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Francis Bacon 1909-92 Beginning on the early 1950s despite the dominance of Abstract Expressionism in both the United States and Europe there were recurring waves of insistence on a return to the figure a new naturalism of naturalistic fantasy Crucial to the new figuration were Alberto Giacometti and Jean Dubuffet The only other figurative Expressionist powerful enough to be compared with Giacometti and Dubuffet were British Chief among these was the Irish-born Francis Bacon one of the artistic giants of his time Bacon has been called the greatest poet of the second half of the 20th century and even those who deeply dislike his work find it memorable and horribly impressive He is an artist obsessed by the horror of existence and the terrible vulnerability of being He professed to see no hope and yet his very life is a denial of such despair because creativity can never really come without some belief in the meaning of what is created Certain images recur again and again in Bacons paintings and the best known is that of the screaming pope after Velazquezs great portrait of Pope Innocent X Bacon refused to study Velazquezs portrait preferring instead to paint from his memory of that paintings authoritarian majesty Here he shows the pope father of the Catholic Church both enthroned and imprisioned by his position Bacons relationship with his father was a very stormy one and perhaps he has used some of the fear and hatred to conjure up this ghostly vision of a screaming pope his face frozen in a rictus of anguish The pope is pushed down to the bottom half of the canvas and squashed low in the chair Around him bacon has built the suggestion of a cage or cell He has marked him out with an arrow as if this clenched and tortured image was an exhibit in the artists chamber of horrors Bacon has also drawn from another famous image
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