Save your Bacon

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John Molyneux gives the Francis Bacon exhibition a sympathetic review (Culture, Socialist Review, October 2008). I beg to differ!

On my visit I queued with young students and children with their teachers. What would they make of all this? As teachers we have to guide our students through some difficult territory; the underworld of depravity, barbarity and the excesses of greed. We have a duty to face them with the Holocaust, the concentration camps, war and invasion.

But when such horrors are presented as art, and inevitability as entertainment, we have a problem.

Francis Bacon was a privileged upper class Irish man. He never went to school. He had private tutors. He never struggled with debt. He didn't even bother with art school. Prior to the Second World War he led a hedonistic lifestyle in Berlin and Paris. After the war he continued that lifestyle in London's Soho.

The privileged classes gravitate towards sleaze. For Bacon, gambling, seedy clubs and crime were an attraction. In fact, I believe he saw his art as a partly criminal activity. He was certainly a Jekyll and Hyde character.

On the occasions that I met him he could be charming and generous, but a few hours before he would have shut his studio door on another triptych altarpiece of blood-spattered corpses.

The pictures reek of sadomasochism and gratuitous violence. As if to help the younger visitors (or to patronise them) the curators have presented the work in themed rooms such as "Animal", "Crucifixion", "Crisis" and "Apprehension". Why not "Psychobabble" as a further category?

There are some painterly successes in the show. Head I and II of 1947 are heavily worked pieces when he was much influenced by the British Cubist Roy de Maistre. But I would wish my students to see something far more generous, inspirational and classless. For that reason I will take them to the Rothko show at Tate Modern.