Francis Bacon: Couplings review

Art
4 out of 5 stars
Francis Bacon: Couplings review
Francis Bacon 'Two Figures with a Monkey' (1973) © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved, DACS/Artimage (2019) Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd. Image courtesy of Gagosian

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

You can’t imagine that having sex with Francis Bacon was very pleasant. And if this jaw-dropping little collection of paintings of male bodies pre-, during and post-intimacy is anything to go by, it definitely wasn’t gentle.

The figures Bacon depicted in these works – some of which haven’t been seen since the 1970s – are writhing fleshy masses, their teeth bared, muscles taught. The men here are paralysed in wrestling holds, caught between violent pain and physical ecstasy. Their ‘coupling’, Bacon’s word, doesn’t happen anywhere romantic, but on hospital and prison beds, single light bulbs hovering overhead, white stains streaked across the ground.

The works with single figures show them balled up on a couch, walking facelessly in a suit, left in a puddle of sweat on the floor.

These are violent, aggressive works; they view love as a boxing match, sex as war. It’s not pleasant, but it is utterly, totally brilliant. Bacon could convey so much tension, so much physicality. He’s such an obscenely visceral painter. You can almost feel the bruises, smell the sweat, sense the heady mixture of fear and desire.

This is Bacon at his most illicit, and with the exception of two slightly duller works, this is him at his best.

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