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Bacon, Triptych - August 1972

Francis Bacon, Triptych - August 1972, 1972, oil on canvas, 72 x 61 x 22 in. (183 x 155 x 64 cm), (Tate Modern, London) . Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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  • blobby green style avatar for user marcusr360
    Do modern artists often publish their thoughts in words about what they intended to communicate in some of these works?
    (15 votes)
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  • female robot grace style avatar for user Cassandra Hamilton
    At , Dr Zucker says that "Bacon is of the generation of the Abstract Expressionists." What is Abstract Expressionism? When did it flourish?
    (7 votes)
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    • orange juice squid orange style avatar for user Louis
      Abstract Expressionism is a quintessentially American movement that flourished after WWII. Artists usually associated with this movement are American and mostly deal with intensely abstract subject matter, like Jackson Pollock for example. I think Dr Zucker was trying to say that although this piece by Bacon retains a figurative element it feels like it borrowed from the energetic brush work and paint drippings of the AbEx. It's also good to remember all this was happening at a time when the art world's focus had shifted from Europe to America.
      (11 votes)
  • leaf red style avatar for user Laurel Merrill
    Why do these scare me for some reason? I just see all these deformed shapes and I feel afraid, like, terrified... A li'l help here please
    (6 votes)
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    • male robot hal style avatar for user Jake Munden
      Many of the paintings and prints were meant to scare people. This was the age of shock value. Since America was coming out of an age of repression from the 40's, and with the two bloody world wars still pressing upon people's minds, artists looked for new ways to challenge people. This was done, in many ways, through scary and deformed images. While art really should be enjoyed and analyzed by the piece alone, it is helpful to know the background information. Francis Bacon was born in Ireland at a time when the outlook was very bleak, and this attitude carried into his work, specifically in paintings that document the human condition like the Triptych paintings do.
      (5 votes)
  • sneak peak green style avatar for user Cybernetic Organism
    Does anyone think that Francis Bacon paintings (including this one) represent memory distorted by an emotion such as fear or anger?
    (6 votes)
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  • female robot ada style avatar for user jaclyn.lebreux
    how are these paintings difficult to grasp?? They are very literal representations of bacon's emotions.
    (5 votes)
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    • leaf red style avatar for user isabel93.31
      i think they are difficult to grasp if you don't know the context in which these paintings were made. One of the important aspects of art is to know what the artist was going on when he made his work, such as Picasso in his blue period.
      So if you didn't know that Bacon's lover had comitted suicide you cound't understad that much of the triptych, you only sense its violence
      (2 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user David Silberberg
    Does anyone notice a figure of a woman's face in black, emerging from the neck of the lover in the chair on the left triptych?
    (3 votes)
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    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Pipob Puthipiroj
      Glad that you pointed that out. What do you think that means? That she will forever be a part of him, even though she is gone? Or do you think it means she is just there to haunt him? But that's very strange. Francis Bacon, the painter who painted this triptych was a homosexual. His lover that died was a man, George Dyer.
      (5 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user DamonGrant
    what if we dint have none of this stuff
    (1 vote)
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  • leaf blue style avatar for user Cameron Christensen
    Am I right in thinking that Francis Bacon created this completely of his own volition, as opposed being commissioned for the work or something? Did it exist somewhere else before coming to the museum?
    (2 votes)
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  • old spice man green style avatar for user Tim Van de Bovenkamp
    This triptych was just auctioned for a new record price, yesterday. :-D
    (1 vote)
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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Micah
    what are the names of these three paintings ?
    (1 vote)
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Video transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: We're in the Tate Modern, and we're looking at a Francis Bacon, actually we're looking at three Francis Bacon's. This is one work of art, but in three large, painted panels. It's a triptych. In fact, that's the title. DR. BETH HARRIS: Normally, when I think about a triptych, I think about Renaissance or a Medieval altar piece that's in three panels that are connected, and therefore something that is spiritual, a religious scene. But here we are in the 20th century using that format, but there is something dark and spiritual about these images. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: These were deeply personal paintings and the subject couldn't be closer to home for the artist. DR. BETH HARRIS: You can tell how personal they are. On either side, these figures are very, very powerfully depicted. That seems very psychological, and personal, and emotional, and profound, from the way that he's treating the human body. Tell me about what the personal aspect is. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: So within these very spare renderings we have a representation of George Dyer on the left. This is Francis Bacon's lover, who had just recently committed suicide. In fact, this painting is generally seen as one of the series of black paintings that are in a way, a kind of chronicle of his response to this event. You've got the artist himself, the self portrait, and then in the middle, you've got this composite creature. You can just make out two bodies in a kind of violent love Making. The reference that is usually drawn by our historians is to the English photographer more bridge who invented the strobe light and was the first person to use photography to freeze animals and people in action. He did a famous series of wrestlers, from which this is drawn. But of course, that scientific context is completely transformed in this personal context. DR. BETH HARRIS: In the image of Dyer, there's an immediate sense of death. There's an immediate sense of the flesh disintegrating, with Bacon there's this feeling of the flesh melting and being eaten away. In fact, in his torso, that blackness that's that panel on the back, seems to kind of move forward and kind of take over the speaker's body. And at the same time, there's something very transcendent about the phase. The eyes are closed, the head tilts up slightly, as though there's a way that the figure's somehow transcending the body as the body is being consumed. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: So interesting that you say melting. We can see that shadow that he seems to cast, almost as a kind of pool of flesh to the lower right in some terrible way. DR. BETH HARRIS: The pool is pink and flesh colored, and the body itself is being taken over by this black DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: It's also that it has a kind of dementia. It seems to be literally seeping out of him. DR. BETH HARRIS: There's a real tension between surface and an illusion of depth to the body. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: The depicted space as opposed to the conceptual space, that alternation becomes a beautiful metaphor. The entire set of paintings places these figures in a kind of isolation, in a very spare, very abstract space. He's created this very uncomfortable, very tense, kind of relationship. DR. BETH HARRIS: On the other hand, both panels on either side, although they are flat, they have some sense of dimension by the diagonal line that's in front of either one and yet in the central panel, which is the most abstract, in terms of the space, because they don't have that diagonal line. We can't locate depth at all. It's almost as though the middle space, where those two figures are joined, perhaps where he's rejoined with his lover in some space beyond the physical, we had the most abstracted space. Whereas in the two other panels, as you've said, there's that conceptual, transcendent, flat space that's in conflict, somehow with the organic three-dimensional shapes of the figures. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: DR. BETH HARRIS: But I also read something else into that diagonal on the right and left panels. Although these are hung on a flat wall, these are hinged paintings, and they actually come out at an angle towards us slightly, referencing that bottom angle. DR. BETH HARRIS: DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: The way that a traditional triptych would unfold. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: DR. BETH HARRIS: Yes, exactly. There was tremendous energy being expended in the brush strokes. I see it in the composition, and I see it in the tension between the figures, sexual or violent, or both. DR. BETH HARRIS: Yeah, and you have in fact, that big, broad white brush stroke. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: Now that's interesting, in another sense, because of course, Bacon, although he's working in Britain, is very much of the generation of the Abstract Expressionist. Bacon, quite distinctly, and very much unlike the Americans, is maintaining the privacy of the figure. DR. BETH HARRIS: These are very hard-edged abstract shapes, yet one easily recalls Abstract Expressionism. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: They're both responding to a similar kind of existential issues that have to do with the isolation of the figure, the meaning of the figure. DR. BETH HARRIS: These paintings are difficult to understand and to read. They take time to sort of grapple with. On the other hand, still having the presence of something that one can recognize, especially the human figure, does give us a handle. DR. STEVEN ZUCKER: There's something really extraordinary about taking the human figure, painting it so beautifully, but then attacking it, cutting into it, melting it away, making it so grotesque. I think that's what makes these paintings so tough. [MUSIC PLAYING]