Thursday, January 9, 2020

Rome Journal: Bacon, Freud and The School of London

“The scream comes to me very well, but I have lots of problems with smiles,” said Francis Bacon. His “Study for a Painting” (1952), is currently exhibited in "Bacon, Freud and The School of London"show at the Chiostro del Bramante. The screaming mouth in the painting recalls the famous scene from the Odessa steps sequence of Eisenstein’s Potemkin. And there were of course Bacon's famed Screaming Popes modeled on the figure of Velasquez’s” "Portrait of Pope Innocent X." Bacon’s screaming figures also prefigure Billie Whitelaw’s rendition of Beckett’s Not I (1973) in being a form of emotional invective. The London School, which also included Lucian Freud, Leon Kossoff, Frank Auerbach and Paula Prego, whose works are also represented in the current show, was soused without being Dionysiac. To some extent the drinking appears to have been joyless, desperate and like their abstract expressionist counterparts often on the edge of violence. They drank at the Gargoyle and at Colony Room Club and the alcohol was an intrinsic part of the esthetic. How to calculate its etiology and effects is another matter. One of the early paintings on view “Girl With a Kitten” (1947) depicts Freud’s wife Kathleen Garman's steely blank eyes. She's not so much cuddling her cat as squeezing its neck. Garman appears again in the famed Girl With a White Dog (1950) and its pet and breast is almost an essay in bestiality. Which is to say that Freud like Bacon was not concerned with classic notions of beauty, despite the elegance of his draughtsmanship  The curators point out Freud wasn’t so much interested in nudes as “naked figures.” His paintings like those of the nightlife figure Leigh Bowery are an emotional striptease. Did he, Bacon and the other painters of the London School seek to see mankind at its worst or was their mandate simply to make great art, glass in hand? 

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