29.5.12

Inventarium




Artworks by Mariano Akerman
Rococo Soiree
Of the Importance of the Authentic
Irreducible like Water
Morris
Three before the Window
The Way I love You
Lots. Lots, Lots of Love
Life Supporter
Centaur
My Jerusalem
City of the Lord
Sheba
Undulant
Figures in a Garden
Black Milk
Gold and Ashes
Wishful Thinking
A Promised Land
Creation-Destruction Principle
Departure
Ceibo Flower
No Land Being
Waiting in Green
Innerscape
Recollection
Kaddish
Friendship
Prickly Matters I
Prickly Matters II
The Things You Tell Me
Idyll
Composition II
Composition III
Composition IV
Composition V
Credo
Aren't You Missing Something?


24.5.12

Blue Chip Magazine


An article on the origins of Mariano Akerman's art, its sources of inspiration, exhibitions, and critics' response.

Hanniya Abid and Mariano Akerman: A Passion for Hope through ImaginationBlue Chip Magazine, ed. Mashaal Gauhar, Vol. 8, Issue 89, Pakistan, March-April 2012, pp. 18-22; translated into Spanish as Pasión por la esperanza a través de la imaginación.







Images by courtesy of Mashaal Gauhar, Blue Chip Magazine

Blue Chip Magazine. Launched in 2004, Blue Chip has emerged as Pakistan’s premiere business magazine. Featuring the latest economic data as well as regular telecommunications, energy, capital markets and industry updates, Blue Chip has become an indispensable decision making tool within all levels of the private and public sectors. The magazine currently has a circulation of 6,000 copies a month primarily to Pakistan’s private sector including all levels of the financial sector from junior executives to senior management, all levels of industry including the telecommunications, energy, textiles and IT sectors. Blue Chip is also widely circulated in Pakistani government departments including the Ministry of Finance, the Board of Investment, the Securities & Exchange Commission, the Competition Commission, the State Bank of Pakistan, the Ministry of Health and the Planning Commission. It is circulated among all the embassies in bulk, particularly the Saudi, UAE, Chinese, US, UK and Argentine embassies which are then sent on to the various ministries abroad. Blue Chip is currently available on all PIA, Etihad and Cathay Pacific international business class flights originating from Pakistan.

23.5.12

Credo


Mariano Akerman, Credo, 2012
collage, témpera y acuarela | collage, gouache et aquarelle | gouache and watercolor collage, 34 x 47 cm
© MAC
Todos los derechos reservados | Tous droits réservés | All Rights Reserved

CREDO (Latin for "creed")
1. An expression of belief
2. A formal or authorized statement of principles or beliefs
3. A personal code of ethics or system of principles


Comments received
1. Me sorprende el giro artístico que ha tomado tu obra. Tengo la sensación de que has reducido las formas a su mínima expresión, [es] como si trabajaras en una idea casi obsesivamente y en profundidad, buscando explotar al máximo las posibilidades estéticas que [la] estructura puede brindarte. Lo que hoy por hoy estás haciendo es explosivamente bello. Una "Mélange Akermaniana" -Claudia Itkin
2. CREDO IN UNUM DEUM. -Dr Jenny Naseem
3. Tu trabajo incluye la décima letra de mi alfabeto y, en él, ella florece. -G.G.

21.5.12

A Passion for Hope through Imagination

by Hanniya Abid and Mariano Akerman

Versión castellano-rioplatense

Mariano Akerman was born in Buenos Aires in 1963. Architect and historian, he is also a multidisciplinary artist. In an exclusive interview, he shared some of his thoughts on art and life. According to Mariano, a painter should no longer be a slave of reality. “Today we need to create a better reality, not just imitate the existing one.” Mariano reminds us of the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible.” Mariano Akerman is convinced that "appearance is not essence, but mere accessory." Long ago he deliberately chose not to be a painter of appearances.

The painter with some of his small format collages, Islamabad, 2010
During the 1960s and 1970s, he received art lessons from his aunt Moroca at the Pirouettes Studio. As a painter, Moroca had a surrealist approach. She taught the art of automatism and stimulated her students' free association of ideas. A generous teacher, Moroca used to share her gouaches and brushes with her nephew. She had a good art library and usually lent him art manuals and other books among which were a biography of Michelangelo, Julio Payró’s Modern Painting, and Scott’s volume Design Fundamentals. Above all, Moroca encouraged the spirit of exploration. At Mariano's behest, she taught the history of art in her workshop. It is significant that it was Moroca who introduced Mariano's early work to the Casa de la Pintura Argentina (1984) and paved the way for his first solo exhibition at RG Fine Art (Galería Rodríguez-Gervasi en Arte, 1986).
Mariano's passion for books began in early childhood. He was particularly fond of looking at the illustrations of the encyclopaedia called El tesoro de la juventud (The Treasure of Youth, c.1947), which included, among other things, "some most unexpected characters" that could be traced back to Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland (1865).
Another important influence was Dictionary of Modern Art. One of the pictures illustrations in that book was James Ensor’s bizarre picture Intrigue (1890), whose strange figures wore distorted masks hinting darkly at uncertain intentions. In 1967, Akerman doodled over the illustration, which showed that the Belgian painter's image was important to him but at the same time showed his desire to soften what he later understood to be "a grotesque masquerade." The sense of the grotesque can be expressed in terms of either overabundant or missing attributes. Still a child, Akerman thought of Henri Matisse's Young English Girl, painted in 1947, as "incomplete", and thus added everything he supposed she was longing for—eyes, nose, mouth and eyebrows.
As the eleven-year-old prize-winner of a Reader’s Digest art contest, Mariano received a book whose subject matter delved into the strange, the astonishing and the truly extraordinary. Immersion in this book had a profound effect on the young boy, carrying him in a sense from the realm of reality into the realm of the imagination, where he would often feel most at home. Another powerful stimulus to Mariano’s young creative sensibility was early Netherlandish painting that included the amazing configurations of Hieronymus Bosch.
As a teenager, Mariano had breakfast once a week with his grandfather in a cafeteria not far from his home. Once breakfast was over, Mariano's grandfather would buy him the informative weekly issue of the Salvat Student’s Encyclopedia (1981-82), which was particularly rich in illustrations. It was in this encyclopaedia that, at the age of fourteen, Mariano discovered Francis Bacon's disfigured figures.
During Argentina’s period of dictatorship and repression, Mariano’s art teacher at Colegio D.F. Sarmiento was Professor Iglesias. Unusually for the time, she taught in an unconventional and stimulating fashion that encouraged all her students to express themselves freely. On one occasion, Prof. Iglesias brought to class a number of art reproductions and asked each student to pick out the one that interested him the most. The challenge was that each would remake the artwork he had chosen in his own way. To a teenager the expression "in your own way" could have been a problem, but this was not the case in this instance. Mariano chose François Gérard’s Psyche Receiving the First Kiss of Love (1798), for in that image he found "some sort of tenderness." He painted the mythological protagonists in surreal terms. Called Nada de Bésame Mucho ("Nothing of Kiss Me a Lot"), the resulting picture was exhibited at the Ministry of Education and, contrary to all expectations, was highly prised.

Nothing of Kiss Me a Lot, gouache, 1979
Prof. Iglesias' exercise provided Mariano with an excellent opportunity to exercise his imagination. Trying to "find his way" to remake Gérard’s image, he had bought an extraordinary book witten in English and entitled Surrealism. Struggling with his limited grasp of the language, the young student found himself attracted to the work of Salvador Dalí, René Magritte, Joan Miró, Max Ernst and Yves Tanguy.
In the summer of 1979, Mariano participated in a youth drawing competition and won a prize. This event took place in Punta del Este, Uruguay. A Visit to the House of My Aunt Moroca was the title of his prized image, which was as surreal. The gouache he painted immediately afterwards, Rococo Soirée in the House of a Medieval Princess, is a picture fusing abstraction and the imaginary. Around that time, an art critic wrote that Mariano Akerman distanced himself from banal preoccupations, suggesting unexpected experiences: the ones belonging to the empiric-meditative creator.

Crystalline, First Movement, gouache and mixed media, 1985-86
Mariano's first solo show, Fiber Transformations and Sweet Tales, took place at RG Fine Art in May 1986. The show included a gouache entitled Crystalline, First Movement and other imaginative works, many of which were conceived as mixed media. Then Mariano was studying architecture at Universidad de Belgrano in Buenos Aires. He completed his education with a graduation project in 1987. Another art critic, Monique Sasegur, detected important elements in his work and in an article of hers entitled "A Vital Message" she wrote, "A first approach to the pictures reveals a draftsman who dominates line, colour and space sure of what he wants. If we look for a formal structure, this is obvious. But, there is also a strong thematic basis: the work of this artist has an interesting vital message. Here, the simple does not exclude the profound. The undulating forms of the natural, the vegetable, the animal, and the excellence of the human figure, which sometimes adopts the form of other living beings," all of them confirm this principle. "Akerman’s theoretical formation rests on his architectural career; the rest is lived experience which he incorporates into his work. Technical requirements lead him to an attitude at once refined and playful. Gouache, markers, colour pencils, collage, ink, and all the architectural tools create the desired effects. One of the aims is the active response of the spectator who can participate in the artistic game only by adding a personal dose of imagination and fantasy. In this way, the picaresque eyes of the personages meet those of the witness, who must differentiate figure from background. But, do they actually merge? Too oriental or too decorative? One would say ornamental, expressive, and powerfully hopeful."
A second solo show at Faculty of Graduate Studies of Universidad de Belgrano (1988) was known as Of Shell and Content, an expression conveying the artistic notion of form and meaning as inextricable. Such an idea is entirely consistent with Oscar Wilde's understanding of art as both surface and symbol. In the exhibition catalogue, Akerman quoted the words of André Maurois, “Art gives the spirit what the world denies it—the union of contemplation and peace.” In the exhibited drawings and watercolours, one could find "unusual voluptuousness, dreamlike enigmas, and beauty, all of them unfolding exuberantly" (René Olivieri).
Mariano's third solo exhibit, Ten Paintbrushes through Deep Waters, was inaugurated at the Bank of Boston Cultural Foundation in 1989. Three by the Window, one of the pictures exhibited, was described by art critic Teresita Pociello as a work whose mobile structure evoked Miró. Yet, according to her, the impact of Mariano's picture was “americanista,” as it epitomized the imaginative qualities that are "typical of art from the American continent."

Three Figures before the Window, watercolor, gouache and ink, 1989
While one may agree or may not with Pociello’s ideas, it is noteworthy that Three by the Window was inspired by transatlantic sources such as Carroll's imaginary characters and Bacon’s Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944), an image Mariano first knew through a Tate Gallery catalogue from the early 1980s. Yet Bacon's painting conveys despair, while Akerman's speaks of hope. It is in this sense that Akerman's message finds expression in select images which provide the artwork with "the mysterious charm of things seldom seen by the human eye" (Zulema Vaini).
Ten Paintbrushes through Deep Waters was inaugurated with a series of telling remarks by poetess Bettina Sandrini, "There is a precise and delicate line in Mariano's work. As he depicts forms and details, his inner richness is expressed in terms of joy. In this way, his characters dream and grow up under skies, specially created by him in order to convey the better world he aspires to. Through a patient distillation, Mariano brings innovation into the visual arts."
Such innovation relates to Mariano's use of the imaginary. As Giordano Bruno once put it, "the fictitious image carries a truth of its own." This is true in Mariano's pictures where a certain symbolism is undoubtedly present. Yet the artist is reluctant to discuss this aspect of his work. “Sometimes,” he comments, “to talk about your own work is as necessary as dance is to architecture.” Even a tree in bloom has some of its parts buried underneath.
Writing from the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Museum of Fine Arts), in Argentina, Jorgelina Orfila indicates that "with secure hand and controlled drawing, a prolific imagination finds expression in Mariano's work. His technical knowledge intermingles with a profound introspection, and an almost obsessive desire to transcend the formal, to convey deep meanings."

Microcosm, mixed media collage, 1991, 2005
Mariano Akerman has exhibited in solo or group shows in a range of countries, including Argentina, Spain, Japan, The Philippines, Sweden and Pakistan. He has been awarded twelve major international prizes. Today he expresses himself through water-based techniques such as watercolour and gouache. He likes to make collages and drawings as well as sketches and designs. Technically, Mariano uses brushes in his own way and style, at times consciously leaving aside traditional or conventional approaches. He tells us he prizes inventiveness. While prizing creativity and inventiveness, the painter also recognises that the past will always be present in his imagery. After all, he is art historian as well as artist.

The artist as lecturer and art historian, Swiss Embassy in Islamabad, 2011
Mariano's painting style is intricate, precise, richly symbolic and wholly personal. His strikingly coloured and textured paintings suggest a world of fantasy; yet on closer inspection, the various shapes and colours hint at a vital concern with real-world events and experiences. Some critics consider Mariano's development as a painter has been a matter of refinement of technique rather than of dramatic stylistic change. Others are impressed with his sensitivity to all kinds of cultural material, which could be a reflection of his intellectual training and life experience. Thus sensitivity is combined with an ability to empathize with the most diverse cultural traditions and societies.

The Way I love You, watercolour and mixed media, 1989
Resident over the last twenty years in Asia, Mariano thinks of himself as a bridge between various cultures and traditions. Now living in Pakistan, his current concerns are art and education. Commenting with enthusiasm on the distinctive patterns in textile and truck decoration, Mariano talks of Pakistani trucks as "mighty modern elephants." Speaking of his first visit to Lok Virsa, which was his introduction to Pakistani material culture, Mariano observes, "It was a great experience and impressed me a lot, due to its multi-traditional dimension."
Of his experience in Pakistan in general, Mariano says, “Not even for a second have I had the feeling of being an alien in this country”. Asked to comment on Pakistan’s attractions, Mariano prizes its natural beauty, which he says gives him peace of mind. He appreciates the variety of the seasons. Considering the political situation in Pakistan, Mariano rejects its portrayal as a problematic country, mostly because “good things and bad things happen everywhere in these days.” Mariano values life. He is convinced that a dialogue between tradition and modernisation is both possible and necessary. As an artist, he rejects the idea of a world without diversity. “Imagine the world as completely uniform. Would you like to live in a place where everyone looks identical, does exactly the same things, speaks only one language and always thinks in the same way? Even the most ardent champions of technological development would agree that such a world would be sad and boring. It would be a catastrophe, the triumph of mediocrity. One sees value in cultural diversity. God has created a world based on the principle of diversity, not uniformity. You simply have to contemplate nature for a while. There is variety everywhere.”

Source: Hanniya Abid and Mariano Akerman, "A Passion for Hope through Imagination," Blue Chip Magazine, Vol. 8, Issue 89, Pakistan, March-April 2012, pp. 18-22. Prof. Hanniya Abid coordinates the Education Management and Communication Department of COMSATS University in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Spanish version: Pasión por la esperanza a través de la imaginación

_____
Comments received
1. Very readable and well written. Dr Jenny Naseem
2. This article is really well written and I had not known of your art views/life/accomplishments nor most of the earlier art work which you had done until I read this. Two thumps up. ;-) Amera Khan
3. Well done. I like the Pakistani trucks as magnificent elephants. Well-deserved praise and well-written. I like the format. Joan Pohl
4. Informative and very interesting. Prof. Rabiya Qadir
5. A very well compiled article. Now we know more about you thanks to this article. Wish you the best. Keep it up! Saba Fayyaz
6. Thanks Mariano! Ilona Yusuf
7. The article really does you justice. It is well written and provides clear and valuable information about you and how you became who you are now. I think it is a nice and good article about you and your work. Franka Wandelen from ’s-Hertogenbosch
8. Thank you very much for sharing with us this article! It is indeed interesting to get detailed information about you and your professional and artistic path. I find the article itself is very well organized and written in a most understandable way. Thank you again. I wish you all the success. Liuba Fedotova
9. Dear Mariano, thank you. You are a star as always! Guess what, I was looking through some books at Mr Books and I saw the Blue Chip Magazine lying there: the first page I opened was this article. I bought it straight away! Its always good to work with you. I am honoured to have you as my friend. Stay blessed and stay in touch. H.A.

20.5.12

Collages by Mariano Akerman

Composition IV, collage, 28 x 21.7 cm
© MAC. Todos los derechos reservados | Tous droits réservés | All Rights Reserved

Composition I, collage, 28 x 21.7 cm
• Vivian Verbelen Collection, Sulayman, Tunis
© MAC. Todos los derechos reservados | Tous droits réservés | All Rights Reserved

Composition II, collage, 28 x 21.7 cm
© MAC. Todos los derechos reservados | Tous droits réservés | All Rights Reserved

Composition III, collage, 28 x 21.7 cm
© MAC. Todos los derechos reservados | Tous droits réservés | All Rights Reserved

Composition V, collage, 28 x 21.7 cm
© MAC. Todos los derechos reservados | Tous droits réservés | All Rights Reserved

Comments received
1. En estos collages el mundo verdaderamente está en llamas, arde y se consume. Pero también pueden ser flores o ramas. A mí me recuerdan zarzas ardientes. La obra de arte no se pierde en el limbo: a cada uno le suena su música interior. Me gustan mucho. -G.G.
2. Me sorprende el giro artístico que ha tomado tu obra. Tengo la sensación de que has reducido las formas a su mínima expresión, [es] como si trabajaras en una idea casi obsesivamente y en profundidad, buscando explotar al máximo las posibilidades estéticas que determinada estructura puede brindarte. Lo que hoy por hoy estás haciendo es explosivamente bello. Una "Mélange Akermaniana" -Claudia Itkin

15.5.12

Hindu Kush


Mariano Akerman
Indokush | Hindukush | Hindu Kush
2009
watercolor | aquarelle | acuarela
• Nauman Ahmed Collection, Rawalpindi
© MAC. Todos los derechos reservados | Tous droits réservés | All Rights Reserved

The Hindu Kush (Pashto/Persian: ھندوکُش‎, Urdu: سلسلہ کوہ ہندوکش) is an 800 km long mountain range that stretches between central Afghanistan and northern Pakistan. The highest point in the Hindu Kush is Tirich Mir (7,708 m) in Chitral District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan.
It is the westernmost extension of the Pamir Mountains, the Karakoram Range, and is a sub-range of the Himalayas.
The Persian-English dictionary indicates that the word "Kush" is derived from the verb Kushtar - to slaughter or carnage ( J.A. Boyle, A Practical Dictionary of the Persian Language, Luzac & Co., 1949, p. 129). Kush is probably also related to the verb Koshtan, meaning to kill.

El Hindu Kush o Hindukush, o también Hindu Qūh (هندوکش en persa) es un macizo montañoso de Asia, situado a caballo, entre Afganistán y el noroeste de Pakistán. Es la prolongación más occidental de las cordilleras del Pamir, el Karakórum y el Himalaya. Con una extensión de aproximadamente 1.000 km, gran parte de este sistema orográfico supera los 5.000 m de altitud sobre el nivel del mar, por ejemplo en el Tirich Mīr con 7.690 m (unos 40 km al norte de Chitral) o en el Kūh-e Fūlādī de 5.135 metros (unos 80 km al sureste de Bāmīān). Se une con los montes de Karakórum y sólo el muy elevado y estrecho valle del Wakhan le separa del nudo del Pamir. El río Kabul recoge el agua de su vertiente meridional. En la antigüedad fue conocido por los griegos durante la expedición de Alejandro Magno, y llamado por éstos Parapamisos; luego los autores latinos les denominaron Paropamisus o Caucasus Indicus.

13.5.12

Enhancing Perception

Ilona Yusuf, Enhancing Perception: The Gestalt Lectures and Collage Competition, Blue Chip Magazine, issue 87, vol. 8, Islamabad, Pakistan, January-February 2012, pp. 16-19.


10.5.12

Constellation

Mariano Akerman, Constellation C1-5, 2005-9
watercolor
• Stéphane Mund Collection, Brussels

"I don't paint what one sees, I paint what I feel. Rather than being a camera, I prefer to be myself. A camera reproduces appearances, which are just a aspect of the reality that surrounds us. Instead of looking outwards, I look inwards. My pictures are inner constellations and they involve one's associative imagination." Mariano Akerman, interviewed by Machel Ramos, Manila, 2005

1.5.12

Bacon: Painter with a Double-Edged Sword

An article by Mariano Akerman

His pictures are ambiguous and among the most expensive ever brought to auction. They easily sell for millions of pounds and maintain a top position in the art market. Bacon is the UK’s most expensive artist at auction. Last week a single painting reached £21.6m ($33.3 million). Bacon's artwork is provocative and perplexing. With a British Council Grant, Argentinean researcher Mariano Akerman investigates the artist's imagery in England and Europe. He discovers a most extraordinary element in his paintings and explores its ultimate raison d'être.


The Anglo-Irish artist Francis Bacon (1909-1992) was one of the most original and powerful painters of the twentieth century. He was particularly noted for the intensity and paradoxical nature of his pictures. His figurative work is renowned for its boldness and visceral intensity. Bacon achieved fame and notoriety for his disturbing figures and his constant preoccupation with the torment of the human condition, including an unusual interest in bare flesh, wounds, and fluids. His imagery speaks for loneliness, violence and degradation. And it does so in a grotesque manner. Not in vain commentators hold that Bacon seemed quite joyful in his personal life, but the fact is that he also gained reputation for being a perceptive observer of the darker aspects of humanity.

Francis Bacon was born October 28, 1909, in Dublin. At the age of 16, he moved to London and subsequently lived for about two years in Berlin and Paris. Although Bacon attended no art school, he began to draw and work in watercolor around 1927. Picasso’s work decisively influenced his painting until the mid-1940s. Upon his return to London in 1929, Bacon established himself as a furniture designer and interior designer. He began to use oils in the autumn of that year and exhibited a few paintings as well as furniture and rugs in his studio. His work was included in a group exhibition in London at the Mayor Gallery in 1933. In 1934, the artist organized his own first solo show at Sunderland House, which he called Transition Gallery for the occasion. Bacon painted relatively little after and in the 1930s and early 1940s he destroyed many of his works. However, he began to paint intensively again in 1944. His work gained prominence only after World War II. By this time he painted the human figure, subjecting it to extreme distortions that made it look bizarre and disturbing. His first major solo show took place at the Hanover Gallery, London, in 1949. From the mid-1940s to the 1950s, Bacon’s work reflected certain influence of Surrealism. The pictures that made his reputation were of such subjects as an opened-mouth figure bending over and partly covered by an umbrella or a vaporizing head in front of a curtain. These startlingly original works were considered to be powerful expressions of anguish, remarkable because of the grandeur of their presentation and unusual painterly quality. Bacon was interested in suggestion. In 1952 he declared, "I would like my pictures to look as if a human being had passed between them, like a snail, leaving a trail of the human presence and memory trace of past events, as the snail leaves its slime." Crucifixion and scream were recurrent two motifs in his work. He wanted to paint a smile, but he never succeeded. "I've always hoped in a sense to be able to paint the mouth like Monet painted a sunset." Yet, the mouths he painted convey unprecedented tension. By the 1950s Bacon had developed a treatment of the human figure and based his work on clippings from newspapers and magazines and from the nineteenth-century photographs of humans and animals in movement by Eadweard Muybridge. He also drew on such sources as Diego Velázquez’s famous Portrait of Pope Innocent X of 1649–50 and Sergei Eisenstein's film Battleship Potemkin of 1925. A combination of motifs drawn from completely unrelated sources was usual in Bacon's imagery. At the same time the contemporary imagery he developed was given a grandeur presentation akin to that of Baroque masterpieces. Bacon's first solo exhibition outside England was held in 1953 at Durlacher Brothers, New York. His first retrospective was held at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, in 1955. From the 1950s through the end of Bacon's painting career and life (in the early 1990s), the recurrent theme of his work was the isolation and anguish of the individual. He often painted a single figure, usually male, seated or standing in a windowless interior, and framed by a geometric construction, as if confined in a private hell. His subjects were his friends, lovers, and himself. Working almost without preliminary sketches, Bacon used expressive deformations to convey every possible nuance of feeling and tension. His painting technique consisted of using rags, his hands and whorls of dust along with paint and brush. In 1962, the Tate Gallery of London organized a Bacon retrospective. Other important exhibitions of his work were held at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1963 and the Grand Palais, in Paris, in 1971. Paintings from 1968 to 1974 were exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 1975. Although Bacon had consistently denied the illustrational nature of his paintings, the facts of his life led art critics and historians to draw links between the personal life of the artist and the subject matter of his paintings. An example of this was the suicide of his model and closest friend George Dye. One of Bacon's triptychs evokes Dyer’s suicide and shows him shadowed in a door frame, vomiting into a sink and dying hunched fetus-like on a toilet. Bacon admitted that painting to be a most personal work and one which verges on illustration. Yet, he also kept each panel of the triptych framed individually and arranged it so to alter a logical sequence and avoid storytelling. In a period dominated by abstract art, Bacon stood out as one of the greatest figurative painters. Often large in scale, Bacon's works bring back traditional themes, but in an iconoclastic way that involves grotesqueness and the meaningless. In 1962, he said, "Man now realizes that he is an accident, that he is a completely futile being, that he has to play out the game without reason." And significantly, "all art has now become a game by which man distracts himself." Bacon wanted to make "not illustrations of reality, but images which are a concentration of reality and a shorthand of sensation." His paintings were supposed to be "a deeply ordered chaos.” The artist died of heart failure brought on by asthma in Madrid, on April 28, 1992.

The Grotesque in Francis Bacon's paintings


Perhaps one day I will manage to capture an instant in all its violence and all its beauty. — Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon's paintings are mysterious and suggestive. They are ambiguous in nature and tend to constitute symbols of multi-leveled significance, being this is conveyed through the artist's manipulation of the Grotesque.

In Aesthetics, the Grotesque is a category that comprises ambiguous, abnormal and uncanny configurations, which suggest the monstrous (defamiliarization, abnormality, dehumanization). The Grotesque has a long tradition in the visual arts. Initially this type of imagery was ornamental and playful, but later was to become prevalently distorted, visceral, and unsettling. Significantly, the Grotesque is neither attractive nor repulsive, but both at once. Moreover, as an art critic once put it, the Grotesque involves "certain things that are deformed, and thus please by giving great displeasure." In this sense, the Grotesque is a problematic, double-edged realm where the one aspect always goes hand in hand with the incompatible other thus creating a visual paradox.

As configurations of the ambiguous, Bacon's mysterious pictures engender both curiosity and perplexity. The often produce mixed feelings such as attraction and repulsion at once. For a well-balanced yet disquieting interplay between fear and desire, vulnerability and cruelty, suffering and apathy is characteristic of Bacon's idiosyncratic imagery.

Tension and intensity, the combination of incompatible elements, and suggestions of the monstrous or the inhuman abound in the artist's imagery.

Bacon uses the grotesque as a means of self-expression that enables him to ambiguously communicate not only a fascination with power and violence, but also his haunted condition. The grotesque thus becomes a means of purgation and transcendence.

Even if extravagant, Bacon's double-edged figures are far from being accessories. It is appropriate to think of them as inalienable personal reports encapsulating a private truth, in other words, the artist's contradictory feelings and sensations, which are neither ornamental nor entirely evasive.

Through what Bacon has called instinctive painting (1966), he willingly walks along the border of an emotional precipice, suggesting an obsession with sex and death, apathy in matters of vulnerability and suffering, and a fascination with power and aggressiveness.

The suggestiveness of Bacon's art simultaneously reveals and conceals the artist's ultimate intentions, and in such a blurred way that identity itself becomes problematic in his imagery. By depicting the ambiguously combined and the equivocally suggestive Bacon disorients the viewer, who can establish no precise meaning in his ever-changing images. Various readings are thus possible and they may be all equally valid.

Considering that instinct implies the abolishment of morals, at the time of contemplating Bacon's paintings, we are to arrive at our own moral conclusions, certainly irrelevant to the artist and his calculated lack of concern. At this point, everything melts under our feet, because in Bacon's paradoxical realm the only safe given is insecurity.

Besides, Bacon’s instinctive paintings are certainly not the product of accident or chance, as the artist liked to claim from the 1960s onwards. They constitute carefully planned compositions which are inextricably related to the artist's personal life and also function as mysterious, anti-illustrational traps which suggest the monstrously cruel.

In this context, one realizes Bacon's manipulation of the grotesque and the artist's fundamental intervention in turning it into a useful vehicle for self-expression. Bacon's instinctive images are profound but also problematic—a grand manner of painting that merges the defiantly powerful, the disquietingly extraordinary, the suggestively monstrous, the sarcastically allusive, the theatrically manipulative, and the extremely personal.

As a species of confusion par excellence, the grotesque suspends belief and invites a search for meaning. Pushing one to consider alternative possibilities, the grotesque paralyses language and challenges categories. Grotesque art is thought-enlarging art. This is true in Bacon's peculiar case, whose grotesque art conveys immediacy and suggests multilayered ideas that grant one an active role as spectator and interpreter. This is possibly the ultimate meaning of the artist's pictorial freedom, which he has undoubtedly achieved through an admirable manipulation of the grotesque.

The ambiguous element that inhabits Bacon's instinctive paintings has an immense capacity to open the valves of feeling. It is this expressive, ever-changing element of Bacon's suggestive art which proves to be extraordinarily rich. For, expressed as paradoxical and grotesque, pictorial freedom becomes a provocative element, one that coherently unites Bacon's truth and our freedom.

Inspiration in a clipping

Francis Bacon prized intensity and had an obsession with being able to paint a mouth as Monet painted a sunset. In a considerable number of his paintings the mouth seems to be an important element. The snarling mouth of one of Bacon's Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion 1944 has its referent in a clipping that was found in the artist's studio when he died in 1992. The visual referent, which is part of a bigger plate, was published online as a black and white image in 2000. It was then that I detected a significant formal similarity between the mouth Bacon painted in the 1944 Tate picture and the one in the work document later found in his studio. Showing a strange mouth, the clipping was a fragment of a plate taken from a book the painter said he bought in Paris in 1929.

He was only nineteen or twenty years-old then. In a 1966 interview with David Sylvester, Bacon recalled that second hand book which had "beautiful hand-coloured plates of diseases of the mouth." It was in 2000 that I detected a significant formal similarity between the mouth Bacon painted in the 1944 Tate picture and the one in the work document later found in his studio. In 2003, the clipping was reproduced once again, this time in colour.

The coloured fragment suggested that Bacon’s assertions of 1966 were true. Julian Bell referred to that clipping in an article written in The New York Times Review of Books in 2007: "Some 40 percent of a plate has been ripped out of the Atlas-Manuel des maladies de la bouche, a French translation of an 1894 German medical textbook. The torn-away trapezoid shows "Fig. 1": a heavily retouched photo of lips prised apart by forceps to reveal gums disfigured by an abscess, chipped teeth, and froth about the tongue. The chromolithograph with its flesh reds stands as an oval vignette on the creamy fragment of coated paper. But then the scrap has been scuffed by brushes loaded with green and cerulean; there are fingerprints to the right in blue-black and mauve, little splats of yellow and scarlet. The paper’s edges are frayed and nicked, it has a riverine crack where those clutching fingers have bent it: a vertical sever being a further result of decades of overhandling."

As an invaluable work document, Bacon's clipping is preserved in the Hugh Lane Gallery, in Dublin (F105:140). A copy of the very book the painter bought in 1929 (and to which he referred to in the 1966 interview) is kept in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, in Paris.

The volume was written in German by Dr. Ludwig Grünwald, indeed in 1894, and subsequently translated into French by Dr. Georges Laurens, as Atlas-Manuel des maladies de la bouche, du pharynx et des fosses nasales. The French version was published in Paris in 1903. Among other things, Grünwald's medical manual contains 42 chromolithographs and 106 hand-coloured plates of diseases of the mouth. They are impressive. After having myself examined the various illustrations in that manual (which can be found online), I have no doubt that the much disfigured mouth reproduced in Grünwald's book as "Tab. 5, Fig. 1" cannot be other than Bacon's predictably grotesque source of inspiration.


See also Enthusiastic Despair: Inspired by Dr Grünwald