To return to the Bill Brandt photograph…………………………..
I was wondering how much effect it had knowing the subject of a portrait. There’s no way I can know what it is like to see this picture as one of an anonymous man. It’s certainly true that portraits of the non famous can move us and in some ways those are cleaner experiences; blank states for us to draw upon. And yet, the potentials when the person are known, such as knowing Clint Eastwood‘s many personae which resonate and abrade with each new role, can bring so many more dimensions to a work. Of course, Brandt knew Bacon was who he was, and used that.
Though I don’t know what he really intended, I see a tremendous tension between what I know of Bacon and this man in a leather jacket in a vaguely unsettled landscape. Bacon barely contained the chaos raging in his brain. His own portraits though sought after, afforded little comfort to the subjects. They came across as all his people do, as anguished abstracted meat machines caught and bound in their circumstances.
Above is a still (and why do so many stills look so good?) from Love is the Devil, a biography of Bacon, starring Derek Jacobi, and Daniel Craig as his thuggish abusive lover.
Almost as famous as his works, are the photographs of his studio.
Now here we go. One of the many works based on Velasquez‘ Innocent X painting, one sees the splayed carcass as wings, and the box formed by the lines of circumstance and constriction. In many of these, the pope is screaming. This imagery recurs in one of the horrific scenes from Silence of the Lambs, Lector‘s homage.
What stands out most from his work is his insistence on the mundane and earthly as unavoidable. His characters shit and vomit, they lie in overdose, their postures ungainly and tortured. Their skulls leak through their skins, and their ugliness and monstrosity is what we see.
How he painted his lover, George. Painting so often shows the sublime, and perhaps that began as a response to its rarity in difficult times, but Bacon fought the cliche and reestablished the body in itself, the body as master.