What Was Bacon’s Intuition Of Emotions In His Protagonists, That Created His Stylistically Unique Figurative Distortion?

According to Jung, the distortion of art is not an expression of the destruction of the artist’s personality, rather the artist finds the unity of his artistic personality in destructiveness
PsyArt (Journal for the Psychological Study of the Arts)

… that man who paints those dreadful pictures…
Margaret Thatcher about Francis Bacon

When I made the Pope screaming, I didn’t do it in the way I wanted to. I was always… very obsessed by Monet… I wanted to make the mouth, with the beauty of its color and everything, look like one of the sunsets or something of Monet, and not just the screaming Pope. If I did it again, which I hope to God I never will, I would make it like a Monet
Francis Bacon

Bacon admires Duchamp and has returned often to the text of a 1958 lecture in which Duchamp discussed the role of the unconscious in creativity: “All the decisions in the artistic execution of the work rest with pure intuition and cannot be translated into a self-analysis… In the creative act, the artist goes from intention to realization through a chain of totally subjective reactions.”
Hugh Davies and Sally Yard, “Francis Bacon”, Abbeville Press, 1986, p. 83

Images are coaxed and commanded from the supple medium with materials ranging from Brillo pads to cashmere sweaters, as brushes are joined by rugs, cotton wool, sponges, scrub brushes, garbage-can lids, paint-tube caps, the artist’s hands, and whatever else Bacon can find in the studio… He often impetuously hurls pigment at the canvas. Thick impasto coexists with thinned washes of pigment and raw canvas, and sand and dust are occasionally used to give texture to the paint. A few works of the 1980s are veiled in in the haze produced by applying paint with an aerosol spray.
Hugh Davies, Ibid, p. 113 – 114

I think if you want to convey fact, this can only ever be done through a form of distortion. You must distort to transform what is called appearance into image.
Francis Bacon

I would like my pictures to look as if a human being had passed between them, like a snail, leaving a trail of the human presence and memory trace of past events, as the snail leaves its slime.
Francis Bacon

If in Picasso his characteristic figurative distortion could be inspired by his concentration on human suffering, the paradigmatic case of figurative distortion in Bacon can be his concentration on the emotion of horror (like in “Businessman 1”), or “post-apocalyptic” greed (like in “Study for the head of a Screaming Pope”), experienced by the protagonists of his paintings.

Francis Bacon, “Study for a Portrait” or “Businessman 1”, 1952
Francis Bacon, “Study for a Portrait” or “Businessman 1”, 1952

Bacon’s “Study for a portrait” (or “Businessman 1”) is a painting where behind the painter’s distortion of the protagonist’s face we see horror as archetypal emotion overwhelming the “businessman”. This emotion becomes the creative justification for the distortion as artist’s stylistic reaction.

The “businessman“, it seems, is horrified by the world and simultaneously by his isolation from it (he is covered by the glass box like Bacon’s endless, like the history of Catholicism, popes). The most horrifying objects of our fixations and passions are those we are most afraid of and equally afraid to lose. Isn’t prototypal of these objects life itself? As much as our “businessman” fears life he fears being isolated from it. He needs life to live and, simultaneously, to make profit on it. He is afraid to be “abandoned by life” but is doomed to destroy it while following imperative logic of amassing profit on its body. It is like to be able to live only if you have cancer, while without cancer you are dead. The “businessman” has to find way to live and, simultaneously, to destroy life by transforming it into profit – that’s why he is horror stricken: from one side he is afraid of losing life making him alive, but from the other his Lord Money never could allow this “existential slavery”. In short, we cannot be envious of the businessman’s situation – his soul is being ontologically torn apart, and he never knows how to act in his own name. It is like to be alive but unable to live. Bacon’s businessman is like a child of the very antagonism between mother-life and father-profit. And he is forever orphaned by their breakup.

When, today, we observe the neocon-businessmen and feel how far they are from the normal condition of human beings (who are naturally equipped with compassion for other humans and with the ability for emotional identification with otherness co-existing with our natural proneness for self-aggrandizement) we wonder how they could come to the condition of wanting and planning for austerity for the majority of people belonging to the same nation, and cutting medical benefits for the needy, elderly and children of the low wage hardworking poor. How many steps does it take for a human being to lose internal, immanent humanity! Bacon in his “Study for a Portrait or Businessman 1”, as if, is showing us the onset of this process of psychological degradation of the profit-worshippers.

Businessman, relatively a young fellow in a suit, suffers from his isolation not only from the external world but from the human emotions which have become irrelevant to him and can be even harmful for efficient business calculations and “profit above all” sacred principle. It is, as if, he doesn’t have enough air inside his glass box. Today the neocon business people including politicians are those who were able to survive a lack of “human air” inside the box of their business calculations and have managed to get rid of everything inside their souls that were holistic psychological resources capable of controlling the robotic reactions based on the psychological fragments (organized by purely technical intelligence to the neglect of the human and natural contexts of the technical reasoning).

The question – how to become able to want austerity for the population at large so unconditionally – can be answered by the difference between Bacon’s first painting above and his second one down below.

Francis Bacon “Study for the Head of a Screaming Pope”, 1952
Francis Bacon “Study for the Head of a Screaming Pope”, 1952

In the very difference between the two screams lies all the difference between horror and (cannibalistic) greed – between horror of human world mixed with the horror of losing it (quite a human condition) and, on the other side, overcoming this horrifying ambiguity when life is in permanent process of being exchanged for greedy consumption. The difference between two screams of the human soul is that between human agony of starting to lose soul – and becoming a creature which feels confidently without it. It is the difference between being and consuming, between still self-reflecting – and robotic (abstract), cannibalistic consumerism.

Bacon’s “Study for the Head of a Screaming Pope” shows, as if, the pope of business, a new human condition of becoming not already super-human (which is perverted – aggrandized form of being human), but a-human, non-human, human clone, reemergence of humanity as robotics of money/weapon.

The screaming pop’s shout is, simultaneously, intimidating and paralyzing. It is, as if, the first phase of digesting, it is opening the mouth to hypnotize through awakening horror in order to cannibalistically swallow.

If the first screaming is still inside human frame of reference – a pre-apocalyptic, apocalypse-opening experience, the second screaming is apocalyptic and in this sense – post-apocalyptic one. It is consumption through destruction, consumption as destruction – a post-individual function which only the giants of industrialism, military-industrial complex and of global financial manipulation are capable of – transformation of (human) fear of death into a giant predatory ghost. It is a completely impersonalized and dehumanized predatory greed free of moral or psychological hesitations. It is a scream-inhale – consumption of stench and juices of killed and decomposing matter.

Bacon is a paradigmatic artist – interested in finding the holistic truth about the universe we all live in, but he is among the minority today, when too many artists adopt a sterile perception of reality – to make it look representative and intriguing for the sake of their popularity and commercial success. They ignore the fact that critical – negative element in our creative perception is necessary to make the artist’s picture of reality structurally sustainable and semantically complete in its openness. Oriented on truth, not on success (a democratic period of Western history he was lucky to live in, provided him with success because of its interest in and ability to tolerate truth), Bacon, amid the gardens of democracy and greenhouses of consumerist prosperity discovered a horrifying seamy side – apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic predatoriness, which we today, in the 21st century, are noticing more and more in our economic and political behavior.

Francis Bacon (1963)
Francis Bacon (1963)