Understanding the New Movement of Defacement Part 13 part 2

Oedipus and the Sphinx After Ingres (1983) by Francis Bacon
Oedipus and the Sphinx After Ingres (1983) by Francis Bacon


The Beginning – Part 1

Previous – Part 13, Part 1

Next – Part 14 – Faceless in Front of a faceless god(s)


A Continuation of my Exploration of Francis Bacon and Religion and their Role in Defacement in Art

This is my continuing study of art that distorts, smears, or obscures the faces of its subjects. I am trying to get my head around this art – in all its forms. It seems to me to be almost an art movement – there are hundreds of artists that do this type of work exclusively. They are men and women from around the world. They are educated, self taught, professional, and hobbyist. They work in all different genres from photography to sculpture. I think ultimately my goal is to understand what this art says about our world, the culture of our world. I think that collectively this art is saying something about this moment, I think that it means something beyond simply someone smearing their fingers through the paint on a persons face. So I muddle, picking through the minutia of art, looking at different works, parsing them for meaning, comparing them and writing ridiculously ungrammatical sentences. As always if you see your art here and want me to remove it please email me at clisawork@gmail.com and I will take it down right away. None of this art is mine. All art is attributed, and if you click on it will take you to the spot where I found it.


An Angel of the Last Judgement - Wassily Kandinsky
An Angel of the Last Judgement – Wassily Kandinsky


So – a word of caution.  My background in world religion is slim to none.  I am entering for me what is uncharted territory.  I am going to feel my way forward, but I feel a way forward if that makes any sense.  I am more comfortable with christian religion – specifically protestant christian religion.  Even so I feel a way forward to understanding defacement in art through religion – through the symbolism, the spirituality, the connection of people and nature, the past importance of religion in culture in religion and how identity is processed through the representation of the face in art.  OK that was a mouthful and I may not be able to deliver on that.  This is going to be a huge post, and I may have to split it, so that it doesn’t scroll forever.  Here goes:

Francis Bacon Was Not A Believer

Francis Bacon didn’t fit into any narrative of that art history world that had come before.  He defaced his paintings and yet there was elements of formalism and figuratism in his work.  His work wasn’t surreal, or really abstract either.  He also wasn’t a church goer, and yet he is most famous for a picture of a pope, and a picture of the crucifixion and pictures of the figures standing underneath the cross.


Head VI - Francis Bacon (1949)
Head VI – Francis Bacon (1949)


So what is it about Francis Bacon and religion?

Let’s Start with his painting “Crucifix” painting in 1933.

Crucifixion (1933)- Francis Bacon
Crucifixion (1933)- Francis Bacon


Much of Francis Bacon’s work drew on the old master’s works, amounting to

Bacon’s obsession with the art of the past. . .he consistently drew on the work of masters such as Michelangelo, Velázquez and Degas, as well as to the stylized forms of ancient Greek and Roman works. VIA

Some of his most famous works include homage to a work by Diego Velázquez “Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650)”


Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1650 Diego Velázquez
Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1650 Diego Velázquez


The above image (Head VI) Along with (all found on Francis Bacon’s Wikipedia page):


Francis Bacon said he was fascinated with the colors in Velázquez’s work.  So back to the original supposition about Bacon and religion and his obsession with the old master’s – the old master’s painted religious figures and religious themes.  That’s what kept them in business.  They painted popes, and cathedral ceilings, and baby christenings, and scenes of God’s wrath, and angels, and also this:


Venus and Mars by Sandro Botticelli
Venus and Mars by Sandro Botticelli


Pictures of myth and legend.  Entertainment – no superheroes, but gods and goddesses.  So back to Francis Bacon.  Part of his religious works are in line with his connection to the works of the old masters.  Look at the crucifix above – no face, no definition of any kind.   This work is said to be based on Pablo Picasso’s “The Three Dancers”


The Three Dancers 1925 Pablo Picasso
The Three Dancers 1925 Pablo Picasso


Picasso’s work purportedly shows three of his friends – one of whom died during the process of this painting, and another of whom died earlier.  Both of the men in the painting were in love with the woman.  The difference between the Crucifix:

Crucifixion (1933)- Francis Bacon
Crucifixion (1933)- Francis Bacon

and “The Three Dancers” is the personalization of Picasso’s work, the faces in Piccaso’s work, and of course the lack of religious imagery .    An interpretation of Bacon’s work suggests that because when it was painted memories of WWI were still fresh that it evoked for many the feelings of a world forever changed – instead of the familiar crucifixion scene Bacon instead painted this spare ghostly image, with the white overlay that looks almost like a bird with broken wings.    It is suggested that Bacon felt that perhaps jsut as the Christians saw Jesus taking on the sins of the world on the cross, Bacon saw the image of the cross as a way to explore, not the sins of the world in a religious sense, but man’s inhumanity to man.  He left the figure without a face, without an identity.  Here was a place where graphically all the horrible things that people did to each other could be displayed in a symbolic form that people grasped in a very deep and meaningful way.  Bacon lived during and era of economic depression, looming war, and a struggle with his own identity as a gay man in 1930’s Europe.  I think he may have understand how deeply that people could hurt each other.

More important to Bacon’s career are these three paintings:

Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1945)- Francis Bacon
Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1945)- Francis Bacon


This is where things get complicated.  Here is a normal crucifixion painting that people of Bacon’s time would be familiar with:


Christ on a Cross (1622) - Jacob Jordaens
Christ on a Cross (1622) – Jacob Jordaens


In Bacon’s “Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion”  the figures look nothing like Bacon’s ghastly, well monsters.  They are in fact monsters.  Bacon based them on figures from Greek Mythology called the  Eumenides or Furies.    Here is a painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, “Orestes Pursued by the Furies”


Orestes Pursued by the Furies (1862) - William-Adolphe Bouguereau
Orestes Pursued by the Furies (1862) – William-Adolphe Bouguereau


So Bacon envisioned the people who would have been Jesus’s mother, his apostle, and other followers of Christ who are mourners as instead Furies.  In the Illiad they are, “those who beneath the earth punish whosoever has sworn a false oath” SEE  Back to faces – Bacon transforms and twists their faces to beyond recognition.    He gives them mythological and religious meaning, extending the theme of mourning to include rage.  He takes the perfectly logical position that if you are watching someone you love be tortured for no reason you would be pissed and out for vengeance.  The biblical story is about forgiveness and divine grace – Bacon is more interested in our humanity.  The humanity that is torturing someone, the humanity that is angry, the humanity that is demanding vengeance.     This is where Bacon uses the faces of his subjects for something for more than mere representation or even one to one symbolism.  The mourners at Christ’s feet aren’t sinners waiting for Christ to save them – they are complex human beings, who when you look beyond their faces become furies, become angry, become more than Christ’s mother, Christ’s disciple.  I’m being blasphemous but I’m under Bacon’s influence so I’ll blame his spirit?  This is what art does to you!

I’ve got to take a break before I’m excommunicated or something – probably best not to offend every Christian religion.   More about Francis Bacon and religion, and how that plays in defacement in art, and also religion and defacement in contemporary art.

Here is some great music that seems to fit.  New from Monster’s and Men.  This is going to take more posts but I promise it will be worth it.  This is going somewhere.  As always – these are only my opinions, founded wholly on my BA degrees in English and History, a little bit of internet research and a deep itch to understand what this is all about.  Don’t blame anybody else.

Next – Part 14 – Faceless in Front of a faceless god(s)


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