Article Title:A Raw and Bloody Passion: The Life and Times
Author or Credit:Craig Young
Published on:3rd March 2005 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:638
Text:Given the forthcoming Auckland festival dramatisation of his life, what do we know about controversial British gay artist Francis Bacon (1909-92)? Bacon was born to upper-class Anglo-Irish parents. His father was a sadistic bully and hated Francis because of his childhood physical infirmities. He ordered Francis to be horsewhipped, except that Francis ended up seducing the grooms and stableboys on the estate who were sent to do the deed. This dark childhood may have influenced his later dark, brooding artwork and penchant for sadomasochistic sex. At sixteen, Bacon's father threw him out of the house after he discovered that his son was gay. He arrived in Berlin during the heyday of the Weimar Republic, and enjoyed himself in Berlin's leather and gay bars, before he moved onto Paris. In Paris, he made contact with numerous Surrealist artists- only to fall afoul of that movement's conservative homophobia and misogyny. After he returned to London, he made his way in the artworld. Many of his works show disturbing images of facial pain or ecstacy, or bodily contortions related to either torture, sexual stimulation, or both. During the Second World War, Bacon had considerable opportunities for gay sex during the upheavals of that period. As well as constant danger from the Lufftwafe bombs and the Blitz, he found himself pleasantly surprised by rough and ready sex during blackouts if he grabbed the chance with both hands. Meanwhile, his father passed away. Like Joe Orton in the sixties, Bacon lived a drunken and dangerous life in rundown Soho's gay pubs and gangland venues, as well as gaining fame and revenue for his distinctive and unsettling raw artistic style. In the early fifties, he completed one canvas that copied Edouard Muybridge's pioneering photographic sequence of two naked men wrestling. Bacon relocated them to a bed, and nervous viewers queried whether or not the painting was obscene. If he was reknowned in the art world, Bacon had less fortune in interpersonal relationships, perhaps due to his difficult childhood. He formed a lopsided partnership with Peter Lacy, another artist, which was as raw, passionate and brutal as his art. Again, like the later Joe Orton, Bacon had hot sexual encounters in Tangiers and Morocco, with willing ample local partners. Lacy and Bacon had a unhealthily dependent relationship with one another, but at the same time, the latter consorted with leading gay and underworld contemporaries like Tennessee Williams, Allen Ginsburg and the Kray Brothers. At the time, he moved back and forward between London, Paris and Tangiers. In 1964, Bacon met George Dyer in a London pub. Dyer was fit, butch, dressed immaculately and had a speech impediment, as well as criminal family origins and past in petty crime. Unfortunately, he also became emotionally dependent and alcoholic, which led to eventual tragedy. Like his own relationship with Peter Lacy, Bacon enjoyed taunting and humiliating Dyer. On the eve of a major Parisian exhibition, Dyer ended his life in a Parisian studio after he swallowed a cocktail of drugs and alcohol. After Dyer's suicide, Bacon showed belated remorse for his lover's experience of emotional abuse, and he confessed that he grieved for him, and felt responsible for his death. At the same time, the tragedy added to his forbidding artworld reputation and his work continued to attract favourable reviews and renumeration at London, New York and Parisian exhibitions. As time went on, though, Bacon's considerable alcohol intake began to compromise his health, and this only accelerated as he lost artworld and literary friends to mortality. During his final years, he pursued a passionate relationship with a closeted Spanish financier who was several decades younger. However, his kidneys finally collapsed due to years of bodily abuse, and he died in Spain after he visited his younger lover one final time in Madrid. Bacon's life was transgressive and tumultuous and he was aware of the parallels between Aeschylus' Oresteia trilogy and his own life. After killing his mother Clytemnestra, Orestes flees the wrath of the Furies, winged and monstrous female avengers of family murders, whose frenzy was akin to Bacon's own sexual experiences and personal relationships. He deserves his fame for the brilliance of his work and battles against social convention, but despite his austere, raw and passionate work, he never found peace within his personal relationships. Recommended Reading: Michael Peppiatt: Francis Bacon: Anatomy of An Enigma: Weidenfeld and Nicholson: London: 1996. Craig Young - 3rd March 2005    
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