Who would undo the body from its bone structure to show its raw meat, mixing bones, guts, skin and hair in a single organic bolus? Francis Bacon (1909, Dublin, 1992, Madrid) did it without being a butcher or a murderer. Or perhaps playing both roles. While not resorting to the use of ordinary torture instruments, he used the brush as a scalpel and the canvas as an operating room for his formal massacres.
An irreverent, obsessive man of excess, the Irish painter spends most of his life in a bohemian way. Away from those frigid and intolerant domestic environments, which in 1925 had driven him out of his home for his umpteenth and provocative disguise as a woman. London and Paris are the main cities where Francis Bacon takes refuge, where he weaves working relationships and affectionate ties, between glasses of wine and the fumes of that nicotine that made him suffer from asthma so much. Here he devoted himself completely to the construction of a new pictorial language, as fresh as it was macabre, among whose favorite subjects his lover George Dyer stood out
The body is the body / It is alone / And it does not need organs / The body is never an organism / Organisms are the enemies of the body.
Thus was written by the French playwright Antonin Artaud (1896, Marseille, Ivry-sur-Seine, 1948) in his notes Douze Textes inédits (1948). He inaugurated a visceral, cathartic and bestial approach to the representation. Bacon pushed his pictorial practice just in this direction, to the point of reducing the body to viande (in French butchered meat), the most authentic and vulgar expression of animality – this is what In Logic of Sensation (1981) Gilles Delueze (1925, Paris, 1995, Paris) defines becoming-animal.
Even his studies, including the best known at 7 Reece Mew in London, photographed by Perry Odgen (1961, Shrpsphire, United Kingdom), are of little mellifluous. X-rays of facial malformations, photos of car accidents, images of mangled mouths, cinematic frames full of pain. It was in this hell that his George first found himself, then nothing more than an inexperienced petty thief, probably thinking he had stumbled upon a serial killer’s lair
Romance in the film Love is the Devil (1998, directed by John Maybury) Francis wakes up to a deaf noise coming from his studio and upon meeting his future lover invites him to go to bed with him, in exchange for expensive promises. Indeed, for the entire duration of the deranged relationship, George is maintained by the painter; at first as a handyman, with the possibility of introducing himself to friends as a companion and model, then as a lover, and finally as a desperate companion.
Two men are opposite half of the same rotten apple that will be their relationship. George naive, helpful, passionate about boxing but with his gentle companion like a lamb. Bacon insatiable, eccentric, diligent in his painting and devoted to painfully carnal passions. Between sexual hazards, elegant clothes and Champagne alteration, a series of famous portraits are born which fortify the fame of the Irish painter.
They are witnesses: Triptych: three studies for portrait of George Dyer (on pink ground) (1964), Portrait of George Dyer talking (1966), Portrait of George Dyer on a bycicle (1966) and Two George Dyer studies with dog (1968 ). George is always disfigured with necropsy brush strokes, through surreal shots and a neurotic trait that summarizes every spasm, gesture and enjoyment of their relationship.
Then, as Maybury tells in Love is the Devil, a short circuit occurs. George’s simplicity with which Bacon falls in love, over time takes the form of a pedantic straight line, even becoming a mockery between the painter and his London friends. It was like after having sexually and artistically explored every millimeter of George’s flesh, the painter was first addicted to it and then sickened, to the point of preferring the photograph to be portrayed to the physical person. In a moment of self-analysis reconstructed in the film, Francis reflects:
George is getting boring, it’s a tragedy awaiting representation. Reminds me of my friend Peter. Like George, it was too excessive a point, a kind of obsessive joke that nobody found funny. There was a fate of inevitability, always chased by its shadow.
The comrade’s reaction to this detachment is, at least for Francis, unexpected. Among opioid clouds, rivers of alcohol and mountains of anxiolytics, George’s path seems to become increasingly confused with a parade in search of attention, covered with a series of small and large desperate gestures. From the countless suicide threats to the attempt to frame Bacon with a dose of heroin left in his study.
In FrancisBacon in Your Blood, the curator and art historian Michael Peppiat (2015) claims that the painter was attracted to figures capable of defending himself and writes. And that’s exactly what happened with poor George. Although he had some sort of protruding muscles and, if really pushed, he could be quite decisive in a fight, from the temperament point of view, he did not resist.
Spites, clashes, arguments and misunderstandings make a relationship as tense as the thread of a tightrope walker ever more complicated. Not surprisingly, a few nights before the inauguration of the great Francis Bacon Retrospective at the Grand Palais in Paris, George is found dead from an overdose of anxiolytics and narcotic substances in the bathroom of the Hotel des Saint-Pères, where the couple stayed. Nothing could describe the pitiful discomfort that assailed Bacon in the days following the mourning, if not, perhaps, his monologue in one of the last scenes of Love is the Devil:
I would miss him. I would miss his sweaty armpits, his socks. I would miss his hair stuck around the sink when I go to shave. I would miss the sound of his key when he turns the lock. I’d like just another night curled up under him, just another night of love, of sincere affection. And a few more days of tenderness. But, in the end, what remains in the end? A pile of bones and a few teeth.
Francis Bacon will continue to obsessively paint George’s ghost, leaving us with masterpieces such as Triptych: in memory of George Dyer (1971) and Triptych: tryptich may-june (1973).