Exhibition reflections: Francis Bacon: Invisible Rooms at Tate Liverpool

18th May – 18th September 2016

I visited this exhibition during last August bank holiday, but feel it’s worth writing about now, because of my reaction to the exhibit.

I love Francis Bacon. Always have. Since I saw his ‘screaming popes’, I have been absolutely fascinated by his work. It gives me an awe that I don’t find in other painters, because of the sheer horror – he is the master of displacement (not counting cubism – Picasso wins there), and his work actively haunts, making it not just something to view, but something to experience.

His 1940s/50s work is my favourite, on the back of the ‘pope’ paintings. I remember the first time I saw “Study after Véláquez” – it still sticks with me now: the gaping mouth, the darkness, the sweeping lines likening the figure to a flitting shadow, the arms grasping the chair as if the painting has realised its own horror but cannot escape.

Study after Véláquez, 1953, copyright: The Estate of Francis Bacon, http://francis-bacon.com/artworks/paintings/1950s
Study after Véláquez, 1953, copyright: The Estate of Francis Bacon, http://francis-bacon.com/artworks/paintings/1950s

I find something extraordinarily beautiful about Bacon’s work. All these reasons are exactly why I was so excited about the chance to go to Tate Liverpool and see the exhibition. I’d seen some of his work in The Ashmolean, Oxford before, but I wasn’t prepared for the Tate’s presentation of his work. Oxford had been small scale, just snippets of the Bacon I admire the most, but Liverpool felt different.

Tate Liverpool
Tate Liverpool

I couldn’t take any photos inside of course, but because the rooms need to be shared, here’s one that was posted by Art in Liverpool (http://www.artinliverpool.com/review-francis-bacon-tate-liverpool/):


Once I walked in through those doors at the top of the gallery, and saw his work, I started crying. I know that makes me sound completely over the top, but it wasn’t expected – my eyes just started watering. I think it’s a feeling we all get when we finally see something we’ve idolised for so long, because the culmination of pouring through books of his and using him as an influence/guidance/inspiration for years hit me as soon as I saw Invisible Rooms.

Paintings like “Study for a Portrait” struck me the most, again, because there’s a visceral howling that escapes from the canvas upon viewing:


I think one of the things I appreciate most about Bacon’s work how clearly you can see how his paintings develop. It’s such a hearty body of art, a collection that you chew over for hours. Admittedly this is true for a lot of artists, if not all eventually; however, due to Bacon’s illustrated terror, and as an avid horror-and-all-things-superstitious fan, his work makes me glow. And on the scale they were – covering walls, filling rooms – plus the opportunity to scrutinise every single brushstroke and pencil line, that was more than enough. I left feeling elated. Ecstatic. The art that means most to you should always do that.

Read Laura Cummings’ review of Invisible Rooms here: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/may/22/francis-bacon-invisible-rooms-maria-lassnig-tate-liverpool-review




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