Three Figures and Portrait – Francis Bacon (Tate Liverpool)

Liverpool is currently one of best cities in the U.K. outside of London to see important, beautiful and mind-blowing pieces of art.  Thanks in part to the 2008 Capital of Culture, the year of culture itself has left a wonderful legacy and a demand for art in Liverpool that has been growing for years even before the festival had started.  With this in mind then, this is the start of a new look at artwork currently on show in the city as well as Merseyside in general and what better place to start than at the haven of contemporary art; Tate Liverpool.

Their collection is huge and though it has many brilliant works that deserve credit (and probably will get it later on in the year), the piece recommended to take a look at this week is Francis Bacon’s dark but oddly beautiful painting, Three Figures and Portrait.  The painting itself is currently housed on the second floor and is a massive canvas of twisted proportions so is not hard to miss.

Though one becomes aware of a strong divide between people that either love or loath Bacon’s work when discussing it, Three Figures and Portrait is an obvious staggering achievement even if some viewer’s personal taste dictates a wary form of disgust.  The pictures shows two figures that appear to be in the process of physical change, morphing furiously as if trying to escape their redundant form of a person.  This could also be seen a literal re-working of personal identity which is in constant flux for everyone but at the same time is here depicted as something one must try at all lengths to escape both physically and emotionally.

The two figures themselves have, like many of Bacon’s portraits and people, been identified as his deceased lover George Dyer.  Though on no account does this account for the visual darkness on show in the rest of Bacon’s work, it is clear that the death of Dyer caused the artist to go even deeper into his own psyche in creating his work whether he admits it or not.

A third creature inhabits the very front of the painting though describing it as a bird would be highly unkind to ornithology.  Its bird like appearance is juxtaposed to its horribly human mouth which grins its white teeth as it relaxes on top of its cube as the people agonise over their painful metamorphosis.

The work itself is also one of the first self-referencing pieces with all the figures in the painting being watched over by another painting clearly by Bacon.  Perhaps this is turning the idea of what visual art is on its head by making the painting itself watch the artist twist and turn in torment as he tries to gain some sense of being as opposed to the artist torturing the paint with his brush until the painting fits with his ideas of what existence should be about.

Three Figures and Portrait is currently on show at Tate Liverpool, Albert Dock.  The painting is on show as part of the DLA Piper Series: Conversation Pieces, and it’s on show till the 27th of August.   

Adam Scovell

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