It is through the presentation of pain and suffering that the viewer is forced to identify with them.
Bacon is not just showing us violence so that we may associate it with the process of self-actualization, however. Amidst pain and suffering, Bacon's painting forces us to ask if there is anything that can transcend the violence and the suffering. There is a certain ethical dimension to violence and suffering that Bacon is showing and this is what is so offensive (Dyer 2003).
The mere play of opposing physical forces is not suffering, because for there to be suffering there must be something over and above physical interaction. The struggle presented in Bacon's images is not the physical attraction and repulsion of forces, but the opposition between the physical and that which opposes it: the non-physical, the dimension of freedom that transcends the physical. Violence and suffering in the proper meaning of those terms are nothing other than the struggle of the physical and the non-physical which, as presented in the serial structure of Bacon's paintings and the viewer's response that they demands, is the struggle of embodied freedom (Dyer 2003).
Francis Bacon was one of the most controversial artists of his day and he still remains one of the most important modern artists of all time. Nightmarish horror is chiefly depicted in his art, whether the subject is places in an intense or more domesticated situation. He is known for the human scream, painting his subject's mouths agape, evoking an unpleasant if not terrifying feeling within the viewer.
Bacon was inspired by great masters such as Velazquez, Rembrandt and Van Gogh as well as by films such as Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (Sylvester 2001). There is no other painter as great as Bacon who has owed so much to photography (2001). Other painters, like Degas, used photographs to learn about the human form and composition, but Sylvester (2001) argues that while painters like Degas looked through the photograph, Bacon looked at the photograph "inasmuch as he has tried to find a painterly equivalent for its actual physical attributes and its manner of presenting the image. He likes the sense of immediacy which it gives, and its implication of transience" (2001).
Bacon was a tragic painter because of the victims he places in their tormented situations coupled with their "air of defiance in the face of destiny" (Sylvester 2001). Bacon could make victims out of prelates as well as cheap businessmen and he is able to reconcile a certain sense of grandeur with harsh features and distorted posturing.
…beyond this achievement of his in putting on to canvas the anguish of contemporary life, his art is remarkable enough for the electric brilliance with which it captures the quality of our sensations of corporeal things. Before the gloomy, claustrophobic curtained backgrounds of his pictures there loom up in front of us beings whose presence is as disturbing, as unexpected, as fleeting, as commanding, as the presences of other people which in life confront and torment us with their portentous ambiguity (Sylvester 2001).
Bacon's skill as an expressionist (and somewhat as an abstract expressionist) is clearly seen in his uncanny ability to translate complete agony into visual form. There is no other artist of his time who was able to do this so expertly.
van Alphen, Ernst. (1993). Francis Bacon and the Loss of Self (Essays in Art and Culture).
Archimbaud, Michel. (1994). Francis Bacon: In Conversation with Michel Archimbaud.
Chipp, Herschel Browning. & Selz, Peter Howard. (1982). Theories of Modern Art: A Source
Book by Artists and Critics. University of California Press.
Chipp, Herschel Browning., Selz, Peter Howard. & Taylor, Joshua C. (1984). Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics. University of California Press.
Dyer, Jennifer. (2003). "Paint and Suffering: Series and Community in Francis Bacon's
Paintings." Animus 8. Accessed on December 28, 2010: