Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 1944
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By EUGENIO BUCCI*

The main public protest in the city of São Paulo took place candidly inside a museum

The biggest political demonstration that takes place in the city of São Paulo does not march through the streets, does not block traffic, does not shout in the open air and does not sweat under the sun. The main public protest in this metropolis took place candidly inside a museum. No, this is not an occupation or a camp in a public office – it is a simple exhibition of paintings: the first solo exhibition in Brazil by the Irishman Francis Bacon (1909-1992).

We are on the first floor of MASP. Between four walls, the paintings are lined up, disciplined and quiet. Everything was very peaceful, everything was very orderly. The visiting public doesn't riot. Instead, it travels peacefully and silently through the contemplative gaps. There is no rush. There is no tear gas bomb. The soft lighting gives the environment a timeless calm.

Other than that, the exhibition is pure storm. When you step onto the first floor of MASP you will feel like the ground is missing. In a sudden breath, the known world disappears. Concepts that were imagined to be stony twist in front of them and explode festeringly, throwing sulfurous scales beyond the domains of Avenida Paulista. The consecrated signs, those in which no one saw any problem, begin to fall apart like pieces of rib under a butcher's cleaver. Storm, storm without respite. Immaterial stilettos leak the eyes of passers-by in one fell swoop.

The idea that the only mission of art is to hurt the eyes does not come from today. In 1929, the short film The Andalusian dog, by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali, synthesized this claim in the form of a chilling metaphor: a scalpel lances the cornea and iris of a passive woman. The scene became one of the most incisive symbols of the aesthetic proposal of surrealism. When authentic, the creative razor plunges into the pupils and opens the doors of perception – very different from the entertainment machete, which mutilates the audience's optic nerve as it numbs them.

Francis Bacon, who liked Picasso, doesn't blind anyone. On the contrary, today it is the sharp thread that breaks the bonds of the gaze. Images of him – you won't believe it – seem to move restlessly within the hard frames. We look, they are the same way. Look again, and they have switched places. Chromatic lift. Militant and beautiful sensuality, without a doubt. But is that all?

The masterful curation of Adriano Pedrosa and Laura Cosendey emphasizes identity queer of the painter, drawing attention to the “intense and turbulent” relationships he maintained with two lovers, Peter Lacy and George Dyer. However, the most destabilizing phenomenon in this body of work is not limited to subversive dating. The disturbing point of the 23 works on display is the way they undermine power relations. Francis Bacon paints against power, never for it. Above repressed love and untamed lust, its theme is necessary insurrection. It portrays not a restricted community, but the entire humanity.

One meter away from the paintings, we detect on-site visit the gesture that tarnishes the foolish ideals of beauty. Yes, Francis Bacon deforms his figures, but he deforms them to free them, as if to say that what truly deforms them is power. They then appear with blurred features and, undefined, escape the surveillance of authority. Clouded, macerated, ground, they do not surrender. Their faces look like viscera and their viscera look like souls. Then you understand: the guy of our time is nothing more than a thick trail of lumpy paint, but he has a thirst for life. Oppression surrounds him, but it cannot stop him.

In several of the canvases, straight lines trace exact geometric shapes – an abstract room, an empty cube, a hollow niche. These forms contradict bodies in a passionate trance. Those imperturbable threads that intersect at right angles seem to represent the futile project of framing nature – and cannot even mitigate the mysterious force of the flesh. The luminescent and Euclidean law pierces space, but reality escapes it, in furious disobedience.

In 1990, the feature film Jacob's Ladder (Hallucinations from the past, in the Brazilian title), by Adrian Lyne, adopted the Irish artist's horrifying creations as a paradigm of his cinematic language. In this film, which deals with death and the terrors that accompany it, Adrian Lyne proves that Francis Bacon consolidated the most complete plastic dictionary of barbarism, with a destructuring and, at the same time, emancipating semiotics. No, Francis Bacon did not give us an eccentric testimony of a particular or atypical sexuality – he gave us the gift of a universal inventory of the human condition in his fight against the slaughterhouse. He showed us the being that fights against insensitive power.

The brushes hurt the skin of hypocrisy and remove the sand from desire at war against control. It is the brushes of a lax archaeologist that leave scratches inscribed on the canvas, revealing the wounds of living. When you cross the door to the first floor of MASP you will know: these wounds rest, forgotten and mitigated, deep within your domesticated retinas.

* Eugene Bucci He is a professor at the School of Communications and Arts at USP. Author, among other books, of Uncertainty, an essay: how we think about the idea that disorients us (and orients the digital world) (authentic). https://amzn.to/3SytDKl

Originally published in the newspaper The State of S. Paul.

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