I fear it the most, when those I love are taken.


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