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Video transcript

we're in the tape 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 normally when I think about a triptych I think about a Renaissance or a medieval altarpiece that's in three panels that are connected and therefore something that is spiritual of religious scenes but here we are in the 20th century using that format but there is something dark and spiritual about these images these were deeply personal paintings and the subject couldn't be closer to home TV artists you tell how personal they are on either side these figures and 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 so within these very spare renderings we have representation of George Dyer on the Left this is Francis Bacon's lover who had just recently committed suicide and in fact his paintings 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 lovemaking the reference that's usually drawn by art historians is to the English photographer Muybridge 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 his personal context 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 a feeling of the flesh melting or being eaten away in fact in his torso that blackness that's that panel in the back seems to kind of move forward and take over this figures body and at the same time there's something very transcendent about the face the eyes are closed the head tilts up slightly as though there's a way that the figures are not transcending the body as the body is being consumed 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 the pool is pink and flesh color and the body itself is being taken over by this black it's also that it has a kind of dimension it seems to be literally seeping out of him there's a real tension between surface and an illusion of depth to the body 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 abstracted space he's created this very uncomfortable very tense kind of relationship 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 that in terms of the space right because I don't have that diagonal line I 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 and some space beyond the physical we have the most abstracted space whereas in the two other panels as you said there's that conceptual transcendent flat space that's in conflict somehow with the organic three-dimensional shapes of the figures but I also read something else into that diagonal on the right and left panels but although these are hung on a flat wall these are hinged paintings and they actually come out at an angle towards a slight lake referencing that bottom angle the way that a traditional triptych that I'm fall exactly there's tremendous energy being expended in the brushstrokes I see it in the composition and I see it in the tension between the figures sexual or violent or both yeah and you have in fact that big broad white brushstroke 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 Expressionists bacon quite distinctly and very much unlike the Americans is maintaining the primacy of the figure these are very hard-edged abstract shapes yet one easily recalls Abstract Expressionism they're both responding to similar kind of existential issues that have to do with the isolation of the figure the meaning of the figure 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 there's something really extraordinary about taking the human figure painting it so beautifully but then attacking and cutting into it melting it away making it so grotesque I think that's what makes these paintings so tough