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Ray Reviews: Francis Bacon at the Tate, Liverpool

Previous to attending this exhibition, I had only ever seen two original Bacons at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh. This was also my first time in Liverpool but that's a different story.

This particular show has been curated extremely well; there is a broad range of the different seasons in Bacon's work and there is a good mix of the recognisable 'hit singles' like the Three Figures at a Crucifixion to a good few I had never seen before (35 very large canvases in total I believe) as well as some interesting curiosities like scraps of boxing magazines with hasty paint applied and also some sketchbook roughs that somewhat undermine the artist's own assertion that he never produced any rough run throughs of his ideas before sizing up the canvas with his brushes.

Seen on a page of a Thames & Hudson paperback volume, these works have a peculiar and beguiling power: witnessed at close hand in the flesh, they have the ability to become almost overpowering in their emotional impact. So much meaning comes to the surface when presented with the actual brushstrokes (his masterful articulation between thick strokes and watered down, fussy marks) that going back to the images in a book is horribly reductive.

I still bought a couple of books in the shop afterword but one prepares for these things. I know what I'm like.

The only work I felt like I could have really benefitted from seeing was his famous screaming Pope Innocent but we had pretty much every other major work to look at instead so it seems a little snotty to complain about that. There is a lot of pain and regret in these works, not to mention the more obvious violence and outrage but what struck me was actually how subtle I felt he could be. His horrifying creations seemed more emotional and at the same time more dignified than I might have guessed from a distance. There is a real attempt at communication here and I felt the tremble of awe on a few occassions. I had, in fact, that same feeling I get when I'm at a live performance of a band I really love: I sense myself a few hours in the future, regretting what is now in the past, while I am in the moment with the band. You know, 'they are here now but soon it will all be a memory'. Maybe that's part of what Bacon was trying to express. You are here now: what are you going to do?

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