Since I was but a wee lad, watching R-rated movies and beating hookers with glee in GTA III completely unsupervised, I’ve had a fascination with the imagery of the macabre and the grotesque. One that never translated to real life, of course, as I’m likely to be one of the most pacifistic fellows you’ll ever meet. But always a certain undeniable interest in matters of death, insanity, and scary stories to tell in the dark. Nothing, to be sure though, that I’ve ever hidden from anyone. Anyone on friendly terms with me is well aware of this affection, and can likely tell you of this ghoulish horror or that that I discussed or introduced to them. ‘Tis among my greatest pleasures in life, the discussion of art, whichever form it takes, whether it be cinema or paint or diaper marketing.
Works of art, and the meanings we imprint upon them, are not to be obfuscated, but debated and discussed.
Back in those halcyon days, when video games ruled my artistic spirit and I’d yet to lay my first kiss upon the fairer sex, I had trouble diagnosing my love for such an offbeat taste, believing that I was simply an odd duck and moving no further in any mental, moral, or psychological self-assessment.
They were simply the things that I found intellectually stimulating, not necessarily entertaining. Even that far back I can recall ruminating on the artistic merits of sadness or anger or madness or what have you. But, as someone that occasionally believes himself a competent actor, I’m nothing if not an analyst of my own behavior and thought processes these days, as well as those of others. So, let’s perform a spot of the old blogular analysis.
Now, given my personal history of assorted oddities, catastrophies, bullshitteries, and depressions, some caused by me, some by the hand of fate, many I may outline later, it would behoove me to narrow down my interest in the arabesque to something recent and tangible, in order to better elaborate my own position in a world where love of the bizarre is not, at least in my own humble circles, terribly uncommon. Something that I can examine through the lenses of the ‘established’ (at least among my brief list of friends) intellectual.
And I can’t write that without also writing that sometimes my Schnauzer will misjudge how much energy to expend to jump on the couch and fail epically which makes me titter like a schoolgirl. Teeheehee.
Still a cutie pie that can be o so photogenic when she wishes it so. Or when there’s food around.
Francis Bacon, (the artist, not the well-known 16th Century inventor of bacon/coiner of the term ‘collywobble’) was an artist of the mid-to-late 20th Century, whose works I tend to adore. A few examples are shown above and in my website *stifles laughter* header. Surely, these works would qualify as ‘grotesque’ to the average person. But, let’s delve a bit deeper, my lovelies, into the sweaty gooch of existentialism, and, since this is my blog of bizarro curiosities, elucidate what exactly I find so appealing about some man screaming into a void and a triptych of three faces apparently cobbled together from clay by a handless twelve year old that just shotgunned an entire bottle of absinthe.
The portrait above is Head VI, a work of 1949 by the then forty year old Bacon. It depicts a man, discernible from the facial structure and the vestments, screaming inside of a cube that appears airless due to the expressive upward brushstrokes and the lack of face. Everything is being ripped upward and is far from static, the picture almost alive with the human scream. Bacon was no stranger to the scream as an artistic motif, obsessing over various stills of the action over the course of his storied life.
As some guy with an internet connection, a blog, and not many other credentials to his name, I feel woefully unqualified to critique such a work from a craftmanship ie painter’s perspective. You’d get a better impression of such things from asking my pet elephant, Mr. Trunky. Hell on the pocketbook, heaven on the cuddles, he is.
Who could refuse that face?
So, this portrait of a man screaming in undying agony in an airless void cube highlights, to me, the plight of humanity in an infinitely chaotic universe. Some guy named Gil Shakepen once wrote that life was a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing but Cheetos. I’m inclined to agree with the caveat that they be Hot Cheetos. Head VI is the search for a meaning in our everyday lives that may not exist given the current knowledge of the cosmos.
There may not be any meaning. That’s kinda terrifying.
It’s that strangling fear that nothing we do or say may matter at the end, your belief in whatever deity you wish notwithstanding. And yet, still we cry out into the universe, we go to our jobs, we have our sex, we search for whatever alleviates, or crowds out, that thought that one day, in the future, or today if you’re unlucky enough to be in Kaechon Reeducation Camp, no memory of any of us will remain.
The void around the figure, traced out by the geometry of the cube (#societymetaphor), is airless because the scream is just like our attempts at meaning, unsuccessful and doomed to dissipate soundlessly in an uncaring universe. The man is missing the top of his head because the scream is primal and unthought, the scream of the everyday.
Cleverly, it could also point toward the inverse or what we commonly associate with screaming. The events in our lives that aren’t the everyday, that punctuate the restless nights. The car crash witnessings. The grandpa lying in a vegetative state post-stroke. The things that make us scream, really scream, with all our hearts as the pulse pounds and the blood boils. The expression on his face is a double-edged sword. It is the everyday of humanity. And it’s also those moments that you’d give anything to annihilate from the brain that, mercifully, don’t happen often for the majority of us.
Not saying I necessarily agree with such an interpretation, it’s just what I see in an old painting and, consequently, why I find it compelling. But then, that’s the interesting thing about art, eh? It’s a reflection of the self. What do you see there, reader? When you stop what you’re doing and really look.
Or look here. It’s a close-up of one of my pimples. Quite hairy, really.
My header, (The above), is another painting, well, triptych, by Sir Francis Roger Bacon Esq. CBE PhD. A series of self-portraits committed to canvas decades after the Head series. Now may be a decent time to comment that Bacon was an alcoholic all his life, frequently confronting his daily hangovers with more drinking and painting. There but for the grace of God go we…shine on you crazy diamond…etc…
The mottled, misshapen appearance of the figures in the series are odd to say the least. Nothing appealing or symmetrical to be found as conventional standards of attractiveness held little appeal to Bacon in his work. Particularly in self-portraits as the artist was a bit immersed in self-loathing, a fantastic pastime for any mongoose, but rather detrimental to any average person.
But the beauty of the triptych is in the missing bits and the haphazard arrangement. Is it not the same with all of us?
There are parts of ourselves that we make visible to all and parts that we keep hidden, expressing to no one or only our closest companions. Sexual proclivities would be an obvious example for most people. There is also the pain of memory. There are a hundred memories that I don’t share with people regularly because recalling them verbatim is an agonizing, weepy process, or because I fear it may be too much for them to handle, like a real high and mighty ponce. And, hey, maybe that’s part of why I began this peculiar endeavor in the first place. My sincerity is doubted because I’ve, for so long, been one of the faces above and not the other.
The meaning of the triptych is in the missing bits in the faces, the missing pains and memories that you never show, impossible to see, or, at the very least, the ones you restrict. The fear of the closed door versus what’s actually behind it. Memories become something mythic in the mind, wholly out of proportion to the actual events that transpired. The triptych is a work of art in what it doesn’t show, neatly mirroring the viewers unwillingness to be whole to all others for fear of societal perception or judgment, like losing your job at McDonald’s for joking about having a wank in the bathroom. It’s a mask, a persona. One we assemble with superb craftsmanship to be incomplete, with parts hacked away or misplaced.
I’ve steadily worked at breaking mine down. And in a universe like this one, it makes me cling all the closer to those positives I do have. Nothing taken for granted and as put together a Baconian self-portrait as I can be. All that good fluffy stuff. Feels good, doubleplus good, almost, day by day by day. And, hey, art is subjective. 🙂
But, my love for the grotesque and arabesque has never been a secret! Maybe, I’ll make this into a ‘series’, outlining my thoughts on various items of the bizarre or disturbing that people find little artistic merit in. Have yet to decide on the clericals of this whole ‘blog’ thing save for this: every three days. Somehow. Some way. Every three days.
Pleasantest of eves to yeh, lovelies. Enjoy the weekend. Remember. You’re alive. Make some meaning. Universe is chaotic enough as is.