Francis Bacon: Selected Graphics

January 20 - March 12, 2022

Marlborough London presents Francis Bacon: Selected Graphics, an exhibition of prints by Francis Bacon (1909-1992).

Based on a selection of 35 of his paintings, Bacon’s graphic works reflect his relentless strive to “open the valves of feeling”. He acted as a self-proclaimed witness of mankind, setting himself the task of scrutinising the human condition. Human figures, although rarely absent from his compositions, are barely legible as human beings. However, Bacon did not seek violence for the sake of gruesomeness. He saw in the dismembered bodies a way to immerse himself in physiological torment, to grasp humanity in its rawest form. Stripping his compositions from any iconographical meaning or illustrative function, Bacon sought to obtain the “total recuperation of our physic forces”.

Francis Bacon’s limited graphic oeuvre contrasts with the abundance of his prolific painting output. As Bruno Sabatier points out in his catalogue raisonné of Bacon’s graphic work, the artist demonstrated a preconceived attitude to prints in the 1960s, relegating them to the status of mere reproductions. In 1975, Eddy Batache’s proposal to illustrate his essay on Surrealist poet René Crevel instigated a shift in Bacon’s approach to printmaking, leading to a fresh enthusiasm for etchings. The close collaboration between Bacon and French copperplate engraver George Visat, whose expertise and input the artist immensely valued, resulted in the publication of several etchings illustrating Batache’s texts until Visat’s retirement. From the early 1980s until Bacon’s death in 1992, his prints were produced using modern production processes under the artist’s constant supervision. The deep attachment Bacon had for France, having lived and worked there for many years, is reflected in his wish to have the prints published with French titles.

The exceptional lithographs and aquatints showcased in this exhibition, featuring part-man part-beast creatures, exude the angst that is archetypal of Bacon’s oeuvre. With references to autobiographical elements of the artist’s life, notably the death of his lover George Dyer, the prints on show embody the artist’s fatalistic yet fascinated outlook on human life. Set against crimson red, incandescent orange and purple backgrounds, his isolated and distressed figures escape linear narratives, enveloping the viewer with the ambient claustrophobia and provoke repel and fascination in equal measure. The continuous interest that Bacon arouses, whether it manifests itself in praise or frustration from the public, is, as Eddy Batache remarks, the “surest guarantee of his universality”.

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