Two British artists, Francis Bacon and Henry Moore, thriving within the mid-century avant-garde, have been linked in an exhibition (2014) organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Ashmolean Museum of London. Bacon’s bona fides as a loyalist of the grimmest wing of Surrealism have never been in doubt. But the tortured figuration of Henry Moore’s sculptures has tended to encourage more Stonehenge blissing than I-Mean-You-Baby stepping on expensive shoes. But you know, this extremely valuable exercise makes quite a powerful case for those temperamentally remote practitioners unwittingly setting up a correspondence by which to usefully explore a carnal hotbed of subversion and liberation. The photo above juxtaposes a Moore figure, undergoing not all that terrible deterioration, with a Bacon illustration of emergency-ward-level deformation for life.
Bacon has called this triptych (formerly known as “Second Version of triptych” , 1988), “The Flying Room,” vastly and darkly ironic of course. I wonder if he’s upped the ante on nihilistic delirium here, by positing a possibility of synthesis that should bode well—but doesn’t. The recent Lars von Trier film, NYMPHOMANIAC, digs into such a process in dire straits along lines of the musical strategy, polyphony, beloved by Bach.
Pain and damage is to the fore in this work by Moore (“Reclining Figure,” 1951). The show makes clear that this and a whole spate of rock-like figures and lithos have derived from the London Blitz and the populace taking shelter (such as it was) in the Underground. Moore was most attentive to the torque of bodies anticipating sudden death. It is indisputable, as this work demonstrates, that a topspin of poignancy and grace (conspicuously absent from the work of Bacon) stems from that period.
Bacon has declared that his unshakeable nihilism had been tempered by producing art (however horrific). His frequently bringing forward versions of “Study After Velaquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X” implies a tribunal for Nazi War Crimes. Do such glimpses of justice, implying some kind of carnal integrity, make it all worthwhile for him?
The annals of Surrealist intervention include indications of rich and joyous adventure. Our focus here, upon a strange sub-basement of energy, has been touched by the ways virulent rejection of common sensibility (as also to be found in von Trier’s film) can stumble upon more viable illumination. Both Moore and Bacon had been permanently shocked by their visions of War. In a video included at the exhibition, Moore expresses a strong reluctance to reach a more comprehensive sense of his creative energies, as if that procedure would vitiate the fire of his output.
But von Trier—definitely as darkly intense and lucid as either of our featured Surrealists—deploys in NYMPHOMANIAC (food for thought, here)recognitions of Robert Bresson’s BALTHAZAR, David Lynch’s ERASERHEAD and Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe” to endow his motion picture with special motion that in no way shuts down inquiry.