The Grotesque, the Unnerving and the Beautiful
Why do we paint? Why do we need to paint when we have cameras? These were the questions that were central to the special exhibitions of Francis Bacon: Invisible Rooms, Maria Lassnig and Ella Kruglyanskaya. Albeit, whilst they all share the same questions, they didn’t necessarily share the same answers. Whilst Kruglyanskaya’s work very much emphasized the ‘unreality’ of a painting, Bacon has somewhat of a more convoluted relationship with the canvas, drawing attention to the unreality of the depicted space, whilst simultaneously using painting to bring sensation across to the viewer. However, they all attempt to encompass more than a simple photo can document, each having a shared tendency to paint their intuitions: a challenge arguably achieved by all, most poignantly by Bacon.
Walking upon Kruglyanskaya’s work, I was struck by the almost caricature like drawings of women adorning the walls of the Tate. I was surprised to discover then, that a good proportion of her pieces deploy a trompe l’oeil. For instance, in Untitled (Miami III), she depicts a torn piece of paper with a loosely sketched drawing. In reality, her chosen medium is completely oil. This reinforces the notion of the fictional space that a drawing automatically occupies, even if it is actually depicted on paper with pencil. Her still life’s would appear to move somewhat away from her figurative paintings but there are multiple levels that remove this piece from reality. Not only is she depicting a shadow of the real object, but the painting is also based on a photograph, as well as drawing upon a plethora of artistic backgrounds and mediums, varying from German expressionism to ancient Etruscan wall painting.
Anthropomorphism, genitalia and human carcasses, both artists spared no detail in their abstract and gestural brush strokes. Whilst Kruglyanskaya’s pieces introduces the viewer to the viewer-painting conflict subtly, Lassnig and Bacon’s work immerses the viewer into a state of discomfort. Whereas Lassnig’s was a constellation and Kruglyanskaya’s was a retrospective – including works just a few weeks old – Bacon’s was an exploration of a particular theme: an exploration of his use of space in relation to his figures, with an impressive array of his work spanning his entire career.
This particular exhibition serves to highlight how Bacon draws the viewer in with a close encounter to his figure. Through cutting down the physical canvas by adding another painted construction, I was drawn to both the mutated figures, but also the way that it occupies its space. This is similar to Lassnig, who was intrigued by the artist in relation to her pieces and her immediate surroundings. However, the ideas were translated starkly differently. Lassnig was preoccupied with how her body felt on the inside: a term coined by herself, ‘body-awareness’ is a technique whereby she would focus on both the physicality of her body, but also the sensations she felt on her body as she was painting. As such, this technique led to seemingly half-formed works such as Napoleon and Brigitte Bardot, where we are left with more gestural marks and half formed figures. Similarly, where she felt discomfort internally, such as during and post Gulf War period, herself portraits reflected this disjointedness through anthropomorphic household objects, seen in Reaper and Self Portrait with Saucepan.
For Bacon, his obsession with trying to ‘trap the image’ on canvas is portrayed through Study for a Portrait, encompassed under his Cage pieces. One of his first pieces to utilise the use of a cubic frame, the scream was dominant throughout his pieces in this period. It highlights how we too are base, and if caged we too resemble those of our animal counterparts, prone to fits of carnal and violent desires. Simultaneously we are pushed away, as Bacon makes explicit through the use of shadow in the bottom right, signifying the presence of the viewer.
To have such a plethora of Bacon’s pieces all in one location was an absolute treat. Whilst Kruglyanskaya’s work was seemingly more disparate to the other artists’ work, having all three in conjunction to one another really served to compliment each other’s stylistic approach, drawing out the grotesque in Lassnig’s, the cinematic in Kruglyanskaya’s, and the unnerving in Bacon’s pieces, throwing the viewer into an uncomfortably raw reckoning with their own self-image.
An exhibition well worth a visit.
Francis Bacon: Invisible Rooms is open at Tate Liverpool until 18 September 2016.