Portrait of Francis Bacon

I have posted two separate reviews on Slow Painting of the Francis Bacon show at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, one by Jerry Saltz of New York Magazine, and one by Sebastian Smee of the Boston Globe. Both touch on Bacon’s deeply troubled personal life, in particular his experience of love as destructive and painful. Ah the Hazards of Love (thank you, Decembrists, I do love your latest.)

Nothing new about that point of view of course, but it is played out with serious drama and self-destructive extravagance in Bacon’s life as well as his art. Beauty and love are palliatives for most of us, but they weren’t cover enough for Bacon.

I’ve also been thinking about why Bacon, a major art influence in the 20th century, was never a major player in my coming of age as an artist, especially given Saltz’s claim:

Like Dalí and Munch, Bacon is an artist we love when young. Tantalized by the urgency, angst, weirdness, blood, sex, and bodies, we think, That’s me! That’s how I feel!

When I was young, I admired Bacon’s muscular viscerality, the fierceness of his painterliness. But it was never the soul match I felt with the influence of Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Richard Diebenkorn, Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, Willem de Kooning, Brice Marden.

Part of this was a result of my proclivities towards non-representation. But part of it was also vibrational. A longing for the dark side has a very different frequency and amplitude than the propensity for the numinous. Underneath all proclivities and responses to life however is a substratum of fear and suffering. It can be engaged with or it can be ignored, but it is there nonetheless.

Thanks to Whiskey River (you come through for me again and again!) I found this provocative and relevant quote from Taoist author Deng Ming-Dao:

There is an underbelly of terror to all life. It is suffering, it is hurt. Deep within all of us are intense fears that have left few of us whole. Life’s terrors haunt us, attack us, leave ugly cuts. To buffer ourselves, we dwell on beauty, we collect things, we fall in love, we desperately try to make something lasting in our lives. We take beauty as the only worthwhile thing in this existence, but it cannot veil cursing, violence, randomness, and injustice.

That is why spiritual progress is slow: not because no one will tell us the secrets, but because we ourselves must overcome sentiment and fear before we can grasp it.