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Looking Back at Francis Bacon

Looking Back at Francis Bacon

David Sylvester's The Brutality of Fact: Interviews with Francis Bacon is not only the most vital written record of the Soho bohemian, but in itself a remarkable sortie into the artistic mind. Looking Back at Francis Bacon, while consciously not approaching that achievement, is a valuable companion volume, and amazingly the first book on Bacon by the keeper of his flame. Sylvester first encountered Bacon's Crucifixion in Herbert Read's Art Now (1933), and first wrote about him in 1948. Two years later they met. In time he assumed the role of, variously, critic, promoter, bootlegger, curator and model to this enigmatic, striking young painter, who was "painting off the nervous system", and wanted to "be able to paint the mouth like Monet painted a sunset".
Sylvester's commentary on the paintings is consistently incisive, using both his personal knowledge and his intellectual acumen. Sympathetic to artistic and biographical context, he writes informatively on Bacon's techniques, which included a preference for working from photographs and reproduction, painting on the reverse of a canvas, and insisting on his works being glazed. If he possibly over-ranks Bacon in a pantheon of classical painters, he justifies his supremacy as the British image-maker of the post-war period. The familiar themes--the ambiguity of the gaping mouths (screaming? yawning?), crucifixions, popes (Sylvester believes they represent Bacon's father--the artist would not commit), convulsion, spaceframes--reward keen reconsideration, before a series of short, thematic asides, much in the keeping with the fragmentary nature of art with which Bacon identified in TS Eliot, and which he embraced in his own work. Previously unpublished morsels of conversation are tantalisingly illuminating, the biographical note discreetly succinct--Sylvester leaves the Soho prattle to Daniel Farson's The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon--and the quality of the reproductions, including 12 fold-out triptychs, is superlative. Sylvester does himself an injustice when he frets that Bacon will not be understood until there can be a full, definitive catalogue, including "lost" works. Until that day, it's a pleasurable hardship to make do with Sylvester's rich and subtle readings, in which by looking back at Bacon's life, he gives us something of his own. Controversial in both life and art, Francis Bacon was one of the most important painters of the 20th century. Written by his friend and collaborator, eminent art writer and curator David Sylvester, this book reflects on his life and career.

ISBN 0500019940

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