By Kuspit, Donald
Artforum International , Vol. 48, No. 3
With photographs of and information about his two long-term lovers and various statements about his abusive parents supplementing the "twisted" relationship of the perversely intertwined figures in many of his triptychs and his use of "universal" Christian iconography, above all the crucifixion, this exhibition offered a good deal of evidence to support the idea of Francis Bacon as a homosexual, sadomasochist "outlaw," someone obsessed with violence and suffering, his own and humanity's in general.
Bacon was certainly one of the great artist-explorers of the psyche's murky depths, yet to overemphasize his psychodramatic homosexuality and not so subliminal perversity and aggression is to miss the aesthetic brilliance of his painting, amply evident in the sixty-six canvases on view in this exhibition (co-organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Tate Modern, where it was on view last winter). The monstrous beauty of Bacon's art is created not only through the ways in which he seamlessly mixes the surreal and the expressionistic, but also through his mastery of the abstract fundamentals of painting, especially color and texture.
One room in this exhibition contained six of the 1950-53 studies after Velazquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X--works that are stunning both in their single-mindedness and fixation, as though Bacon was determined to expose the inner truth of this human horror whose face bears such a ruthless expression in the Velazquez. The power Bacon finds in the color black here counteracts the power of the pope, and lets the artist tell the emotional truth about social power. Throughout his oeuvre, in fact, Bacon was able to use black simultaneously as a color, as Matisse said it was, and a non-color signaling death, as Kandinsky said it was. Bacon gives it presence, even as he uses it to convey abysmal absence. In the "Men in Blue" series, the dark palette of flat "unmarked" planes functions similarly, accentuated by its contrast with the canvases' scumbled, striated details.
There are no smiles in Bacon's paintings, only screams, most famously the image of the screaming nurse he borrowed from Sergei Eisenstein's film Battleship Potemkin (1925). …